He was a late first-round pick perceived to have a limited ceiling as a professional player. He also was overshadowed in the Nets' frontcourt by Brook Lopez, the team's best player, and recently acquired NBA legend Kevin Garnett.
Most pundits figured Plumlee wouldn't even make the opening-night roster.
"Everyone seemed to think Nets rookie Mason Plumlee was headed for the NBA’s Developmental League at the start of the season," reports Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com.
But significant injuries and Plumlee's own improving skills have thrust the former Duke Blue Devil into the role of starting center for the surging Nets. Lopez went down in December with a season-ending foot injury, while Garnett has missed 11 straight games with back spasms.
In their absence, Plumlee has played solid basketball at both ends of the court, and he's starting to get some of the credit for Brooklyn's remarkable turnaround.
Plumlee has made it easy to forget the absence of Garnett and Brook Lopez, as ridiculous as that sounds. Plus, Blatche keeps us entertained— Stefan Bondy (@NYDNInterNets) March 22, 2014
Since Plumlee took over as the starting center, the Nets have gone 9-2 to close in on the Toronto Raptors' top spot in the Atlantic Division.
His per-game numbers (6.8 points, 3.9 rebounds) won't blow anyone away, but Plumlee wasn't playing often enough early in the season to fill out the box score—he averaged fewer than nine minutes per game during the month of January.
Since then, head coach Jason Kidd has put more trust in Plumlee and awarded him increased playing time. Since February 1, Plumlee has been the Nets' best big man by several measures:
|Player||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Rebound Rate||Field Goal Percentage|
It's not difficult to understand why Plumlee is thriving with the Nets. Brooklyn has athletic swingmen who shoot well, forcing opponents to guard all the way out to the perimeter. As a result, Plumlee has space to finish inside and is often the recipient of accurate passing by the Nets' generous backcourt of Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston.
This video of a Plumlee dunk from February is a great example. The New Orleans Pelicans defense must respect Brooklyn's outside shooting. Consequently, all it takes is an impromptu pick-and-roll with Williams to create some space for Plumlee, who uses his 36-inch vertical to complete the play.
These types of plays at the rim make up the majority of Plumlee's offensive contributions. Look at his shot chart from the past 30 days, via Vorped.com. No wonder his shooting percentage is so high!
Plumlee is still somewhat raw on defense, but he's able to make up for a lack of veteran instincts with his superb athleticism. Plus, he's received some useful tutelage from Garnett, a former Defensive Player of the Year.
"At shootaround he’ll take me through who I’m guarding. He’s really helpful," Plumlee said, per ESPN.com. It might be paying off already, as Plumlee had three steals Friday night in Brooklyn's victory over the Boston Celtics.
Plumlee still has some work to do on his game, as Timothy Bontemps of the New York Post points out:
Last things Mason Plumlee has to be able to do are become a consistent foul shooter and be able to hit a midrange jumper.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) March 19, 2014
However, he's been an integral part of a Nets team that looked doomed after Lopez' injury. Even if Garnett returns, Plumlee will be an important interior weapon for the Nets as the playoffs approach.
All Statistics from NBA.com