Moke Hamilton, NBA AnalystThe old adage says that numbers do not lie, but in the realm of pro basketball, they are only half the story.
And for the Brooklyn Nets, the whole story is this: the team has one of the NBA’s deepest front courts, and rookie Mason Plumlee has the look and feel of a player who is worthy of rotation minutes. It is just a shame that he is not likely to get them with this current Nets team.
But perhaps he should.
In Tuesday night’s 82-80 victory over the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center, Plumlee played 21 minutes. There were a few moments when he and the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk did battle in the paint, and from Barclays Center’s press box, both young, big men looked like they belonged on an NBA court. And against Olynyk — one of Las Vegas’ favorites to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award — Plumlee did not look overmatched.
In his 21 minutes of duty, the game did not seem to move too quickly for him. He never looked lost.
“Each game, I feel a little more comfortable,” Plumlee told SNY Nets after the Nets victory. “The game seems to slow down a little bit more.”
For the most part, in basketball, we tend to focus on the things that did happen: He scored 25 points. He got to the free throw line. He blocked four shots.
Rarely, though, do we point out the things that did not happen, especially with regard to young big men entering the league. Often times, those things that did not happen are just as important: He did not get dominated. He did not look lost. He did not embarrass himself.
And thus far, it is what Plumlee has not done that has caught my attention.
“[Mason] plays with a lot of energy and definitely keeps me in check,” Brook Lopez told SNY Nets on Tuesday night. “He is definitely a good center for this team and he will be ready when his opportunity comes.”
When names such as Robert Swift, Mouhamed Sene or Hasheem Thabeet are thrown out in NBA circles, words such as “bust” or “waste” are often used. With the aforementioned three players, as rookies, they always looked a step slow and just a bit lost. Over time, that is an obstacle that can be overcome, but a player that has a high basketball I.Q. and one that works hard, knows where he should be on the floor and makes solid decisions off the ball—those are the hallmarks of a pro in the making.
And that is what the Nets may have in Plumlee.
Obviously, after only a few preseason games, it may be a bit premature to anoint Plumlee as a future Hall-of-Famer, but with the opportunity to learn from a few and go head-to-head with the likes of All-Star Brook Lopez in practice everyday, it is fair to question what kind of minutes Plumlee warrants in the Nets frontcourt rotation.
In the NBA, we have seen this movie before. A talented youngster enters the fold on a team that has veteran players at his position and ends up riding the pine for a few years before ultimately ending up elsewhere and fulfilling his potential for another team.
The wiser move for the Nets, at least in this instance, would be to find minutes for Plumlee by playing Kirilenko or Blatche at small forward, at least in spurts. Finding minutes for Plumlee at either the power forward or center position is something that Jason Kidd should prioritize.
At best, Plumlee proves to be a rotation piece in the NBA and would allow the Nets to make a trade or two to clear the logjam up front and help bolster the backcourt. At worst, Plumlee proves himself to rightfully be the sixth-best front court player on the team and buried on the depth chart.
Especially as concerns over the Nets’ longterm health persist, Plumlee may find himself not only with an opportunity to play, but also with an opportunity to have an impact.
“I’m ready whenever they call on me,” Plumlee said after Tuesday’s four-point, five-rebound, two-block effort. “I’m just gonna do what they want me to do.”
And what his teammates want him to do is keep working hard and be ready to contribute.
“I like Mason,” Joe Johnson told SNY.tv when asked about Plumlee’s development as a player. “He’s working hard, he’s learning, he’s got [Kevin Garnett] in his ear all the time so this is a great experience for him. He should be a sponge and soak everything up that he can and just learn everyday and get better and better.”
According to him, that is exactly what Plumlee plans on doing.
“You always pick up stuff from other players,” Plumlee said. “And we have some really good other players to pick up stuff from so it’s been beneficial.”
With just four preseason games in the books, these Nets have a long way to go, and so does Plumlee. Already, Plumlee has proven he is no stiff. If given the opportunity, he may be able to prove a lot more.
Moke Hamilton is the NBA Analyst for SNY.tv, contributing to both SNYNets.com and TheKnicksBlog.com.