Should Mason Plumlee have been knocked down a peg?
One was a consensus top-20 recruit and McDonald’s All-American who went to Duke for four years. One wasn’t even a top 100 recruit and went to mid-major Tulsa. One was a first round pick who made all-NBA rookie first team. One was a second round pick who has been on four different NBA rosters, three different D-League teams, and three different teams from various European leagues. One spent his summer playing for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup. One plays for the Jamaican National Team and spent his summer trying to make an NBA roster. Over the past four games one guy has averaged 9.25 minutes a game as the backup to Brook Lopez, the other guy has averaged 4.75 minutes a game as a third string center. Jerome Jordan leapfrogging Mason Plumlee in the Nets rotation is even more surprising than it appears at first glance. Mason is certainly the more talented player and a more important part of their future, but is his current play deserving of his benching?
Coach Hollins has soured on Mason for a variety of reasons, but it starts with the finishing. Mason has started off the season shooting a Kobe-esque 40.7% from the field with a 43.8% TS%, while Jordan has shot 73.3% from the field and has an insane 78.5% TS%. Last year, on a much larger sampling, Mason shot 65.9% from the field with a 67% TS%, and in Jordan’s last NBA stint with the Knicks shot 51.5% from the field with a 56.1% TS%. This is when us stat heads would predict a regression to the mean.
It’s unlikely that Mason has completely lost his ability to finish around the rim, and equally unlikely that Jordan has turned into Blake Griffin down low. Assuming Mason and Jerome both regress back to their “true” shooting ability is there anything else on offense that makes Jordan superior to Mason? So far the Nets have an ORTG of 107.2 with Jerome on the court and 106.8 with Mason on the floor. This difference is obviously marginal, and can be largely explained by random variance because Mason seems to be a more talented offensive player than Jordan. Neither Plumlee or Jordan is a competent shooter outside of five feet so neither of them help the Nets space the floor. Plumlee’s girth makes him a much better screen-setter than Jordan, and in terms of their performance on offense the only noticeable difference seems to be the shooting percentages. Why is that? Mason has gotten the opportunity to post up more this year than he did last year, but despite Hollins’s insistence that is not one of his strengths. Mason is at his best as a drop off finisher and a P&R lob target. If he cuts down on the post ups and sticks to his strengths his shooting percentage will likely improve, and the offense will be better as a whole.
Jerome has also been better on the offensive glass than Mason posting a 20.9% OREB rate compared to Plumlee’s 16.7% OREB rate, but Plumlee is miles ahead of him on the defensive glass with a 24.3% rate to Jordan’s 15.6.
On the defensive side of things Mason and Jordan have posted 103.2 and 103.9 DRTG’s respectively (making them both solid net positives so far this year). Mason certainly has the talent to be a better defender than Jordan as he is faster and a better leaper. However, as many young NBA players do, Mason really struggles with his rotations on the defensive end. Mason is often slow to rotate over when someone on the perimeter gets beat, and in P&R coverage Mason is very inconsistent. He gets caught over-hedging and finds himself out of position guarding the ball handler, and if he does manage to stay with his man he is prone to falling for hesitation moves or pump fakes. Despite all of these bad habits Mason’s combination of size and athleticism give him the potential to be a very solid defensive player. Considering the Nets D has been slightly better with Mason than it has with Jordan, it is certainly not a reason to favor Jordan in the rotation, who is even more slow-footed but makes up for it with ridiculous length.
Mason Plumlee is certainly not the player many Nets fan hoped he would be coming back from his World Cup appearance. Coach Hollins has overreacted to Jordan’s hot shooting start and Mason’s unusually poor performance by switching up the rotation. As Mason and Jerome both regress to more typical shooting performances the Nets should play Plumlee over Jordan for both short term success and the long term development of Mason’s NBA game. Hopefully this minutes change is a short term blip and Coach Hollins will give Mason more of a chance to prove his worth in the Nets rotation.