2020-21 Rewind: Mason Plumlee validated Pistons vision for him – and their faith in him

Mason Plumlee
Mason Plumlee had a career year for the Pistons and was a driving force in helping a young team keep its competitive spirit intact in the face of adversity
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

If the reported three-year, $24 million deal the Pistons offered Mason Plumlee at the opening bell of free agency last November wasn’t the most chided of that night’s league-wide frenzy, it was in the top three.

It was a response to the general depression in value attached to the center position as the NBA has become dominated by 3-point shooting and obsessed with floor spacing. But the Pistons had a clear idea of how Plumlee would be used and the impact he could have on a roster dominated by youth and in need of the attributes Plumlee offered – his reputation as a great teammate, his leadership and communication skills and his professionalism across all aspects of the job. Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey knew the travails of the 2020-21 season could leave lasting negative impact on players getting their feet wet in the NBA and prioritized surrounding them with veterans who would carry themselves with utmost professionalism in the face of whatever was to come.

The Pistons came out of the season feeling fully justified in their commitment to Plumlee, who gave them effort and production on a nightly basis. Here’s a look at Plumlee’s 2020-21 season:

PROFILE: 6-foot-11 center, 31 years old, 8 NBA seasons
2020-21 STATS: 10.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists per game
STATUS: Plumlee signed a three-year contract for a reported $24 million with the Pistons in November 2020

DID YOU KNOW: Plumlee is the middle of three brothers, all of whom played on a national championship team at Duke and went on to play in the NBA. Miles Plumlee played 135 games, 58 as a starter, at Duke from 2008-12 and was a member of the 2010 NCAA championship team. He was taken with the 26th pick by Indiana in the 2012 NBA draft and played for five teams in seven seasons, last with Atlanta in 2018-19. Mason followed Miles to Duke a year later, also a member of the 2010 national champs, and played 141 games over his four seasons, starting 98 over his final three seasons. Marshall Plumlee played 124 games over his four years at Duke from 2012-16 and also won a national championship with the Blue Devils in 2015. He started all 36 games as a senior and went undrafted in 2016 but played 29 games with the Knicks and Bucks over the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. Plumlee joined the U.S. Army after his NBA career and graduated from the elite Army Ranger school in August 2019.

A LOOK BACK: Plumlee was a five-star recruit and the No. 18 composite recruit in the high school class of 2009. The Plumlee brothers grew up in Warsaw, Ind., but all played high school basketball at Christ School in Arden, N.C., before attending nearby Duke. Mason was the highest-rated recruit of the three brothers and had the most impact at the college level, averaging 9.8 points and 7.7 rebounds over his four years and peaking as a senior when Plumlee averaged 17.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.4 blocks for the Blue Devils. He was picked 22nd in the 2013 draft and spent his first two seasons with Brooklyn where he started 67 games. The Nets traded Plumlee on draft night in 2015 for the 23rd pick used to take Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Plumlee spent 1½ seasons in Portland, starting all 136 games for the Trail Blazers in that time, before being traded to Denver for Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick. Plumlee started 54 of 244 games in Denver over the next 3½ seasons as Nikola Jokic emerged as an All-Star and MVP candidate with the Nuggets.

THE SEASON THAT WAS: Plumlee quickly signed with the Pistons in the opening hours of free agency on Nov. 20 with general manager Troy Weaver later crediting Dwane Casey with being the organization’s major proponent of Plumlee’s acquisition. Plumlee again proved remarkably durable, missing only two games at mid-season with elbow bursitis before the Pistons rested him along with several other veterans over the final month of the season. In 56 games, Plumlee averaged 10.4 points – matching his career high set in the 2016-17 season split between Portland and Denver – and a career-high 9.3 rebounds in 27 minutes a game. Plumlee, a terrific passer, also averaged 3.6 assists, the second-highest average of his NBA career. Plumlee posted two triple-doubles for the Pistons – 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a Valentine’s Day win over New Orleans and 10 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists in a March win over Toronto.

A LOOK AHEAD: Plumlee will remain a rotation fixture in his second season with the Pistons, though perhaps he’ll cede some minutes to 2020-21 rookie Isaiah Stewart. Plumlee’s ability to serve as a post facilitator, his screening and his effectiveness as a target for lob passes were among the reasons Weaver and Casey felt Plumlee would be an ideal fit for a team with 19-year-old rookie point guard Killian Hayes acclimating to the NBA. Plumlee is among the NBA’s most athletic centers and is assignment-sure at both ends while also maintaining a peerless reputation for his locker-room presence. At 31, Plumlee’s athleticism and history of durability should keep him a productive and valuable member of the Pistons for the two remaining years of his contract.

MONEY QUOTE: “Mason’s been tremendous. Coach Casey, this was his No. 1 guy he really wanted for our ballclub. Because of the different things he brings, the experience, the locker-room presence, Coach was dead on. We had a lot of good talks about Mason before we signed him. I’m happy for Mason’s success and Coach’s vision for him. More times than not, players succeed or fail when there’s no vision for him and Coach had a vision for him. This guy’s been tremendous for us. He’s really helped the young guys. He’s really stepped his game up.” – Troy Weaver on Plumlee during the March All-Star break

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