At one point this season, Mason Plumlee was arguably the Nets' best player. The former Blue Devil beat the sophomore slump early in the season and Lionel Hollins even decided to start him over All-Star Brook Lopez. Now, in the same year of his meteoric rise, Plumlee is on the outside looking in.
Plumlee took the Brooklyn frontcourt by storm after a slow start to to season, averaging 13.6 points per game, 8.3 rebounds per game in almost 30 minutes per game. His above the rim play was the fodder for numerous highlight reels and his athleticism was a shot of adrenaline to a slow, achy Brooklyn offensive attack.
However, since February 19, Plumlee's numbers have dropped significantly. He's now only averaging 6.9 points per game in under 20 minutes per game and has only started eight games since the All-Star break. Plumlee's crash back down to Earth has been epitomized by a February 25 contest against the Pelicans in which he played only 13 minutes and scored zero points.
There's something significant about the date February 19: that's the day the Nets traded for Thaddeus Young. With the newly aquired Young, Hollins employed a small-ball rotation, making Young the starting forward and Plumlee the backup center. Both offensively and defensively, the roster change made the Nets quicker and more athletic and kept Plumlee and Lopez, one of the worst two-man combinations in the league this season, from sharing the floor together.
Plumlee now has to share 48 minutes with Lopez and considering the way Lopez has been playing recently (I'll give you a hint: really, really well), he's spending more of his time wearing his warmups over his jersey. There's simply no reason to play Plumlee ahead of Lopez and no reason to have him play along side his fellow center. Well, until this happened:
To the relief of Nets fans, Young seemed to have avoided catastrophic injury, but he could still miss a few games. With Mirza Teletovic out for the season, Cory Jefferson simply not being ready and the Joe-Johnson-at-the-four experiment going the way of the buffalo, Plumlee may very well slide into the starting four position, even if it reunites one of the most inefficient big man combinations in the league.
Plumlee isn't on the record, at least recently, about the Twin Towers experiment, his counterpart wants to give it another chance.
"I honestly think a lot of it is just opportunity," Lopez said Wednesday, hours before Young went down. "I'd absolutely love for Mason and I to get more minutes. I'm a huge advocate of it. We just haven't had that much opportunity playing together. We really don't know what we have to do covering each others back, two really big players -- having a big 4 and myself at the 5. We have to learn to co-exist out there. I think it could work."
But here's something else to think about: Plumlee simply might be gassed. Prior to his rookie campaign, Plumlee had never played more than 37 games in a season. Last year, that number ballooned to 70 regular season games plus 10 playoff games. Then, instead of taking the summer off for some light off-season work, Plumlee joined the U.S. men's basketball team in Spain for the FIBA World Cup. He didn't get a lot of minutes, but with practice, "friendly" games in both the U.S. and Europe, then the tournament, Plumlee didn't get any time off.
With 70 games, and 43 starts, already under his belt this season, Plumlee simply may not have enough gas in the tank to replicate his early season numbers. Just some food for thought.