After one month with the Denver Nuggets, it’s time to review whether or not the Mason Plumlee trade was a good move for Denver.
The Denver Nuggets were on the receiving end of some criticism when they traded Jusuf Nurkic to Portland in exchange for Mason Plumlee.
Mostly, that criticism came from the national media, who saw the deal as rather lopsided in favor of the Trailblazers. Why were Denver trading a 22-year old, extremely gifted center AND a first round draft pick for a guy who has seemingly reached his ceiling and is five years older than Nurkic?
It’s a fair question, to be honest. Especially when you consider Nurkic will remain on his rookie contract for another two seasons while the Nuggets will now have to decide whether or not to pay Mason Plumlee big money this off-season.
The reason Denver made the deal is rather simple, however; Mason Plumlee has helped the Nuggets become a better team. He is a dynamite fit next to Nikola Jokic and has also anchored the second unit when playing as the main big man on the floor.
Through 12 games, Plumlee is posting 9.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists in just over 24 minutes of action. He is shooting 58 percent from the floor and gets around a block a game.
He is the lite version of Nikola Jokic. Plumlee features an extremely similar skill set to The Joker in that he is adept at making passes to cutting teammates and has a high basketball IQ on the offensive end. He is comfortable in an up tempo system and is capable of having a big impact on the boards.
Prior to the Nurkic-Plumlee trade, the Nuggets were faltering mightily when Jokic went to the bench. They missed his play making ability and the pace and offense often stalled. Now, Plumlee is able to offset that by still providing some of what Jokic does on the basketball court.
The big determining factor as to whether or not the trade was a success for Denver was how well Jokic and Plumlee could play together. A major reason why Nurkic is no longer in Denver is due to the fact that he and Jokic didn’t work as a tandem, so it was imperative that Plumlee and Jokic were able to do that. Harrison Wind of BSN Denver had a great tweet showing the two big men are clicking very well together.
Since joining the Nuggets on February 13, Denver have gone 8-5 and have moved to 32-35 overall on the season. They have tightened their grip on the Western Conference’s eighth seed and are currently playing their best basketball of the season.
None of this is to say that Jusuf Nurkic isn’t a good basketball player, or that Mason Plumlee is better. Rather, it shows that Plumlee is simply a better fit for Denver. The trade may have looked lopsided on paper, with Denver giving up one of the most talented young centers in the game, but it was a fair deal for both teams — a rarity in the NBA.
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It’s easy to see Nurkic drop 28 points, 20 rebounds and eight assists for Portland in a game against the Sixers and say the Nuggets lost the trade. But really, Denver got exactly what they wanted out of the trade — a big man who compliments Nikola Jokic and is able to fit into the teams system.
The big question now for Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly and his front office is how much are they willing to pay Mason Plumlee to stick around in Denver long-term?
We know that the NBA’s salary cap went up exponentially last season, and is set to see a slight increase again this off-season. Timofey Mozgov got a four year, $64 million dollar deal from the Lakers last Summer and he is nowhere near as good as Plumlee is.
If worst comes to worst, and the Nuggets have to overpay to keep Plumlee, that’s okay. I’d rather be able to try trade the oversized contract later than lose him for nothing.
Plumlee has been a great fit in Denver so far, he is helping the Nuggets play their best basketball to date and has been a pleasure to watch. Let’s hope his stellar play continues in the Mile-High for some time to come.