Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Boston Celtics go through a rough patch, the Celtics Twitter panics and loses perspective, fans start coming up with whack trade proposals that are wildly unbalanced, the team starts winning again, and then we all forget about the collective pushing of the panic button earlier. Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so. During those rough patches or slumps, we usually hear names like Andrew Bogut tossed around and linked to the team. I think I've lost count of how many "Tyler Zeller and a second-round pick for Andrew Bogut" takes I've seen on virtually all platforms.
Here's a new and slightly different take: the Celtics should try to finagle their way into the Jusuf Nurkic sweepstakes. According to multiple outlets, Nurkic is available via trade as a way for the Denver Nuggets to try to clear up their frontcourt logjam. Surprised? Under normal circumstances, this wouldn't make any sense. The only reason it does in context is because as good as Nurkic was in his first injury-free rookie year, the next season, the Nuggets discovered that they found a unicorn. Yes, Nikola Jokic is deserving of the "NBA Unicorn" title, one often reserved for young stars of Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis-caliber talent. Recognizing what they have in Jokic, the Nuggets are wisely seeking to balance their roster out to build around him.
Unfortunately, this leaves incredibly talented young guys like Jusuf Nurkic on the trade block. Again, under normal circumstances, his trade value would be much higher, but all opposing general managers can see what's going on in Denver, so it's likely the Nuggets won't receive Nurkic's exact worth back in a trade. Why should Boston jump in?
Although it was just a minor three-game losing streak, this team has a serious defense issue. Avery Bradley is dealing with an injury, and the flu has hit the roster many times over the last few weeks. The Celtics did well in their most recent game against the Houston Rockets, but how much of that is just as a response to their embarrassing loss at their funeral in Washington D.C. the night prior? Is it sustainable for them to have a decent defensive rating?
It should be, considering that the Celtics are largely the same team they were last season when they were top-5 in the league in defensive rating (103.6). That number has nosedived to 109.8, and that's good (or not good) for 22nd in the league. They're also giving up 105.7 points to opponents (10th worst in the NBA) as opposed to 102.5 last year. Pretty bad regression for a team that aspires to make a deep playoff run this spring and that added Al Horford this summer.
On top of that, the recent win against the Rockets notwithstanding, the Celtics are still an awful rebounding team. The C's rank 28th in the NBA in both total rebounds and defensive rebounding. In a league with only 30 teams, well, that’s basura garbage. The Celtics are also in the bottom 3rd of the league in total 2-pointers; that's not ideal. How does Nurkic help?
In just 18 minutes a game this season, Jusuf Nurkic is averaging 3.6 2-pointers a game, and that would be good for 4th on the team in much fewer minutes than the players above and below him. Also in his mere 18 minutes, Nurkic is averaging 6.1 rebounds per game. That would be 3rd on the team. For context, Al Horford is averaging 33 minutes a game and only 6.7 rebounds. Imagine what Nurkic could do starting next to Horford and with an uptick in minutes. Per-36 minutes, Nurkic is averaging 16.7 points and 11.8 rebounds.
The Celtics could probably pry Nurkic away with Tyler Zeller, James Young (I can dream, right?) and a non-Nets first-rounder. That would be helpful on two fronts: the Cs would get a player to help major weaknesses right now, and they'd be consolidating assets. The Nuggets would do it to get a wing asset in James Young (don't worry, I laughed as I wrote it too), Tyler Zeller, a competent frontcourt player who would capably and solidly handle Nurkic's current minutes, and a mid-to-late first-round pick. Although Nurkic is incredibly talented, there's no room for him to be happy on a team that's run by a unicorn. This is the Jokic's team now, so Nurkic is better off trying to establish himself on a team that needs him.
The only issue in Boston is that with Ante Zizic coming over next season, Jusuf Nurkic might run into a similar problem. Zizic and Nurkic are similar players, so that could be a conflict waiting to happen. That said, we can always cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, the Celtics need a tough paint presence and a rebounder, and it only helps that Nurkic is so young and still on a team-friendly deal. With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, assets of that nature are incredibly valuable.
Jusuf Nurkic might be trying to carve out a role in Denver, but his future most likely lies elsewhere. The one thing he's missing is another chance to reclaim national attention. Unfortunately, everyone's too busy looking at the unicorn known as Jokic. The Celtics need Nurkic enough to make it a mutually beneficial relationship. They shore their defense and rebounding up, and Nurkic gets a chance to reestablish himself as a force among the league's best frontcourts. It's a good thing, then, that there is a "C" in "Nurkic."