Editor's note: these stats are as of March 25, not including Wednesday night's contest against the Bobcats.
Since 2014, the Nets have been one of the best teams in basketball; there is no denying that. Many credited the Nets incredible run over the past nearly three months to the resurgent Kevin Garnett. Although, since Garnett went down with a back injury that has kept him out 14 games, the Nets have proven that it is not just KG for their revival; it is their rookie center. If the draft was redone today, Mason Plumlee will be a top 10 pick, maybe even a top five.
Since March 1, Plumlee has a defensive rating of 100.5 and a net rating of 6.3. Plumlee is showing a lot of Garnett's game this month. Plumlee credited Garnett for helping him develop. "He (Garnett) is spending a lot of time with me," Plumlee said. "At shootaround he'll take me through who I'm guarding. He's really helpful."
Plumlee has done a credible job of protecting the paint since the beginning of March and has made it easy for the Nets to keep Garnett out for an extended period of time and make sure the former champion is fully healthy for the postseason.
Plumlee was drafted at No. 22 after four years at Duke. He learned a lot under head coach Mike Krzyzewski and has developed a sound basketball IQ. Check out this play below where Plumlee reads the Bulls' offense and gets into the passing lanes.
Plumlee is aware that Joakim Noah is an integral part of the Bulls' offense and that Chicago will try to get him the ball as much as possible. Plumlee stays off Noah because of his lack of a perimeter game, and if the Bulls are to get into the paint, it is up to Plumlee to stop the Bull from scoring. With the ball in Jimmy Butler's hands, Plumlee jumps out on Noah, taking away the pass to the former Gator. The Bulls now have to try and get a screen for Mike Dunleavy Jr. out of the corner, which is much less efficient offense compared to having the ball in Noah's hand in the middle of the floor. Noah eventually gets the ball in the middle of the paint, but Plumlee anticipates his look to Boozer and gets his hand on it. It hits off of Boozer and the Nets obtain possession.
Plumlee has done a great job in one-on-one sets. Many weren't sure if he can defend NBA bigs when he was drafted, but he debunked that thought quickly. In the play above, Anthony Davis can't get position on Plumlee in the post and gets forced out to a little outside of the elbow. With not much time remaining on the shot clock and his back to the basket, Davis has to try and face up Plumlee. However, Plumlee stays square and in front of the Brow, leaving him to take a somewhat contested fadeaway. Plumlee has been very efficient at defending players in a post-up this season. His opposition has scored on only 36% of their post-ups this season, per Synergy.
What has been the most impressive development from Plumlee over these past 13 games is how he has led the defense. He has filled the void that KG leaves in terms of communication on the floor when he sits. Here, Plumlee calls out exactly what set the Raptors are running.
Plumlee calls out "horns," a very common set in the league that puts two bigs at each elbow. The Raptors have trouble initiating the set because Plumlee sees it coming. Jonas Valanciunas can't set a screen on the high post and Plumlee doubles Kyle Lowry, who was killing the Nets all game long. Plumlee disrupts the flow of the play and still manages to get back to his new man, Amir Johnson, and stop him from driving to the rim. Johnson can't dribble past Plumlee and has to take a poor contested shot. Plumlee's impressive defensive positioning and his fine identifying skills of the opposing team's play has made him a posing threat on defense.
This play is a great. I really can't say anything else. Just great.
ICE is a way for the defense to read the pick-and-roll. You can learn more about it here in detail. Plumlee forces Kirk Hinrich away from the Noah screen and puts him in an isolation, a type of play that Hinrich isn't comfortable running. Hinrich picks up his dribble and goes back to Noah with only about five seconds remaining on the shot clock. Plumlee anticipates the pass back and he rushes back to his man, Noah. Plumlee's recognition of a pick-and-roll and then executing ICE perfectly has put the Bulls in a poor situation.
Now, Noah has the ball with not much time on the shot clock. He tries to take Plumlee off the dribble and doesn't get very far, because Mason Plumlee can jump high.
Are the Nets better with Plumlee starting instead of Garnett? No. Garnett is a game-changing player and his presence alone changes the whole team. But has Plumlee done more than what has been expected of him in Garnett's recent absence? You better believe it. Between January 1 and his injury, Garnett had a defensive rating of 94.9 compared to Plumlee's aforementioned defensive rating of 100.5. Both are incredible numbers and the small drop-off hasn't been seen in the Nets' play. The Nets are 10-3 over this stretch that Garnett is out and Plumlee has given them a younger, rejuvenated squad that will be fine come the postseason.
- Plumlee blossoming in Garnett's absence - Mike Mazzeo - ESPN New York
- Thrust into lineup, Nets rookie Plumlee earns Kidd’s trust - Tim Bontemps - New York Post