With the news that Mason Plumlee has made the USA Men's National Team in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, the rookie big man has received the most flack for making the team.
This does not come as a surprise. For the past several weeks Plumlee has been the center of negative attention as to why he was competing for a job as great as the one on the National Team, for he was reported to have a better chance to making the team than first DeMarcus Cousins then Andre Drummond enraging fans in Sacramento and Detroit
Look, I get it. Cousins is significantly better than Plumlee, and Drummond is a freak athlete who, like Plumlee, is very raw at this point, but is a better rim protector than Plumlee. However, that argument goes out the window considering all three are on the final roster of 12.
Plumlee is not in the same league as the players on this roster, but this isn't an All Star team, this is a team assembled to go out and compete in international basketball. The best players don't need to make the team; rather it is the best fits for the team who join Coach Mike Krzyzewski in Spain for the next month. Also, this is a young team, the future, rather than the present of NBA basketball. It's called a feeder line and Plumlee is on it.
It is clear what Coach K and the rest of his staff is doing when one looks at the roster of 12: build a team that will not be outmatched when the US meets Spain in what is the likely finals matchup. Spain features the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc, each 7 feet tall and incredibly adept at moving the ball and finishing near and far from the rim. On top of that, Spain has Serge Ibaka, who can also spread the floor and be an elite rim protector. Those three behemoths are the reason why Team USA took all three of Plumlee, Cousins and Drummond, when it seemed like last week only one would make the trip overseas.
Plumlee brings this team insurance off the bench during the full length of the tournament, but mostly against Spain. No other team features as much elite size that the host country possesses, and players like Kenneth Faried and Rudy Gay will struggle against one of the three aforementioned Spaniards.
Where USA needs Plumlee the most is on defense. Plumlee isn't skilled enough to make a huge impact on offense. In the two exhibitions Plumlee was active, against Brazil and Puerto Rico, the former Duke standout showed flashes of defensive potential, as noted in this piece. He did struggle against Puerto Rico, getting attacked and struggling in the pick-and-roll, which Plumlee actually excelled at against Brazil. Overall, Plumlee had a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 94.1, right in the middle of all the US players, worse than Drummond, but better than Cousins.
Despite struggling Saturday night, Plumlee is a solid defender who can keep the Gasols and Ibaka in line during stretches of the game. Last season, in two matchups against Pau Gasol, Plumlee spent 28 minutes on the floor with him, 36 off. When Plumlee was off the court, the Lakers were even in net rating, but with Plumlee on, and defending Pau, the Lakers were a -9. Granted, that's a team stat so look at it with a grain of salt, but it must also be noted that Gasol had two more turnovers in less time with Plumlee on the floor, and only grabbed seven rebounds as compared to 12 when Plumlee was off.
Pau's brother, Marc, also didn't play all that well against the Nets last season, at least when Mason Plumlee was on the floor. Plumlee held Marc scoreless in 14 minutes of action when the two were on the court together, and the Grizzlies were a gruesome -16 when the two were paired against the other. In 14 minutes when Plumlee was on the bench, Gasol scored 18 points and grabbed five boards.
Ibaka did play well against the Nets when Plumlee was on the floor in the two Nets - Thunder matchups. But they didn't play directly against each other that often because Plumlee played center exclusively for the Nets last season, while Ibaka is typically a four who sometimes plays stretch five. However, on Team USA, expect Plumlee to see time against Ibaka in a potential finals matchup as Coach K said that Plumlee will play the four at times.
I know that these stats may go out the window when you consider Spain runs a different system from the Gasol's and Ibaka's teams in the NBA, but it shows that Plumlee has success guarding three elite big men.
I get why Plumlee shouldn't be on the team. He's young and made it over guys who are definitely more talented. But from what we have seen, three exhibitions in which a combination of everyone has played, Plumlee impressed.
All the accounts out of USA practice were that Plumlee played great. Also, this isn't about Coach K playing favorites. That argument is silly. This isn't fourth grade rec. This is Team USA. Sure, if Coach K wanted to give his former big man a shot with the National Team and called him up from the Select Team for a practice, that's fine. But clearly, Plumlee proved his worth and is an impact player who has both energy and a high basketball IQ ... who unlike a lot of his teammates doesn't need the ball in his hands. That is what Team USA is looking for, especially at the end of their bench: guys who can come onto the floor, if at all, and give hard minutes while not needing to get touches in order to score.
Fact of the matter is is that some really smart basketball minds decided that Mason Plumlee was a top 12 fit for this team, and their opinion is the most important one.