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Stat of the Week: Mason Plumlee has elevated the Denver Nuggets

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Mason Plumlee has helped the Nuggets play better.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Since the Denver Nuggets acquired Mason Plumlee on February 12th, here are some numbers that should pique the interest of Nuggets fans:

Win-Loss Record Net Rating Net Rating w/o Jokic
Before Plumlee trade 24-30 -2.2 -7.8
After Plumlee trade 8-5 +5.8 -4.1

Key points:

  1. Denver is simply playing better since the deal. With wins over teams like the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics, along with three road victories in a row, the Nuggets are simply coming to play more frequently than they were before the trade. Going 8-5 and having a Net Rating higher than +5.0 would put Denver in the upper echelon of NBA teams. Maybe not Golden State and San Antonio, but the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics are very similar.
  2. The drop off when Nikola Jokic goes to the bench still exists, but it is far less drastic. Plumlee has done a great job of filling in for Jokic, and while the bench has had some identity issues of late, they are much more to do with the guards finding themselves rather than Plumlee struggling. The big man has accumulated 9.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in just 24.3 minutes per game. With multiple high assist outings in his time here, teammates are starting to adjust to Plumlee’s game, one that will help the Nuggets while Jokic is off the floor.
  3. Next, the Twin Towers lineup of Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic posted a -15.6 net rating in 108 minutes, according to NBA.com. The Nuggets thought this lineup would be an asset at the beginning of the year, but the way it was deployed was ill conceived, and the two just didn’t mesh well with the other three players on the floor. With Jokic and Plumlee, in 56 minutes so far, the duo has posted a +11.6 net rating, not necessarily because of an overwhelming talent disparity, but the way that the players play together. Of the six five-man groups this tandem has played minutes with, all but one have posted positive net rating. Most of the time, Jameer Nelson and Danilo Gallinari are out there to help steady the ship and provide added spacing. This is drastically different from the Jokic/Nurkic duo, one that usually consisted of Emmanuel Mudiay and Will Barton at the beginning, two slashers.

What Denver needed this season and in future seasons was the confidence that they could play the way they wanted to play at the center position for 48 minutes a night. Denver has only played 56 minutes without either Jokic or Plumlee on the floor since the trade, and the majority of that was during games Jokic sat out due to injury. Denver clearly wants to play with a pass-first center on the floor for as much time as possible.

Nurkic is a talented passer, as he has shown with the Blazers, but his mentality was never one of a pass-first guy. His first instinct is to score, and that’s one of the aspects that made him the Bosnian Beast. That being said, the fit with Plumlee in Denver has turned the Nuggets into a very competent basketball team.

Nuggets fans should be happy. The team has performed very well, and by building around the anchor of a passing center on the floor for the entire game, the Nuggets have forged a winning identity. They still have work to do in the remaining 15 games, but the groundwork has been laid for years to come.