After 8 games, Nikola Jokić and Jusuf Nurkić shine with more minutes

Rarely does a trade yield equal benefit for both teams involved, but that may be the case when the Denver Nuggets found themselves with two young multi-talented big men that were both deserving of playing time. Those two players were Nikola Jokić and Jusuf Nurkić.

When Jusuf Nurkic was traded away from Denver in exchange for Mason Plumlee, it was more about getting something in return for “The Bosnian Beast” as much as it was allowing Nikola Jokic to grow without having to decide between the two European frontcourt players.

Nikola Jokić and Jusuf Nurkić Similarities The similarities between the two players are striking: both are hulking 22-year old 6’11 centers that were drafted in 2014. Nurkić and Jokić aren’t only capable of putting up double-doubles on a nightly basis, but are excellent passers at their position. They’re both so adept at passing that Denver and Portland often run their offense through their young Euro centers. The two right-handers hail from Europe; Jokić from Serbia and Nurkić from Bosnia.

However, the trade wasn’t about Plumlee at all, it was nearly impossible to find the playing time and player combination that worked for both Nurk annd Jokic to get enough time to grow. Unfortunately for Nurkić, it was Jokić’s star and potential that worked better with the Nuggets at that point. That reduced role obviously never sits well with any NBA player; especially for one that was once a starter.

“For sure it’s tough,” Nurkic said. “I’m 23 years old. I’m not here to sit on the bench. I’m here to play basketball. And it’s a tough decision for me, from a starting spot and 20 minutes to four straight (games of not playing). … You control what you control, and I let my agent do the rest of the stuff.”

“It’s not good,” Nurkic said. “When you (don’t) play, and you feel not part of the team, it’s not fun. Especially when you started from the preseason – how many games, I don’t even know. And you just come to the game (one day) and you’re not in the rotation and nobody tells you anything. So, it’s not my control. I’m going to do what I can do; come here, work every day hard and be professional like I should be.”

And that ultimately led to Denver moving Nurkic for Plumlee in what has been widely considered a steal for Portland (outside of this 100% wrong SI review that said ‘Denver bested Portland’ in the trade). Its clear that since the trade, both players have thrived in their new atmosphere; showing off their varied skillset in re-tooled offenses that compliment their abilities.

Nikola Jokić and Jusuf Nurkić Shine with More Minutes

Since the trade on February 12th, both teams have reason to be excited. Each player is seeing more than 30 minutes on the floor and it’s paying off for both Denver and Portland. Not just in individual numbers but the teams involved have better offensive flow now that they can rely on the two big guys as secondary facilitators.

Teaming up with Damian Lillard as playmaker on Portland, Nurkic has averaged 16.5 point, 9.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.9 blocks. The Trailblazers have gone 5-3 in that eight game stretch with Nurkic in the middle. More importantly, he’s averaging 30.3 minutes with the Blazers compared to 17 minutes with the Nuggets.

Since the trade, Jokic has averaged 13.9 point, 13 rebounds, 6.9 assists (!), 1 steals and 0.8 blocks. The Nuggets have gone 4-4 in that eight game stretch with Nikola Jokić in the middle.

Nikola Jokić and Jusuf Nurkić Since Trade
Player Games Mins Points Rebs Assists Blocks Steals Team's Record
Jusuf Nurkić 8 30.3 16.5 9.6 4.5 1.9 1.6 5-3
Nikola Jokić 8 29.5 13.9 13 6.9 0.8 1.0 4-4

What’s the most impressive stat to me are both player’s assist totals. Anytime a pivot can average more than 3 assist, you know there’s something special there; its just not because they’re being double-teamed and making simple passes. To average 4.5 and 6.9 assists per game is another level of passing at the center position.

Let’s remember that both are in their early-20’s. On top of that, they’re both just starting to get used to more minutes and adjusting to being one of the primary playmakers on almost every offensive set. Given their current trajectory, if we’re to allow Jokić and Nurkić another year or two to learn, acclimate and get stronger; they have the tools to go from promising young big men to bonafide superstars in the league.

It’early for these two, but with the previous generation’s European big guys Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol heading into the twilight in their careers, the young Jokić and Nurkić are ready to lead the next generation of international big guys.

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