The Denver Nuggets thought they had something special with Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic on the same team for a season and a half.
The thought was nice, but the on-court experiment wasn’t the best.
Both were creative and dynamic bigs in their own right. Only when they played together did it became evident the pairing couldn't last.
Although the two never clicked on the court, Nurkic says he does stay in touch with Jokic and credits the Nuggets for doing a “great job” in building a team around him.
“I think as short as it was, it was fun,” said Nurkic. “Especially the time we spent together. It’s been four years now. I think it’s how much we put together, effort to work out. I think we have the best result. I do believe, at this period in time it was a hard fit. Basketball was going small and spacing the floor, I think right now wouldn’t be the issue. I don’t believe from that day we would’ve been together to put a system around like that.”
To play two bigs who may not be as versatile and mobile as others in the league is a no-no in today’s league.
The Nuggets tried the experiment until they couldn’t anymore.
Tim Connelly, the Nuggets general manager, did Nurkic a solid and let him control his destiny.
“They gave me a chance to go to the team I picked in the first place,” said Nurkic. “So, that was probably the best thing that happened. That was probably the best thing that happened to me.
Nurkic went from averaging eight points and 5.8 rebounds his last season in Denver to 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.9 blocks that same after being traded to Portland in 2016-'17.
The trade has worked out for both players.
Nurkic has become the Blazers center of the future and is averaging 14.5 points and 8.2 rebounds over the course of his almost five seasons with the team. The biggest pediment for him has been his health because outside of that, he’s shown an all-around game and even all-star potential at times.
As for Jokic, he’s becoming an all-time draft steal. In just a matter of days, he will become the lowest drafted MVP in NBA history and has already made multiple All-NBA and All-Star games.
Jokic has had better individual success, but as far as team success, it’s just about even. Both are competing for an NBA championship, and in order for either to keep that dream alive, one of their teams must be eliminated.
Tune in to Game 1 at 7:30 p.m. PT on TONIGHT on NBC Sports Northwest, the official home of the Portland Trail Blazers, to see the former teammates go at it.