Last season, the Brooklyn Nets were soft from the inside out.
So when the Nets brought in Kevin Garnett last summer, one of the advantages was the idea that the 18-year veteran would give Brooklyn more of an edge in the frontcourt.
And he did. However, Lopez then broke his foot and is out for the year.
Enter Mason Plumlee—the Nets' most underrated and under-appreciated player.
Toughness, Defensive Impact
That’s right, toughness from a kid who spent four years at Duke.
In his first season with the Nets, the rookie has been able to average nearly six points and four rebounds a game, which translates to about 15 points and eight boards per 36 minutes.
Plumlee plays with fire, hustles on both ends of the floor and never stops working. He’s been stout defensively and mySynergySports indicates that he has allowed opponents to hit under 19 percent of their shots against him in isolation situations.
When defending his man on the post, Plumlee has forced a turnover nearly 30 percent of the time. Compare that to David West’s 10 percent forced-turnover ratio and Plumlee’s numbers are even more impressive.
According to RotoGrinders, the Nets are giving up the third-highest point total to opposing bigs, but much of that can be attributed to the team’s lack of a true center. KG is really more of a power forward, but has taken on the role of a 5 due to Lopez’s absence.
Garnett’s health has held him out of a few games as of late, but when at 100 percent, he and Plumlee form a bruising duo. While KG’s a culture-changer, Plumlee has helped transform Brooklyn's soft interior into a pounding frontcourt.
Effect on the Offensive End
They’re all power forwards—that’s it. Other than playing the same position, the former Dukie doesn’t resemble these guys in any particular way—especially on the offensive end.
Plumlee isn’t much of a skill player. He can finish alley-oops, convert putbacks and occasionally take someone on the post, but the Nets aren’t going to run their sets through him. Basically, his offensive game is like Tyson Chandler's, but more well-rounded.
The biggest thing that Plumlee brings to the table? Efficiency.
As of March 9, Plumlee was connecting on nearly 63 percent of his attempts from the field. With a clip of about 56 percent, Boris Diaw is the most efficient of all qualified PFs, but only because Plumlee isn’t on pace to make 300 shots.
Another element that Plumlee brings to Brooklyn is the ability to throw down at the rim. For such an experienced, older team, the Nets really don’t have too many acrobatic finishers.
The 24-year-old has put his freaky 36" vertical leap on display several times this year, mostly off of pick-and-rolls.
Jason Kidd’s been pleased with the development of his first-year forward and discussed his take on Plumlee with the media after Brooklyn had its four-game winning streak snapped on March 7:
I think he’s improved since day one. From the summer to today, he’s made big jumps in all categories, but he’s still got a long way to go.
He’s learned from KG, [Andray Blatche] and the rest of the bigs about listening, and also being able to listen and take it out onto the court.
While there were some questions as to whether his offensive game would translate into the NBA, Plumlee has established himself as one of the league’s premier young big men.
Future in Brooklyn
The Nets are in 100 percent win-now mode.
How high is Plumlee's ceiling?
Plumlee isn’t the kind of player that a team would build around, but he’s absolutely going to play a big role in Brooklyn down the road. He’s the youngest player on the Nets' roster and could be under contract all the way until 2018.
After taking a page out of the New York Knicks’ handbook and dealing a ton of picks, Brooklyn’s next selection—a second-rounder from the Boston Celtics—will come in 2017. Other than that, however, general manager Billy King and Co. are going to feel pretty lonely on draft night for the foreseeable future.
Brooklyn’s lack of incoming young blood, and its overpopulation of veterans 35 and older, makes Plumlee invaluable. The Nets must hold on to him as his game continues to develop.
While he’s often overlooked and underrated on such a decorated team of NBA vets, the Duke rookie will play a crucial role in Brooklyn’s future.
Stats are accurate as of March 9 and courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Vertical measurements courtesy of DraftExpress.