The Celtics have struggled this season playing against teams with multiple skilled big bodies on their rosters. Danny Ainge has put together a great mix of guards that can match up against any team in the league. But, the Celtics bigs are mostly similar types of players. Boston’s big men have been an area of weakness this season. Lately, there have been a couple big men that hit the market. One of those big men is Jusuf Nurkic, who could fill a need for the Celtics.
The rumors of the Celtics being in the market for a big man that can defend and rebound have been swirling since the start of the season. Outside of Al Horford, Boston’s bigs are mostly finesse players.
Kelly Olynyk has shown that his impressive defensive positioning allows him to be a plus defender down low. But, he gets easily pushed around in the rebounding action, and his length is a disadvantage.
Jonas Jerebko is a solid player, and he can hold his own defensively against smaller bigs. It’s his lack of athleticism, length, and size that keeps him from being able to out-rebound most bigs in the league.
Amir Johnson has had some nice stretches this season, and has held his own defensively. There are concerns with Amir’s ability to play consistent minutes over the course of a season, but over his last five seasons he’s been consistently healthy. Amir has good size and length, but he does struggle defending and rebounding against stronger players.
Tyler Zeller may be the most valuable big man for the Celtics because he of his contract. Zeller hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to play this season. He’s really struggled to find minutes since his starting days with Marcus Smart. Zeller has a restriction in his contract that prevents him from being traded until January 14th. With that day fast approaching, the likelihood of the Celtics making a trade increases.
The Denver Nuggets are a very young team, and they have a good amount of skilled big men. Nikola Jokic has won over the brass in Denver, leaving Nurkic the odd man out. Nurkic still has good value because he has one more season left on his rookie contract after this season. He’s also exactly the type of big man the Celtics don’t have. Jusuf is a big strong body that can withstand the punishment of the games heftiest big men. He would also become the Celtics best rebounder upon joining the team.
Nurkic is still only 22 years old, and won’t turn 23 until half-way through the offseason. His contract also doesn’t hinder any plans that Ainge may have going into this Summer. One thing Nurkic doesn’t do is stretch the defense. He’s shot 63.8% of his shots within three feet of the basket this season. 92.7% of his shots have been within ten feet of the basket.
Nurkic is a decent screener with 2 screen assists per game in just 20 minutes. He is not good at drawing charges, but that’s probably do to his confidence that he can contest the shot.
WHAT’S IT GOING TO TAKE TO TRADE FOR NURKIC?
Denver has a lot of really young players, and they have four draft picks this summer. The challenge with figuring out what Denver want comes with figuring out what their plans are for this season. If they would like to make a run at the playoffs, then Boston may have a hard time getting a deal done. There are going to teams out there that will be willing to give up better quality players than Boston would. If they want to give their young guys a lot of minutes, and live with the likely losses, then Boston will be in a much better position to get something done.
THERE MIGHT BE A CATCH
Denver is nearing the end of their early rebuilding stage of acquiring young players with high potential. The Nuggets have had some decent vets playing a good amount of playing time while those young guys learn the ropes. So, if they feel like they are ready to let the young guys play big roles, Denver could be attaching a vet contract to Nurkic.
THERE ARE THREE POTENTIAL PLAYERS THAT DENVER COULD ASKING TO GO WITH NURKIC.
First one is likely Kenneth Faried. Faried’s contract would likely erase Boston’s chance of signing a max free agent this summer. Crowder would like that, but Ainge may have plans for that cap space. The benefit of including Faried and sending back an expiring contract like Zeller or Amir is it adds value to Boston’s side of the trade, and takes value from Nurkic. That would lower the amount of assets Boston would have to include to get Denver to pull the trigger.
The second guy is Wilson Chadler, who has a similar contract to Faried, except there is a player option in 2018/2019. So, Ainge would have to concede having a max option this summer with Chandler as well. Chandler is a solid player, and would help the Celtics depth at small forward. He’s also a decent rebounder for his position. Chandler would probably cost a little more than Faried, but taking his contract off the books for Denver should have some value.
The third player is Danilo Gallinari, who has a player option for next season that he will likely decline and become a free agent. The question with Gallinari is whether or no Denver plans to offer him a contract in the offseason. On top of that, is whether Denver’s willing to match offers that may be above what they are intially willing to give him. Gallinari adds value to Nurkic, so Boston would have to make Denver a hearty offer to get them to bite.
