Meet the 2020-21 Detroit Pistons: Plumlee, Okafor give the Pistons a 1-2 inside presence

Mason Plumlee
Mason Plumlee is one of the NBA’s most athletic centers and will give the Pistons solid play at both ends of the floor as one of their key pickups in free agency
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by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey and Saben Lee came in the draft. Jerami Grant, Delon Wright, Dzanan Musa and Rodney McGruder arrived via trade. And Mason Plumlee, Jahlil Okafor, Josh Jackson and Wayne Ellington were picked up in free agency.

Troy Weaver proved an equal opportunity acquisition artist – and a very busy man – in his first off-season, crammed into a one-week window, as Pistons general manager.

Here’s a look at the free-agent pickups after we introduced the draft picks on Monday and the trade acquisitions on Tuesday.

Mason Plumlee

MASON PLUMLEE

ID CARD: 6-foot-11 center, 30, Duke University

HOW ACQUIRED: Plumlee was signed as an unrestricted free agent by the Pistons, coming to terms on a reported three-year contract in the opening hours of free agency on Nov. 20.

NBA RESUME: Plumlee was the 22nd pick in the 2013 draft by Brooklyn and spent his first two seasons with the Nets where he started 67 of 152 games. He was traded by the Nets to Portland on draft night in 2015 and spent the 2015-16 season with the Trail Blazers, starting all 82 games while averaging 9.1 points and 7.7 rebounds. Plumlee was traded at the February 2017 trade deadline to Denver in a deal that sent Jusuf Nurkic to Portland. Plumlee spent the past 3½ seasons with the Nuggets where he has started 54 of his 244 games in a Denver uniform, mostly serving as backup to All-Star Nikola Jokic. Plumlee has been durable, playing all 82 games three times in his seven seasons. He’s averaged 8.3 points and 6.2 rebounds in 21.6 minutes a game for his career despite a more limited role as Jokic’s backup for half of his seven-year career.

BEFORE THE NBA: Plumlee was a highly recruited high school player who signed with Duke and, despite some expectations every year that it would be his final college season, exhausted his eligibility by spending four years in a Blue Devils uniform. Plumlee played 141 games at Duke, starting for the final three seasons and peaking as a senior when he averaged 17.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. Plumlee was an All-ACC first team honoree as a senior and a second team All-American.

WHAT'S NEXT: Plumlee is expected to start at center for the Pistons. He’s among the NBA’s most athletic centers and stays in his lane, rarely shooting from outside the paint. He’ll help anchor Dwane Casey’s defense and figures to be heavily involved in pick-and-roll action with guards Derrick Rose, Delon Wright and rookie lottery pick Killian Hayes. On a team that will have many players under 25, Plumlee will be one of just four players – Rose, Blake Griffin and Wayne Ellington the others – 30 or older.

FUN FACT: Mason Plumlee is the middle of three brothers who all played at Duke and had NBA careers. Miles Plumlee, 32, was a first-round pick (26th overall) by Indiana in the 2012 NBA draft. He spent seven seasons in the NBA with five NBA teams, most recently playing for Atlanta in 2018-19. Marshall Plumlee, 28, went undrafted out of college but latched on with the Knicks and played 21 games with them in 2016-17 and then played briefly with Milwaukee the following season. Miles Plumlee has also played in China and Australia.

Jahlil Okafor

JAHLIL OKAFOR

ID CARD: 6-foot-10 center, 24, Duke University

HOW ACQUIRED: The Pistons signed Okafor as an unrestricted free agent, coming to terms in the opening hours of free agency on Nov. 20, to a reported two-year contract.

NBA RESUME: The third overall pick in the 2015 draft, selected by Philadelphia, Okafor as a rookie had his most productive NBA season with 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds for a 76ers team only beginning its rebuilding program. The year before Okafor was drafted third overall, Philadelphia had drafted Joel Embiid third overall. Embiid sat out both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons with foot and back injuries, but when he was cleared to play in 2016-17 it meant something had to give and Okafor’s days in Philadelphia were numbered. Okafor was traded in December 2017 to Brooklyn. He finished the 2017-18 season with the Nets, averaging 6.4 points and 2.9 rebounds in 13 minutes a game. Okafor signed with New Orleans as a free agent prior to the 2018-19 season and has spent the past two seasons with the Pelicans, averaging 8.2 and 8.1 points per game in those years.

BEFORE THE NBA: Okafor spent one season at Duke, averaging 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds as a central figure on an NCAA championship team. Part of the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class that also featured future NBA players Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen, Okafor led the Blue Devils in scoring and rebounding.

WHAT'S NEXT: Okafor is a throwback center who would have been highly valued a generation ago but is now more of a niche player who is challenged to defend against smaller lineups or opponents comfortable playing at the 3-point line. But he’s still a young player who can provide an interior scoring presence and gives the Pistons quality depth at center while rookie Isaiah Stewart gets his feet wet.

