At first, the Jusuf Nurkic trade was looked at as the end to a failed experiment to create the frontcourt of the future. Alongside Nikola Jokic, the pair were supposed to bring the Nuggets into contention with versatile play from the two highly skilled foreign big men. It simply did not work and Nurkic ended up being shipped off to the division rival Portland TrailBlazers.
The trade was not looked at as a bad one. Nurkic struggled with injuries early on and when healthy he tried and failed to make the chemistry work with Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets then tried separating the two and bringing Jokic off of the bench. It became painfully obvious that not only was Jokic the better player he was also a potential future star. We have now grown accustomed to seeing a rare passing ability from the big man and he has flourished since Nurkic’s departure. What no one expected, however, was for Nurkic to also come into his own in Portland.
Yesterday the re-energized Nurkic decimated his former team with a brilliant performance that dimmed the lights on the Nuggets’ playoff hopes while boosting those in Portland. The 22-year-old posted 33 points to go along with 16 boards in a dominant showing. It is well known that he did not enjoy his time in Denver after they decided he was no longer an asset to the team. A satisfied Nurkic bid the Nuggets a “happy summer” following the win in reference to Denver being on the outside looking into the playoff picture.
Since arriving in Portland, Nurkic has been nothing less than a sensation for the often maligned Blazers. Damian Lillard and the rest of the organization have caught slack for underachieving despite having one of the best backcourts in the league with Dame and C.J. McCollum. Nurkic has provided a solid interior identity for the team posting 15 and 10 with 2 blocks per game since his arrival. Compare that with his 8 PPG 6 RPG .8 BPG averages in Denver and the improvement is clear. The Trail Blazers are 13-6 since the trade while the Nuggets are 11-9 and the two teams have flip-flopped in positioning for the playoff race. The sample size is small but in this short time, the Blazers are +4.5 with Nurkic on the floor and -3.6 without. He is also a great passer in his own regard. His 17.3 assist percentage since coming to Portland is 4th among centers this season. It may have been right for the Nuggets to move Jusuf but perhaps not to a division rival in position to leapfrog them in the standings.
March Madness is a common NCAA term but can also refer to the period of NBA teams writing the final chapter of the season while gearing for the playoffs and working in new pieces acquired at the trade deadline. Lost in the funk of it all is the rare situation of Jusuf Nurkic. Nikola Jokic may still be the better player and the Denver Nuggets still, in my opinion, were not wrong for trading him. However, the addition of the talented Bosnian big man Nurkic along with a 1st-round pick have the Trail Blazers looking like they got a steal.