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Analysis of Mason Plumlee from Blazers Edge writers, Dan Marang and David MacKay

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Blazers Edge writers Dan Marang and David MacKay share their thoughts on Mason Plumlee

Blazers Edge is the Portland Trail Blazers blog for SB Nation and one of the best blogs in the network. I had the fortune of getting to know and hang out with two of their writers this summer at the Las Vegas Summer League, Dan Marang and David MacKay. Both were great basketball minds and I really enjoyed their company and perspectives on the NBA and the Blazers so I reached out to the to get their opinions on Mason Plumlee as a player and what they think Nuggets fans should expect when he puts on the powder blue and gold.

Give both David and Dan a follow on twitter and check out their work on Blazers Edge.

What were your initial reactions to the trade?

Dan Marang: First thing that jumped into my mind was the Kool-Aid man breaking through the wall of the Blazer’s season riding an M1-Abrams tank and screaming “Oh yeah!” For those that aren’t aware, I’ve been calling for the Blazers to blow things up almost as soon as I saw the money handed out this past summer. Moving Portland’s second best playmaker in Mason Plumlee after the possibly season ending injury to Evan Turner is about as close to a neon sign reading “TANK” as I’ve seen in sometime.

While I like the deal on its merits, a 1st round pick and a young, salary controlled big who’s got the raw measurables, the fact that this is such a needle mover for Portland underscores how badly this move was needed. Pushed against luxury tax hell in the immediate future and almost no truly tenable assets outside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Portland needed to restock the cupboards and fast. Bringing in a salary controlled 7-footer and mid 1st round pick is a pretty decent haul. But this is a move for the future if there ever was one for Portland. For Denver however, it makes a lot of sense.

David MacKay: I was excited. Plumlee is a solid player, but there was no way the Blazers could have afforded to keep him as an RFA this summer. Turning Plumlee into a first round pick and a young center with presumable upside while mitigating the 2017 luxury tax hit was a win. Plus, making the Nuggets better is a stealthy tank job from Olshey. The Nuggets have a better chance to keep the Blazers out of the playoffs now, giving Portland more desirable standing in the draft. And I always like to see Denver do well, so I consider this a win-win.

What are Mason Plumlee’s strengths?

Marang: He’s one of the hardest workers you’ll find in the NBA. That’s something that often gets overlooked in today’s league. Plumlee brings it every single night and he doesn’t take possessions off. He may have shorter arms/wingspan than other bigs, but he tries to make up for it with sheer will and determination.

This isn’t hyperbole, Mason Plumlee is one of the three best passing big men in the league. That list, Marc Gasol, Plumlee, and Nikola Jokic. Adding Plumlee to Denver’s roster will allow for continuity of play to continue no matter which big is on the floor. That’s not something a lot of teams can say they have.

Plumlee is an adequate rebounder, can finish at the rim with authority and probably handles the ball better than almost any non-superstar big in the league. Those are qualities that are in short supply in the NBA. Throw in his weak-side shot blocking and hard nosed attitude and you have what is certainly one of the best back-up bigs in the NBA.

MacKay: He is a gifted passer and generally mindful of his teammates’ whereabouts on the perimeter. I think most would acknowledge that he makes his teammates better. He is also effective in the pick-and-roll, so if you’re looking for someone to handle a pocket pass and go up for an easy dunk, you will appreciate what he brings to the table.

What are Plumlee’s weaknesses?

Marang: Remember what I said about arms/wingspan? When Plumlee is matched up against true 7-footers with size and length he can be dominated by his matchup. There’s only so much hustle and moxie can make up for when you’re giving 6” of wingspan, 2-3” in height, and 25-30 pounds against some of the premier bigs in the league.

While incredibly athletic and mobile, Plumlee isn’t that great in pick and roll coverage. Now, some of this is exasperated by playing behind Lillard and McCollum so perhaps that can change in Denver. But he hasn’t shown the capacity to play above the free throw line defensively in his time in Portland.

Offensively, Plumlee is kind of an enigma. While a superior athlete with serious bounce, he opts for layups more than dunks. Preferring to avoid contact and instead try finesse. The other issue is he’s a terrible shooter- from nearly everywhere. He’s below average around the rim, he’s atrocious from the foul line, and he tries to take a 12-footer that will cause more primal scream inducing face palms than you thought imaginable.

MacKay: Despite being a good roll man, he often gets stone hands in the post. Maybe that’s a minor gripe, but it always drove me a little mad to see him bobble the entry pass. It’s pretty common for him. That said, the post is where you want him because he is a poor jump shooter. He tried to extend his range in the offseason, but it was an unsuccessful endeavor. I hesitate to comment on his defense because those woes cannot be entirely separated from Portland’s leaky perimeter and blown rotations. I’d offer optimism in a new environment, but I’ve seen Denver’s numbers in that department.

Do you think that Plumlee can defend power forwards for 5-15 minutes per game?

Marang: A lot of this depends on team scheme and who he’s on the floor with. Can he run a stretch-4 off the three-point line? Sure. But you better have your defense on a string and able to recover while Plumlee scrambles back into position. With less and less traditional bigs coming off the bench, it’s going to be an interesting experiment if the Nuggets try to play Plumlee against any kind of perimeter oriented forward/center. He’s not above the challenge, it’s just not a situation I would dump him into and expect glowing results.

MacKay: That depends on the power forward. If we’re talking about someone who can streak around and stretch the floor with outside shooting, you might be better off with someone else. If we’re talking about someone like Taj Gibson or Trevor Booker, you may have room to experiment. For all the grief Plumlee gets for rim protection, he’s actually not terrible at affecting shots around the basket; that’s where he’s most comfortable, and the numbers back that up. Stotts typically had him stay home on defense. Take from that what you will.

Do you think he and Nikola Jokic can play together on the offensive end?

Marang: Sooooooo many back cuts. That’s all I keep thinking about. If there is enough shooting on the floor to keep defenses honest, Denver could become Frankenstein mountainy version of the Warriors. While Golden State gets credit for knocking down threes by the truckload they’re absolutely lethal on cuts. That’s because they can pass and move all over the floor. Plumlee can do both as well. If you put Jokic in the middle as the primary guy, Plumlee can cut/receive/dunk or act as the secondary facilitator with action on the backside of the play. You could even see some more traditional sets like a “Horns” with action from both Jokic and Plumlee operating out of the high post.

Basically this could be a really unique/fun offense. There’s also the teeenciest of chances that it completely blows up. Which, is also kind of entertaining.

MacKay: I sure hope so because the two of them together for stretches has potential to be the best passing frontcourt in the league. That passing will be important because they both score so close to the basket (although Jokic comes out more often) that it might shrink the court if they are not actively looking to find open teammates. All that said, I’d be interested to see Plumlee just smite second units more often than not. He’s long occupied that range between decent starter and would-be stellar bench player. I suppose his overall use depends on Denver’s needs which you are probably more attuned to than I am.