As part of Denver Stiffs’ transition from Denver Nuggets postseason coverage to offseason coverage, staff members will be conducting End of Season Reviews for all 17 players on the roster. There will continue to be news, NBA draft, free agency, and trade articles, but over the next three weeks, an accompanying End of Season review (or two) will also post every week day.
Today’s review: Mason Plumlee.
Mason Plumlee finished another season for the Nuggets with the same steady levels of contributions that he’s provided the team since he arrived. As one of the team’s most experienced players, having played in the league since 2013, there are few players on the team that have quite as much wisdom as he has. He plays hard every game, does a lot of dirty work that doesn’t show up in the box score, and never complains about his role on the team.
Plumlee missed a few games with an ankle injury this year, but came back and was able to stay healthy all the way through the bubble games and playoffs. The postseason highlighted some of the weaknesses that he has once again, raising questions again about his long-term fit on the roster.
His three-year contract expired at the end of this season, leaving his future with the team up in the air. If he has played his final game with the Nuggets, he should be remembered for all the good he added to the team over the past few years, and not a few shortcomings in the playoffs in situations that he was underqualified to be placed in.
Mason Plumlee’s Per Game Stats
Plumlee started the season off well, playing around 15-20 minutes a night as Jokic’s backup. While Jokic struggled, Plumlee was his usual self - moving the ball around on offense, dunking the ball, and rebounding.
He had his first double-double of the season in a win against the New York Knicks, putting up 11 points and 11 rebounds in 20 minutes. He had his best game of the season against the Golden State Warriors, putting up 15 points and 15 rebounds and helping them to a 3-point win. With Paul Millsap out, Malone went to Plumlee down the stretch in the game and in overtime. Unfortunately for the team, he’d sprain his ankle two games later against the Timberwolves, an injury that would shelve him for a few weeks.
He came back four weeks later against the Thunder, but would only breach the 20-minute mark two more times before the end of the regular season, and those were only in bubble games. His minutes dropped in the playoffs as Jokic’s minutes went up, and he had an unfortunate (to say the least) segment against Anthony Davis in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals that will show up in the Lakers championship season DVD.
Season Grade: C
I don’t know how you can give him a higher or lower grade. He wasn’t asked to do much each night, and what he was asked to do, he did fine. He wasn’t a drag on the roster, but he didn’t make them that much better. He’s a good player, but there’s only so much he can do. When he got signed, he was supposed to be an insurance policy in case Jokic got hurt. He’s been a valuable player for the team, but if he does wind up leaving, I think the team will be fine.
I guess it’s scoring 16 points against the Warriors?
What’s next for Mason Plumlee
Like I’ve mentioned, Plumlee is a free agent now. At 30 years old, he’s successfully finished the first half of a career that is likely to continue on for several seasons. Plumlee is a guy that is going to stick around for a long time in the NBA.
Whether he sticks around with the Nuggets is a difficult question to answer. I think the right question to ask is “What are you expecting from the Nuggets backup center?”
If your answer is that the team needs someone who can step into Jokic’s shoes and replicate his skillset if he gets injured, I think that’s an impossible task. Jokic is a All-NBA caliber player, you can’t replace his production with a player that is a backup.
Should the team try to move Paul Millsap from a power forward role into a backup center role? I don’t think that’s the right move for the team, because the height and weight issues that trouble Millsap at the 4 won’t be any better for him at the 5. He’s not a center, hasn’t been since college, and certainly won’t be able to become one at this point of his career.
Should the Nuggets try to have Bol Bol play center? I don’t think that’s the answer either, because with his combination of ballhandling, shooting, and weight, he’s at most a power forward. He doesn’t have nearly enough bulk to keep opposing centers off the glass, but with his height and agility, he should have no problem with modern day power forwards. If Bol plays center, the Nuggets have to resort to a zone defense to be successful on the defensive glass, and you don’t want to pigeonhole your roster into a certain scheme when one player is on the court.
Can the Nuggets find a backup center on the free agency market? I don’t think the Nuggets, with their pursuit of Jerami Grant, will be able to afford someone like Derrick Favors. They’re a team that will want to add veterans to their roster to help them maintain their status as a contender in the conference, but they don’t have the luxury of dropping $14 million per year on another backup center.
Should the Nuggets try to find a backup center in the draft? Rookies make mistakes, it’s rare to find someone that can step into the rotation on day one and be a productive player, especially with where the Nuggets will be drafting from. They’ll need a lot of reps to learn the intricacies of NBA offenses and how to defend them. They’ll need a ton of minutes to develop chemistry with the other bench players on offense so they aren’t a negative on that end of the court.
This leads me to a position where it almost makes the most sense to bring Plumlee back on a one-year contract, buy a second round pick and try to develop his backup, in the same way they developed Monte Morris. They can try to get Bol Bol more accustomed to playing against NBA players, and hope that he’s able to be a counter for Anthony Davis for 10 minutes a game in the playoffs.
Ultimately the Nuggets will need to find a player that they are comfortable playing for 15 minutes per game in the playoffs. It seems like the Nuggets coaching staff isn’t as keen on putting Plumlee in that role as each season progresses, but they don’t have someone to step into his shoes right now. If they bring Plumlee back for one year, they give themselves another season to try to find an answer. Sometimes you just go with the guys that got you where you are now until you find something better, and I’m not sure the Nuggets can find and afford someone better at this point.
Maybe Plumlee will be back, maybe he won’t. But no matter where he ends up, you can count on him coming to work each day with a level of professionalism that will be a positive for the team.