FUN FACT: Okafor was the No. 1 recruit in the high school class of 2014 out of Whitney Young High in Chicago, choosing Duke over other national powers Michigan State, Arizona and Kentucky.

Josh Jackson

JOSH JACKSON

ID CARD: 6-foot-8 wing, 23, Kansas University

HOW ACQUIRED: Jackson agreed to terms with the Pistons on a reported two-year contract early in free agency.

NBA RESUME: Jackson was the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft by Phoenix and started 35 games for the Suns as a rookie, averaging 13.1 points and 4.6 rebounds a game but shot just 26.3 percent from the 3-point line. Jackson improved to 32.4 percent from the 3-point line in his second season when his numbers dipped slightly to 11.5 points and 4.4 rebounds. The Suns traded Jackson to Memphis prior to the 2019-20 season and he wound up spending a big chunk of the season playing for the Grizzlies G League affiliate where he averaged 20.4 points and 7.5 rebounds in 26 games while shooting 38.2 percent from the 3-point line. Jackson then finished the season strong with Memphis, averaging 9.0 points and 3.0 rebounds in 17 minutes a game. In five March games before the suspension of the NBA season, Jackson averaged 16.6 points.

BEFORE THE NBA: Jackson spent one season at Kansas, averaging 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals as a mainstay for the Jayhawks, the second-leading scorer on a team with two future NBA veteran guards in Frank Mason and Devonte Graham for a team that went 31-5, won the Big 12 and lost to Oregon in the Elite Eight. Jackson was the composite No. 1 recruit in a class that included Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Markelle Fultz and De’Aaron Fox.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Pistons are taking a low-risk flier on the highly athletic Jackson, who appeared to turn the corner from a maturity standpoint during his time in Memphis and could be ready to grow into the player at the high end of very high expectations. With terrific size and athleticism to go with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, Jackson has all the tools to be an elite defender. He’ll compete for minutes on the wing with rookie Saddiq Bey with his defensive versatility allowing Dwane Casey to use Jackson in a variety of lineups.

FUN FACT: Jackson grew up near Detroit in Southfield and won a Class B state championship as a sophomore at Detroit Consortium High, averaging 28 points, 15 rebounds and six assists a game. Jackson transferred to Prolific Prep in Napa, Calif., for his final two years of high school.

Wayne Ellington

WAYNE ELLINGTON

ID CARD: 6-4 guard, 33, University of North Carolina

HOW ACQUIRED: Ellington, who played with the Knicks last season, agreed to terms with the Pistons as an unrestricted free agent last month on a reported one-year deal.

NBA RESUME: Ellington joins the Pistons for a second tour of duty as the oldest member of the team. He was a first-round pick, No. 28 overall, of the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2009 NBA draft and has played for nine NBA teams. Ellington’s carrying tool has long been his 3-point shooting ability. He’s a career .378 3-point shooter who has taken 55 percent of his career shot attempts from the 3-point arc and seen the latter number skyrocket to 79 percent of his attempts over the past four seasons. That includes his 28-game stint to help the Pistons make the playoffs in the 2018-19 season. Ellington averaged 12.0 points per game over that time. He’s averaged 8.0 points per game in 681 career NBA games, 166 of them as a starter.

BEFORE THE NBA: Ellington played three seasons at North Carolina, declaring for the NBA draft after his junior season in Chapel Hill. He started 112 of his 115 career games in Carolina blue, averaging in double figures all three seasons, including 16.6 points per game as a sophomore and 15.8 as a junior on a loaded team. Ellington, a five-star recruit out of the Philadelphia area, hit 40 percent or better from the 3-point arc in those last two seasons and 39.7 percent for his college career while taking five shots a game from the 3-point line.

WHAT'S NEXT: Ellington gives the Pistons, who traded Luke Kennard in a three-team deal that netted No. 19 pick Saddiq Bey, a needed 3-point shooter and a steadying veteran influence. Ellington, a former client of current Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem, has long had an impeccable reputation as a consummate professional and peerless teammate and validated that characterization in his first stint with the Pistons. He’ll be capable of filling any role Dwane Casey asks of him and be an invaluable mentor for all of the rookies but perhaps most for Bey, who can model Ellington’s relentless off-the-ball actions in using screens to create space for open 3-point shots.

FUN FACT: Ellington’s 2009 North Carolina team included seven future NBA players, four of whom were picked in the ’09 draft two months after the Tar Heels won the title by routing Michigan State 89-72 at Ford Field in Detroit. Ellington scored 19 points in the title game, hitting all three of his 3-point shots. Ellington was the third first-round pick from that year’s starting lineup after Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson while Danny Green was taken in the second round. The other Tar Heels to eventually play in the NBA from that year’s team were Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller and Larry Drew II.

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