With no DeMarcus Cousins in the lineup, nor any sign of Andre Drummond, Mason Plumlee took advantage of his time on the floor during Team USA's victory over Brazil Saturday night.
Plumlee played 15 minutes in the American's 95-78 victory over the Brazilian national team, but it wasn't his two highlight dunks that stood out, rather his help-side defense and mobility on the floor.
Even though those dunks jump out at the casual viewer, it's the defensive plays that Plumlee made that are essential to him beating out the aforementioned two big men on Team USA's roster.
On a simple play like the one above, Plumlee shows great recognition of what's going on both in front and behind him. Plumlee switches twice with Kenneth Faried and defends a Brazil pick-and-roll beautifully by sagging back and keeping his hands out wide to tip the ball away and create a fast break going the other way.
Defensive plays like this one below are what Plumlee needs to do when on the floor. Making a player slide over into the lane creates a Brazil turnover.
The reason why Plumlee seems a better fit than the likes of Cousins and Drummond is because he's showed signs that he's a willing defender and athletic enough to run the floor. Team USA did apply some full court pressure Saturday with the big man picking up from the inbounds to create chaos elsewhere on the court.
Even though Plumlee is not the one making the steals, his presence in the backcourt takes up space and makes it difficult for the Brazilians to move the ball effectively. The first play is Team USA just being superior athletes and winning the loose ball, but the second one shows Plumlee playing great defense that leads to a steal.
Kyrie Irving's man, Marcelo Huertas, makes a pass to the high post and cuts away from the ball. Irving lets Huertas cut behind him and Plumlee, who is at mid-line waiting for a man to cut in front of him, makes sure that man is not open. Irving turns around just as Tiago Splitter is throwing the ball to Anderson Varejao and it's an easy two points going in the other direction. Plumlee helps Irving out by picking up a man just for a second so he can play free safety on the foul line.
Plumlee was the first big off the bench for the US and it was clear that he and Kenneth Faried belonged on the floor. The rookie's role will be very limited on the offensive end. This team is guard-driven and Plumlee will feed off of how players like Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry create for themselves and the team. Plumlee is an active big man who has a high basketball IQ. He knows where to go on the floor to be most effective. The Dukie also has a great eye for the ball and does crash the boards, especially on the offensive end. Watch here as Plumlee follows the ball and gets an easy put back.
This wasn't a perfect game for Plumlee, he did lose his man a bit and needs to work on his on-ball defense, but he was one of the better performers on Team USA that could have beaten Brazil by more than 17. A telling moment came in the third quarter when the Brazilians cut the US lead to five, but coach Mike Krzyzewski stuck with his former center as the Americans went back up by double digits.
With another fine performance, and a defined role all but set up for him as the backup to Anthony Davis --who was incredible on Saturday-- Plumee seems to have a leg up on the injured Cousins and perhaps, more importantly, Drummond. If Plumlee can play with the energy he brought on Wednesday night against the Dominican Republic and Friday, both at MSG, Plumlee may lock up a spot before Team USA heads overseas.