2017-18 Nuggets Player Breakdown: Mason Plumlee
There were good days and bad days, but almost no perfect health days for Mason Plumlee, who plowed through a painful season with a straight face and workmanlike approach.
He recently had core surgery to begin the healing process in earnest, and is expected to be ready to go for training camp in September. But because he was ailing a little more on many nights, Plumlee played 19.1 minutes per game – only the second time in his career being under 20 minutes – as the Nuggets medical staff and coach Michael Malone monitored him on a nightly basis.
One of the Nuggets’ toughest and most physical players, Plumlee averaged 7.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.1 blocks – second only to Paul Millsap’s 1.2 swats per game. This was his first full season with the Nuggets after being traded to the team in February 2017 from the Portland Trail Blazers.
OFFENSE: Nuggets coach Michael Malone has long talked about Plumlee’s floor game mirroring some of what starting center Nikola Jokic can do, and there were definitely elements of that on the court. In particular, in the areas of handling the ball up the court after snagging a defensive rebound, and of playmaking from the top of the key.
But perhaps Plumlee’s deadliest action was as the roll man in screen-roll actions. He had synergy all year long with guard Will Barton on lob plays after setting the screen, and then guard Devin Harris quickly connected with Plumlee on a number of lob dunks off high screen-roll action late in the season after coming to the Nuggets from Dallas. Plumlee was a 63 percent shooter in rolling to the basket and averaged 1.022 points per possession in that action. He was second on the team to Jokic in “screen assists” at 2.0 per game, which extrapolated over 36 minutes would have been 3.8 per game, a number that would have placed him among the top 15 in the league.
Plumlee’s post-up game was built on brute strength. At a stout 6-11, 255 pounds, he could back down nearly any player in the league, and when he was turning over his left shoulder, Plumlee flashed a reliable right-handed hook shot. When turning over his right shoulder, Plumlee opted to go up with two hands to the hoop more often than not. He’ll continue to work on his left hand in the painted area, as well as his footwork on the block.
Plumlee was very good in transition, making 74.3 percent of his shots when getting out into the open court. As one of the Nuggets most athletic players, finishing with dunks was a regular occurrence, and he became known for tossing a large number of those in backward. Plumlee drew 152 fouls – fourth most on the team – but didn’t cash in regularly on those attempts, shooting 45 percent from the stripe.
DEFENSE: Overall, Plumlee finished his fourth straight season with an average of over one block per game and led the Nuggets with 81 total blocks. Plumlee had nine games of at least three blocks, and the Nuggets were 5-4 in those games. On a team that struggled overall with rim protection, Plumlee provided a significant amount.
And he was one of the Nuggets’ best pick-and-roll bigs.
Plumlee was the team’s most aggressive big in hedging out on ball handlers. That resulted in him forcing a turnover in screen-roll action a robust 16 percent of the time. He lived to disrupt the ball-handler, and Malone trusted him to get the job done. Plumlee deflected 1.7 passes per game and was fourth on the team in contested shots with 7.2 per game. When the Nuggets needed a stop, Plumlee was almost always out there with the five players entrusted to try and get it.
And once fully back to health, Plumlee can continue to find continuity with his new team.
“It’s nice to have that security,” Plumlee said.
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter