In the NBA, there have been teams that found success in the formation of a “twin towers” frontcourt. This features two great big men at the power forward and center positions. The Spurs did it with David Robinson and Tim Duncan. We all know how great that worked out for them.
Fast forward to 2017. The Denver Nuggets tried recreating the same presence through 6’10”, 250 lb Nikola Jokic and 7’0″, 280 lb Jusuf Nurkic. Both of these players joined the Nuggets organization in the 2014 NBA Draft. While Nurkic was expected to be the better prospect of the two, the emergence of Nikola Jokic led Nurkic to be traded to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Nurkic was playing a little above 17 minutes per game for the Nuggets, Jokic earned more playing time. He was on the court for over 27 minutes a night. The Nuggets clearly favored Nikola Jokic over Nurkic. Nurkic began to grow more and more frustrated with his role on the team as he watched Jokic from the bench. However, the bottom line of the trade was that Nurkic and Jokic had too similar of playing styles to coincide with one another.
The trade for Jusuf Nurkic has benefitted him more than anyone expected. Nurkic is now playing over 29 minutes a night for the Trail Blazers and has helped them stay in the race for the final playoff spot in the West. Portland sits 2.5 games back of the Nuggets, Nurkic’s former team. He is averaging 14.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. Combine that with 1.8 blocks and 1.5 steals per game and the Blazers may have found their long-term answer for a big man to pair with their dangerous backcourt.
We only have a 12 game sample size to work with, but Jusuf Nurkic is living up to his lottery selection. On the other side, Nikola Jokic is playing a brand of basketball that most had not anticipated. After once being drafted in the second round, Jokic has turned himself into a nightly triple-double threat. His most recent coming last game against the Clippers on Thursday. Jokic put up 17 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists en route to a 129-114 win. He clearly leads Denver by his play on the court at only 22 years old in his second season.
While Jokic appears to be more advanced on the offensive end, Nurkic holds the edge defensively. Nevertheless, both have proven that they belong in NBA starting lineups. Also, both of their respective teams have improved since the trade, which is a rarity in the league. Portland has won five of their last seven games and Denver has won seven of their last ten.
With the end of the season around the corner, it will be interesting to see which of these two big men can power their team into the playoffs. Jokic and Nurkic were not able to give Denver the “twin tower” dominance they were looking for, but it is good to see both of them building their own foundation in the NBA.