Acquiring Gallinari would surface a lot of questions for the Celtics.
Does Gallinari start over Crowder?
Is Gallinari willing to come of the bench if he doesn’t start?
Will the Celtics try to sign him in the offseason?
ASSESSING THE NUGGETS TEAM NEEDS
The Nuggets have a few positions well covered with very young and very high potential players.
Emmanuel Mudiay is the point guard of their future, but they don’t have a lot behind him. Jameer Nelson is handling the backup duties at point, and he is doing a great job providing leadership on and off the floor. Outside of those two Denver doesn’t have another point guard on the roster, so that may be an area of need.
Jamaal Murray and Gary Harris are both young and filling up the shooting guard role. Denver also has Will Barton, who’s playing significant minutes. The Nuggets don’t seem to have a need for a shooting guard.
Denver’s two primary small forwards are their top two players with minutes played this season. They’re also two of the players that they could be including in the deal. Gallinari and Chandler will likely need to be replaced by a player returning in a trade to satisfy Denver’s roster needs.
For Denver, the power forward position should be set in any deal involving Nurkic, or the three players mentioned in a possible trade. They have Jokic and Hermangomez, along with Arthur.
Considering that Nurkic is going to be part of all these trade scenarios, Denver will likely be looking for a center in return. The reason why they are willing to trade Nurkic is because the team like Jokic a lot, and Nurkic doesn’t compliment Jokic’s style of play. Jokic has a more balanced game on offense, but he does most of his damage inside of ten feet. So, Denver would be looking for a center that can stretch the floor and give Jokic a little more room to work.
ASSESSING THE VALUE OF EACH TRADE SCENARIO
TRADING FOR ONLY NURKIC
Nurkic is making $1,921,320 this season, but Denver is well under the cap, so they can take a lot of salary back. That leaves a wide variety of trade options open. Three players Denver is probably interested in are Terry Rozier, Demetrius Jackson, and Kelly Olynyk. Rozier and Jackson would provide depth at the point position, while Olynyk would help space the floor for Jokic.
Olynyk’s is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. That should bring his value down, but it would also give Denver an opportunity to audition Olynyk to see how he fits with Jokic. If Boston were to offer Olynyk for Nurkic with no other players involved, they would likely have to add a decent draft pick to compensate for Olynyk being a potential rental.
TRADING FOR NURKIC AND FARIED
Olynyk is still probably the center of the deal for Boston, but in order to match salaries they would need to include Amir or Zeller. Considering that Boston would be unlikely to insert Nurkic into a starting role, Zeller would be the preferred choice for Boston. Zeller and Olynyk for Faried and Nurkic is closer value than just Nurkic for Olynyk. Still, Denver would be looking for draft pick compensation to make this deal more desirable.
NURKIC AND CHANDLER
Chandler’s contract for an expiring contract is beneficial for Denver, but less beneficial than Faried because Chandler is a bigger part of Denver’s team. This would also leave Denver with little depth behind Gallinari, so they may want a small forward in return. Boston doesn’t have a lot of options for Denver to choose from at the small forward position. James Young is an option, but his lack of playing time might be a big deterrent for Denver. If Denver accepts a Zeller, Olynyk, and Young package for Nurkic and Chandler, the draft pick compensation would have to increase quite a bit.
NURKIC AND GALLINARI
These two together change the whole dynamic of the trade. A decent offer would include Olynyk, Rozier, Zeller, and the Brooklyn 2018 draft pick. Fortunately, Boston would be able to add protections to the Brooklyn pick thanks to a new rule change. That would be a great return for Denver if they are not planning on signing Gallinari in the offseason.
DOES BRAD STEVENS WANT A PLAYER LIKE NURKIC?
Whether or not Nurkic is a good fit for Boston is an important thing to consider. Boston relies a lot on spacing the floor and ball movement. Nurkic is not nearly as good of a passer as his teammate Jokic is. Nurkic also has a high turnover percentage at 19.9%, which means he turns the ball over one out of every five possessions he is on the floor for. He would have the highest turnover percentage on the Celtics, as Smart leads the team with 15.5%.
Boston may need a rebounder, but they may not be willing to sacrifice other aspects of their game for the sake of rebounding. Finding the perfect rebounder may also be a lost cause, but there could be a cheaper veteran option to help them out this season, and deal with the rebounding issues more in depth in the offseason.