Former Nugget and current Blazer Jusuf Nurkic smacked around his former team with 33 points and 16 rebounds last night. It was a career night for the 22-year-old big man, and one that all but assured his team will be going to the playoffs while the Nuggets sit at home and smart. But to say Nurkic killed the Nuggets’ playoff hopes last night doesn’t really cover it, because he’s been boning them for over a month now.
The Nuggets’ decision to trade Nurkic last month was not an inherently stupid one. He had been playing like ass all year, was getting fed up with his lack of playing time, and simply wasn’t a fit with Nikola Jokic, the doughy passing savant whom the Nuggets have wisely chosen to build a team around. Nurkic needed to go in order for Jokic to thrive, and that’s exactly what happened. Since the trade, Jokic has continued to establish himself as one of the best young stars in the league, and the franchise’s future is generally looking brighter every day.
The problem is that Nurkic has also been kicking all sorts of ass since he was traded. The other problem is that he’s been doing that ass-kicking for a team the Nuggets have been fighting off all year in their quest for the eight seed in the west.
On the day Nurkic was traded, the Nuggets were 24-30 and sitting in the eighth spot. The Blazers were right behind them, at 23-31. The Nuggets have gone 11-9 since, while the Blazers have gone 13-6 since Nurkic got into the lineup, and it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that he’s been leading Portland’s charge. He’s averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds, and almost two blocks per game as a Blazer, and the beating he put on the Nuggets last night will serve as a neat encapsulation of what he’s given Portland during this stretch run.
All of this is, my friends, is to say that the Denver Nuggets cooked up a nice hot plate of shit for themselves. Set aside the fact that Denver also sent a first-round pick along with Nurkic in exchange for Mason Plumlee, who spent last night chucking the ball at every surface on the court that was not the rim, and just consider how they’d very likely be headed for the playoffs right now if they had instead traded Nurkic to literally any other team in the league. Also consider that they’d very likely be headed for the playoffs right now if they had simply done nothing, and either continued to get so-so production off the bench from Nurkic, or just Jahlil Okafor’d him for the rest of the season.
The Nuggets wanted and probably needed to get rid of Jusuf Nurkic, and there were dozens of low-risk ways in which they could have gone about accomplishing that task. Instead, they decided to trade him to the one team that was in the best position to punish them for that choice, and punished they have been.