Mason Plumlee’s potential to produce in a larger role


As the off-season marches on, one of the new, young players I am most interested in is Mason Plumlee. Plumlee, brought to the Portland Trail Blazers via a draft-day trade, is a young big who has already made strides in his first two years in the league. In fact, he has already been a member of the National Team, and will be heading to their camp again this year.

When looking over Plumlee’s body of work thus far, the most apparent thing to note is his relative lack of playing time. As a rookie, Plumlee earned only 18.2 minutes per game, and as a sophomore, that number only slightly increased to 21.3.

To start with, while only a modest increase, his playing time trending upward is a good thing, and could signify more trust from his coaches. However, one of the first thoughts that may come to mind when pondering this is simply, “If he’s supposed to be good enough to trade for, why has he not played more?”

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To this I would answer that he was only the 22nd pick in the 2013 draft, and that it takes a while for bigs to develop. He was not expected to be a day-one game-changer, and it’s not unreasonable whatsoever to think that he would need some time to establish himself. Additionally, as a big man, while he was in Brooklyn, many of the minutes for post players were soaked up by Brook Lopez.

A great tool to look at these lower-usage players is their production in relation to their minutes, and what may happen to them if given more opportunity to play. If you prorate Plumlee’s statistics out to 36 minutes per game (roughly a starter’s normal playing time), Plumlee would have averaged 14.8 points per game and 10.6 rebounds per game last season.

Those are great numbers in a vacuum, but even better when you realize that DeMarcus Cousins and Nikola Vucevic were the only two centers to reach those marks in 2014-15. If advanced stats are more of your thing, Plumlee’s 18.0 PER is more than adequate as well.

Now, we cannot simply say if Player X receives more minutes, he will produce at exactly the same rate. Things will change. If Plumlee does in fact receive more minutes, he will likely be playing against better opposition for longer stretches of time. Fatigue may set in. He will have to adjust to the Portland offense.

However, while his playing time has been relatively capped up to this point, it has not been insubstantial; 21 minutes a game is still a reasonable sample size to analyze. All signs point toward high-level production. A whole myriad of factors will come into play, but the bottom line is that Plumlee really has some potential.

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