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Mason Plumlee: Why it didn't work

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Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Back-up center Mason Plumlee is gone. After a promising rookie season and even a great stretch of 25 games last season, the Nets traded the 7-footer to Portland for the rights to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and veteran point guard Steve Blake.

"Trading Mason was tough because I thought he gave us a lot in the two years he was here," Billy King said in the early hours Friday. "But looking at Hollis-Jefferson and his defensive ability, and trying to get more athletic [at the] wing position, it was something I felt we needed

The numbers

Why didn't it work? Let's get into it:

2014-2015

Mason Plumlee

Games Played

82

Minutes per game

21.3

True Shooting percentage

57

Assist rate

9.2

Turnover rate

13.1

Usage rate

19.5

Rebound rate

16.9

PER

18

Win Shares per 48

.131

After a successful rookie season that saw him step into the starting lineup following Brook Lopez's broken foot in December 2013, Plumlee barely saw action in the 2014 Playoffs. He only crossed the twenty minutes played plateau twice and only was on the court for two minutes the final three games of the Heat series (with two DNPs).

That summer, Plumlee was a part of Team USA in the FIBA World Cup. Like all Team USA squads, there was depth up and down the roster so Plumlee was behind DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and Kenneth Faried in the rotation. In fact, Plumlee only averaged 6.7 minutes a night in the tournament, fourth fewest among all of the players. Even though he didn't see much game action, practicing with big men of that caliber on a daily basis was certainly a positive for Plumlee.

Last year, David Thorpe of ESPN made note of one improvement Plumlee could make to his game. He said:

Mason Plumlee should study Chris Bosh. Plumlee has done an excellent job of doing what he knows he can do and not trying to expand his game (and fail and lose his rotation spot in the process). But if he could develop a midrange shot, an active body like his would become a far more valuable asset, especially considering Plumlee never projected as someone who could score.

When Bosh signed with Miami, the Heat needed him to be more of a perimeter threat to help create driving lanes for their superstar wings. He responded by growing into one of the elite midrange shooters in the league the past two seasons.

Bosh's shot almost always looks exactly the same -- a big key Plumlee can drill down on right away.

Did it happen? Not really. Plumlee only took 20 shots outside of eight feet this year after taking eleven during the 2013-2014 campaign. In his defense, it does take time for a player that spent all of his time near the rim to expand his offensive repertoire to include jumpers (former Net Derrick Favors is one example of this. Favors still takes the majority of his shots near the rim, but he has worked to include shots from ten feet and further). Most of Plumlee's offense came from close to the basket (within three feet) and he was sixteenth best at getting offensive rebounds, scooping them up 11.3 percent of the time. Plumlee was great at grabbing contested rebounds, and for a team that has had difficulty on the glass in recent seasons, Plumlee will ensure his place in the rotation if he can keep attacking the glass.

Along the way, his name was temporarily bandied about in trade rumors. In late December, he and Deron Williams were named as potential trade targets for the Sacramento Kings. It didn't happen of course as the deal never reached any meaningful stage and all parties stayed where they were. Brooklyn's refusal to entertain trade offers was a signal that they see Plumlee as a key contributor to the team going forward. He was one of the team's youngest regular rotation players and with the Nets looking to rearrange the roster, he's someone worth keeping around.

Brook Lopez got hurt in early December and missed two weeks with a lower back strain. Once Brook came back, he spent two months coming off of the bench. In that time (from December 10 to March 6), Plumlee averaged around 12 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes a night while collecting 11 double-doubles. Once Lopez returned to the starting five on March eighth, he only averaged 16.7 minutes per game the rest of the way.

Plumlee and Lopez didn't work well as a pairing. The team was 13.7 points per 100 possessions worse than their opponents with Plumlee and Lopez together. When Thaddeus Young came over from Minnesota, Lionel Hollins went away from the Plumlee-Lopez frontcourt. Plumlee is an athletic player, but he didn't provide enough/any floor space to make the Lopez pairing worthwhile and isn't good enough defensively to offset that.

Out of necessity, playoff rotations are very short. That said, Plumlee found himself on the outside looking in against the Hawks. He only averaged eight minutes a night in the six game series and didn't play more than ten minutes past Game Two. With Atlanta's style of play and Mason's inability to consistently knock down foul shots, he was the odd man out in the Brooklyn frontcourt.

The Highlight Reel

All Star Saturday Night was in Barclays Center and Plumlee was in the Dunk Contest. Here's how he did

Salary situation

He's still on his rookie contract and will make a little over one million dollars in 2015-2016. For a team like Portland looking for some financial flexibility, he's a bargain.

He needs to...

Become a much better free throw shooter. After shooting 62.6 percent from the free throw line last year, Plumlee's effectiveness at the foul line took a nose dive. He only made 49.5 percent of his foul shots and was a liability on the court as teams willingly sent him to the foul line. With teams frequently going to the Hack-a-___ strategy and no indication that the league will change it, you can't have Plumlee on the court due to fears that he'll miss his free throws. While Plumlee shot decently from the foul line his rookie season, he only shot 60 percent or better from the free throw line once in his four seasons at Duke. If he can shoot at least 60 percent from the line, teams won't go to the hacking strategy.

Plumlee can also stand to improve on defense. He allowed opponents to shoot 55.5 percent at the rim on a bit more than six shot attempts a game. He's not somewhere that can hang outside of the paint so he needs to better protect the rim as well as cutting down the number of fouls he commits.

In the future

The Nets made their decision and are very happy with it. RHJ is not just a potential starter. He's also only 20 years old, five years younger than Plumlee. Five years is a big difference in the NBA. The Nets knew they were going to sign Thaddeus Young, who figures to be in the Nets' plans for a long time. With Lopez back, Plumlee would once again be coming off of the bench.Thomas Robinson is now the player the Nets would like to come off the bench, both as a back up to the 5 or the 4.

Final Grade: B-

The season was a bit of a step back for Plumlee all things considered. He shot worse from the field and free throw line and found himself out of the playoff rotation for the second straight year, but he did manage to get more rebounds and commit fewer turnovers during the year. He has areas that need to be improved upon, but he's shown himself to be a capable contributor two years into his career. His time in Brooklyn was valuable. He became not just a contributor on the court, but off.

Postscript

His tenure with the Nets ended on a disappointing note, but his two years here were a net positive. When Plumlee was on the court, he provided a lot of energy and was solid on the glass. He was placed in difficult spots filling in for Brook Lopez, but managed to play well when he saw extended minutes. In both years he was absent in the playoffs, and he still has room for improvement. When we think of Plumlee as a Net, always go back to this moment against the Miami Heat in March of 2014:

He'll be someone to keep a close eye on with Damian Lillard in Portland.