It’s clear that the Dallas Mavericks are building for the future. What isn’t clear is if the team will stand pat at the trade deadline. Are the Mavs content with the players they have or will they make a move, unloading one or more of their veterans who have expiring deals? If Dallas does decide to make a move, one player that should be on their radar is Denver Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic.
Denver is actively shopping the big man after deciding to go all in on the talents of Nikola Jokic. For the Nuggets, it’s the right move. Jokic makes their offense hum like no other player on the roster. However, that’s not to say that Nurkic is washed. He’s far from it, actually. And the skills he possesses will have a number of teams making calls inquiring about him.
What makes Nurkic appealing, at first glance at least, is his size and age. At 7’-0 and 22 years old, he's the ideal piece to add to any roster. Plus, he's already proven he has the skills to compete at the NBA level. While the third year center still has room to grow, that should be seen as an upside. Teams are usually willing to take a risk on youth and size even if the league is trending away from it. They’re even more eager to do so when a player putting up averages like Nurkic.
This season, he’s averaging 8.6 points on 52.8 percent shooting, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.3 assists in 18.5 minutes per game. Nurkic isn't a stretch 5, like a number of his peers, so his scoring comes mostly around the rim like an old school big. 62.5 percent of his shots come within three feet of the basket where he shoots 60.7 percent. He also shoots 42.5 percent from three to 10 feet, where the rest of his shots come from.
Nurkic mostly looks to work the blocks to get his shots, making him even more like a player from a bygone era. 36.3 percent of his offensive possessions are post ups. But he scores on just 42 percent of them and is only putting up .75 points per possession. That's not good. If anything is going to make teams wary of adding Nurkic, his reliance on an inefficient post game ranks up there. The league has been trending away from the post up for years and the Mavericks rarely run it for anyone other than their guards. However, Nurkic has shown that he’s not limited to his back-to-the-basket tendencies.
Although Denver doesn’t use him in pick and roll situations much, Nurkic has proven that he’s more than capable of running the pick and roll. Even though only 14.7 percent of his offensive possessions come as the roll man, he ranks in the 80th percentile in the league, scoring 1.21 PPP with an effective field goal percentage of 64. For comparison, Dwight Powell, Dallas’ go-to roll man, scores 1.17 PPP with an eFG% of 54.9.
Rick Carlisle’s flow offense uses the pick and roll a lot. The roll man is targeted 7.8 percent of the time with the team scoring 1.13 PPP on such plays, one of the best marks in the league. With Nurkic’s already impressive roll numbers, he could look to make it a bigger facet of his game in Dallas.
On defense, Nurkic also provides good rim protection, something the Mavericks desperately need when Andrew Bogut isn’t on the floor. Opponents are only shooting 48 percent against him overall and 56.3 percent at the rim. Powell, who’s played a comparable number of minutes this season, allows opponents to shoot 65 percent at the rim. Bogut, however, only allows 48.1 percent, as he remains one of the best defensive centers in the league.
Take that, Boogie!
In post ups and defending the roll man, Nurkic is allowing opponents to shoot 48.6 and 43.8 percent, respectively. His size and presence force altered shots and make opponents think twice before entering the paint.
So, what would the Mavericks have to give up to get Nurkic? He’s under contract with the Nuggets through next season and will make just under $3 million. That’s an insanely reasonable deal for someone possessing his skills. If there was a straight-up one-for-one trade, Seth Curry’s contract next season is similar to Nurkic’s so the money would work. However, Curry’s emergence as a key role player for Dallas makes him an unlikely to be moved.
Adam Mares, who covers the Nuggets for Denver Stiffs, has suggested packaging Nurkic with Darrell Arthur in exchange for Dwight Powell. Arthur, a Dallas native, is a good 3-and-D player and is shooting 51.8 percent from behind the arc this season. He's exactly the type of veteran the team used to bring in. But because of the size of his contract, it’s comparable to Powell’s, the money to make this trade happen might not work out. I'll be the first to tell you that I’m no trade expert, though.
In the end, the reality is that there’s probably zero chance that the Mavericks make a trade for Nurkic. Despite his upside, he’s a somewhat cocky player that isn’t always focused on the game. That kind of attitude doesn’t usually play well with Carlisle. That said, though, Dallas shouldn’t completely write him off. If the goal is building for the future, adding a young, gifted big man who can play both sides of the court is something they should seriously consider and Nurkic fits the bill.