Plumlee Ready to Expand His Game

By Lenn Robbins | @lennrobbins

ORLANDO – When you’ve attended a prestigious university such as Duke, as did Brooklyn Nets forward Mason Plumlee, you get accustomed to tough grading.

After averaging 18 points on 75-percent shooting with 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists in three Orlando Pro Summer League games, we asked Plumlee to grade himself.

“A solid B,” he said.

Memo to self: Don’t take any courses taught by Professor Plumlee.

“Probably the thing I wasn’t happy with was the rebounding,’’ Plumlee said. “I have to rebound the ball better. Regardless of whether I play the two, three, four, whatever, I’ve got to rebound. That could have been improved.

“And then free throw shooting. That second game I didn’t shoot as well from the line as I liked.

“The other stuff is just taking chances.  I would have liked to get some shots up in the summer league but the way I was playing, rolling to the basket, it didn’t happen. Those are all things that through training camp, and the off-season, I’ll have plenty of opportunities.”

Plumlee missed the last two games of his second summer league after mildly spraining his left foot. Had it been a regular season game he would have been on the court. There was no sense risking further injury to a player that could figure significantly in the Nets’ plans for 2014-15.

Two-fifths of the Nets starting lineup from last season – Shaun Livingston and Paul Pierce – left via free agency. That diminishes the possibility of the Nets playing small ball in the upcoming season and increases the probability that Plumlee will have a greater role under new coach Lionel Hollins.

Plumlee’s play in Orlando confirmed he’s ready to shed his rookie status and be a consistent player.

“You’re kind of like a deer in the headlights that first year,” Plumlee said of last year’s experience in Orlando. “Everybody’s bigger, faster, stronger. The pro sets are a lot different. Everything is just a little more sped up. 

“This season I was more confident coming in, kind of knew my spots where I’d get the ball and get opportunities. It was a fun summer league for me.”

Plumlee got a crash course in the NBA last season. It wasn’t until February that Plumlee proved to the coaching staff that he understood his role and was capable of excelling at playing in the paint.

Of the 302 shots he attempted, only 11 came outside of the paint. Of the 4.4 rebounds-per-game he averaged, three came on the defensive end along with 55 blocked shots.

With all due respect to Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams and Orlando’s Victor Oladipo, no NBA rookie did a better job of playing within himself than Plumlee.

Plumlee made 65.9 percent of his shots. He’s looking to expand his game. And the Brooklyn Nets need him to do so.

“I think in the games from summer league I was able to show that I could pass the ball,” Plumlee said. “If I’m able to play with Brook, and it’s not just an either him or me, maybe we can be on the floor at the same time.  So I wanted to show that I could pass big to big, that I could find people penetrating, that me putting the ball on the floor isn’t always about getting to the basket.

“I can make opportunities for other players. And those are things I’ve done at other points in my career. I didn’t do it last year. 

Plumlee is referring to center Brook Lopez, who is expected back for the start of the season after suffering a broken bone in his right foot last December.

With Lopez eating up space down low and drawing defenders, Plumlee finds himself in a familiar position – finding his niche.

"You'd laugh if you watched our high school team play," Plumlee said. "I hit a couple of threes every game in high school. It was a big part [of my game]. We played like VMI. It was just run and gun, shoot it. But things change.

"I get to Duke and they aren't looking at me to score. It's rebound, run the floor, put some weight on, get inside. So you just have to adjust. But it's something that can come back and I'm working at it. It's just going to take time."

Plumlee has been a frequent presence at the team’s training facility in East Rutherford. He’s been putting up hundreds of jumpers, working from the corner to the wing to the top of the key.

As good as Plumlee was from the field last season, he struggled at the foul line, making just 62.6 percent (122 of 195) of his free-throw attempts. The problem continued in Orlando, where he made just 18 of 28 free throws (64.3 percent), including 6 of 12 in the second game.

"If Brook comes back and I want to get on the floor, I'm going to have to knock down shots," Plumlee said. "It'll make me a better player."

Plumlee has proven he can adapt. Now he must prove that at the highest level, he can find countermeasures to keep him on the court.

His minutes and productivity decreased throughout the playoffs as teams locked in on him down low. At 6-11, 235 pounds, he will continue to work the paint. Now is the time to show he can work from the perimeter as well.

“You always have to keep evolving as a player," Plumlee said.