The 2018-19 season has been the best of Mason Plumlee’s NBA career.
Anchoring the Denver Nuggets bench unit when Nikola Jokic leaves the floor, Plumlee has provided excellent energy, above-the-rim athleticism in the pick and roll, and even better defense. His Two-Man Net Ratings visualize just how effective the bench unit is while he’s out there.
While some players have struggled to make a positive impact in various lineup combinations, Plumlee has worked well with everyone to play significant minutes with him.
It should be no surprise at this point though. Plumlee consistently makes plays like this on the defensive end.
Averaging a 4.7 percent block rate and an absolutely absurd 3.3 percent steal rate, Plumlee is protecting the basket at an excellent clip this year. It’s no wonder that his 95.0 Defensive Rating far and away leads centers in the NBA. His steal rate also leads centers by a shockingly wide margin.
Circling back to the Net Rating chart, Plumlee hasn’t spent a ton of time with Paul Millsap to bolster his defensive rating either. Just 35 minutes between Denver’s two best front court defenders has allowed Denver to buffer Nikola Jokic with as much defensive help as necessary from his regular running mate. By comparison, Millsap and Jokic have spent 480 minutes together, accumulating just a 100.0 Defensive Rating in the process.
Still, Plumlee has lifted the bench defensively. With quality defensive rotations, grit, and hustle, he has made up for any mistakes made on the perimeter by Denver’s cast of bench characters. Those players worry about the offense, as Plumlee’s role on that end has been simplified to operating as an above the rim threat in the pick and roll and a passing/scoring threat out of the post on occasion. Plumlee’s usage and assist rates have increased moderately over last year’s marks, in which he operated out of the short corner for much of the season while playing with Nikola Jokic.
Other notable Net Rating Duos:
Juancho Hernangomez and the starters
My, what a lift Juancho Hernangomez has provided the starting lineup. As a shooting threat from anywhere, heavy cutter/offensive rebounder, and occasional dribble-driver, Hernangomez has added a dimension to the starting lineup offensively that Torrey Craig simply couldn’t provide. Whether this has more to do with Denver’s starters failing to shoot with Craig in the lineup or Craig causing those issues himself takes a bit more to understand. Despite that, Hernangomez and his stellar 44.4 percent mark from beyond the arc on 3.6 attempts per game has elevated Denver’s starters. If he can make more plays like this, then look out.
Jamal Murray and the bench
Murray has found a home as the shooting guard in Denver’s primary bench unit. Last night, Murray scored 11 of his 20 points in a five minute stretch to close the first quarter and open the second quarter. Even though Brandon Ingram had success during that period, Murray outplayed him and helped shoulder the offensive load.
That he’s a +8.0 Net Rating or better with each of his bench compadres in Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Trey Lyles, and Mason Plumlee says a lot about that dynamic. Morris is the pick and roll facilitator. Murray is the primary scorer. Lyles is the secondary scorer. Plumlee is the roll guy. Beasley fills in the gaps as needed and guns from outside. That unit has been special this year, winning Denver games like last night, against Oklahoma City, and more.
Nikola Jokic and Trey Lyles
At one point earlier this year, Adrian Wojnarowski speculated on the his podcast that the Nuggets see Lyles as the power forward of the future. He might be. He might not be. The facts are that Lyles and Jokic are far and away the worst duo on the team from a Net Rating perspective. Both have been deliberate in their scoring this year, and both like to operate in similar spots on the floor (at the top of the key, the elbow, in the post, etc.) so it will be interesting to see if they can figure things out.
Secretly, the Nuggets have a lot of uncertainty at power forward next season. Millsap has a team option, Lyles is a restricted free agent, Hernangomez has played primarily small forward this year, Tyler Lydon isn’t an option, and both Michael Porter Jr. and Jarred Vanderbilt are out until further notice. While Denver has many bodies at the position, it’s unclear if there’s a long term solution among them. I suspect Denver will try and bring back the same group if they continue to play like this, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if two or more of those options are gone next year.
*Net Ratings current as of 11/27/18 prior to Denver’s game versus the Los Angeles Lakers.
Which player has surprised most this season?
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