If you watched the Brooklyn Nets beat the New Orleans Pelicans 93-81 Sunday night, you saw the type of player Mason Plumlee can become.
With 22 points and 13 rebounds, Plumlee epitomized everything a modern NBA center should be and in turn gave the Nets a new dimension: vertical weaponry.
If you’ve been following the NBA over the past decade, you’ve seen a best case scenario for Plumlee’s career. Plumlee is the Nets’ cross-Hudson counter to Tyson Chandler: a freakishly tall human being who also happened to be blessed with freakishly good athleticism. That rare blend of size and power allows him to attack in ways on the basketball court that few others can and as a byproduct in areas that few others can: vertically.
A player unlike Plumlee, and thus bound to the laws of gravity, may spend their time attacking the horizontal space on a basketball court. Brook Lopez is one example. Lopez is tall enough to dunk, and does so often, but plays a below-the-rim game about as much as any successful center could.
At present moment, Plumlee’s greatest skill that he brings to an NBA game is his ability to simply set a screen, roll hard to the front of the rim and, most importantly, finish the play. That’s a skill no Nets big man has possessed since Kenyon Martin left town.
First let’s look at the roll: if basketball is a game of trying to create one-second advantages, then Plumlee’s roll to the hoop — just the roll alone — after setting a screen creates valuable advantages for the Nets.
Because he is such a threat to catch a lob or to throw down a thunderous dunk (as he did several times vs. the Pelicans), Plumlee’s roll attracts lots of help-side defensive attention, meaning long closeouts for those same defenders as the ball swings around the Nets’ perimeter. These long closeouts and one-second advantages Plumlee creates are immeasurably valuable.
The other element is Plumlee’s finishing. Plumlee lacks traditional back-to-the-basket post moves and his offensive game can be summed up by the words run-catch-finish. But there’s beauty in that simplicity. Plumlee demands no touches on offense, and on a team that’s ripe with players that do, its refreshing to have someone who can still be effective without the ball.
According to NBA.com, 84 of Plumlee’s 90 made field goals have come at the rim. 84! Of those 84, 84.3% have been assisted on.
Run, catch, finish.
The added aerial dimension that Plumlee brings makes his finishing all the more ominous. The option to catch and finish over the rim opens up all sorts of angles for Nets passers. Why try and thread a needle through an assortment of arms, when you can simply flip a pass over the top?
Plumlee still has a long way to go before he can be declared a game-changer, but as glimpses of potential turn to long, sustained images, the airspace above the Nets’ basket become that much more hostile for defenders.