DENVER (AP) — This was too good to pass up: Another center who unselfishly shares the ball.
That’s what sold the Denver Nuggets on Mason Plumlee as they officially traded for the versatile center Monday, sending bruising big man Jusuf Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in return.
“Mason is a guy who complements what we have presently in the front court quite well,” Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly said. “His playmaking is something unique and really stands out. Our offense is really humming right now.”
That’s in large part because of the play of Nikola Jokic, an up-and-coming big man who’s equally adept at passing (4.2 assists per game) as he is at scoring (16.3 points) and rebounding (8.6). Like Jokic, Plumlee has a knack for getting everyone involved and should slide right in whenever Jokic needs a breather.
The two big men may even take the floor at the same time.
Although, that’s an experiment the Nuggets tried early in the season with Nurkic and Jokic, leading to mixed results. Then again, Plumlee and Jokic have more similar-style games.
“It will be great to have almost the synergy of playing the same way with two bigs capable of making the same types of plays,” said coach Michael Malone, who doesn’t expect Plumlee to play Monday night against Golden State but more likely Wednesday against Minnesota. “We feel we have two of the better passing bigs in the NBA right now.”
Still, it was a difficult decision to send the 22-year-old Nurkic to a division rival, especially one that’s right on the Nuggets’ heels for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
The offer was just too enticing to turn down.
“By no means are we a finished product, but we feel Mason definitely helps us get in the direction where we’re headed and may be a playoff team,” Malone said. “His versatility, his athleticism, his I.Q., his playmaking, his rim presence defensively – he brings a lot of things to the table that will complement the players that we have.”
Golden State All-Star forward Kevin Durant thinks this move bolsters Denver.
“Those two are going to play well off each other,” Durant said. “Having two guys, as big fellas, that can do that, it takes the pressure off your wings, your point guards, allows them to play with their athleticism. … Adding another guy that can play definitely helps.”
As part of the deal, Denver also receives a 2018 second-round pick and cash considerations, while the Blazers get a 2017 protected first-rounder.
About that first-rounder the team surrendered: Connelly said that given the Nuggets’ youth – they have a half-dozen players 22 and under – the team was already struggling to find enough minutes for everyone.
“It’s becoming difficult to continue not just to roster those guys but develop those guys on the court,” Connelly said. “For us, we have so many interesting young players as is. We weren’t overly concerned with another pick in the 20s.”
Nurkic is averaging eight points this season. The 7-footer known as the “Bosnian Beast” simply became expendable with the emergence of Jokic, who turns 22 later this month.
Plumlee was a first-round pick by Brooklyn in 2013, before being dealt to Portland two years later. The former Duke standout averaged 11.1 points this season for Portland, along with eight rebounds and four assists.
Although he’s a restricted free agent this summer, the Nuggets have high hopes they can retain him.
“The deal was not done just for today. It was done for years moving forward,” Connelly said. “When you look at our free agent board, he was a guy that we had circled early in the process and, quite frankly, we didn’t feel confident we could get him without a move like this.”