Mason Plumlee wasn't supposed to be competing for playing time this early in his playing career. He was supposed to be in Springfield, working out with the Armor. And yet... The team's number one draft pick has played a grand total of nine games and has made quite the impression thus far.
Plumlee brings versatility and hustle that this team's veteran starting lineup often lacks. But someone has to lose minutes due to the rise of the Dukie.
Enter Reggie Evans. Evans hasn't played that poorly in his reduced role this season. Evans continues to wreak havoc in the paint, throwing his body around and grabbing rebounds. His lack of an offensive game, though, is what has pushed Plumlee up the depth chart. So has his athleticism. Truth be told, he's the Nets' most athletic player.
On Saturday, Evans started in place of Brook Lopez, but within five minutes, Plumlee came off the bench. Plumlee's size gave Blake Griffin trouble, while Evans had been beaten around in the post by the Clippers' big and athletic frontcourt. Plumlee had a defensive rating of 117 while Evans had one of 110. On the other side of the court, Plumlee had an offensive rating of 131, way ahead of Evans' rating of 90. Plumlee finished with 27 minutes, a new career high; Evans played 22.
Plumlee has been chipping away at Evans' playing time for the past week or so. Evans didn't even play in the team's contest against the Pacers last Saturday, when Plumlee saw a then-career high 16 minutes. Plumlee matched the Pacers' length up front line and gave the Nets some energy.
Since that game, the Nets have played three games. Plumlee has played 58 minutes, scored 29 points on 11-of-14 shooting and grabbed 14 boards. Evans has played 20 minutes less, scored only six points on 2-of-5 shooting but grabbed 19 boards. They had one block between them, Plumlee's first.
Each of these role players has issues, some of which they share. They don't leave the paint on offense very often. So far this season, 23 of Plumlee's 27 shot attempts have come from inside the restricted area. This is not a surprise since Plumlee didn't leave the post much in his collegiate career. At Duke last season, he took only two jump shots! TWO! Evans too has been living in the paint, as expected, but he has not been as efficient as Plumlee, shooting 5-of-13 from inside the restricted area. Even though both forwards have issues moving outside the paint, Plumlee is much more efficient at finishing around the rim. (Plumlee said last week his biggest adjustment has been playing with his face to the basket.)
Then, there's their shared free throw woes. Evans has a reputation for being one of the worst free throw shooters in the league. So bad that one game against the Wizards last year, the Barclays Center erupted when he hit a free throw late in the game.This year, he's done better, hitting 61.5 percent, well above his 52.1 percent career number.
That's better than Plumlee, who has replaced Evans as the team's worst at the charity stripe; he's shooting a woeful 41% from the line this year. Both can hurt the Nets down the stretch, particularly when replacing Lopez who's been a consistent 80 percent for his career.
The Nets knew what they were getting in June when they took Plumlee: a smart, safe pick, a senior who spent four years being tutored by Mike Krzyzewski. He has a fairly high basketball IQ, higher than Evans', and gives the team a viable post passer. Plumlee's early success should speed up his development time and he can be a key contributor to a winning teams as soon as this season, something that will give Jason Kidd confidence when looking down the bench.
The rise of Plumlee could lead to different lineups ... and future moves for the Nets. Now they can play Garnett at his more comfortable position, center, while still maintaining a lengthy frontcourt with Plumlee. The offense doesn't necessarily go from efficient to deficient when the second unit comes into the game either. Plumlee and Blatche are competent enough on offense to finish around the rim.
And now the Nets have an expendable piece. Evans, a key piece on the Nets' playoff roster last year, and on the Clippers the year before. Evans is an enforcer who comes in and does all the dirty work, fights for rebounds, dives on the floor and picks up fouls.
Could a team, particularly a contender, use Evans' tenacity? Of course. That is a talent that can't be taught. He strikes fear into his opponent due to his hard play, something that Plumlee does not. His trade value could attract some interest due to his cheap contract ($1.7 million this year, $1.77 million the next). It's not likely the Nets would receive more than a second rounder or possibly a young shooter, but before the rise of Plumlee, the Nets might not have even entertained the possibility.
Don't expect anything soon. Too many other things are going on now as the Nets try to sort out chemistry issues. On December 15, teams will start to seriously evaluate their rosters. That's the date free agents signed over the summer can be traded, expanding the pool of players available. Between then and the deadline, February 20, is when things happen ... if they happen at all.
- Rookie Going Through Initiation With the Nets Is Proving to Be an Inspiration - Andrew Keh - New York Times
Plumlee making a statement with array of dunks - Tim Bontemps - New York Post