Mason Plumlee arrived in Denver after General manager Tim Connelly pulled the trigger on a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers prior to February’s trade deadline. The Nuggets sent the disgruntled Jusuf Nurkic and the rights to the Memphis Grizzlies’ first-round pick, the 20th selection in June’s draft, to Portland in exchange for Plumlee and a second round pick.
Once Plumlee arrived in Denver it was clear that there would be a learning curve. His assists dropped and turnovers rose, which can be attributed to the 27-year-old needing to build more chemistry with his teammates on both ends of the floor.
Overall, Plumlee averaged 9.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.6 assists while shooting 54.7 percent from the field and 61.8 percent from the foul line over 27 games with the Nuggets.
What grade would you give Plumlee’s season with the Nuggets?
Harrison: Plumlee had his ups and downs with Denver, that’s for sure. At times he looked like a solid backup big man who can keep Denver’s offense and defense afloat with the second unit, while he also looked unsure of himself and hesitant when on the floor — that’s expected for someone who comes to a new team at the deadline. Overall, Plumlee proved that he can play with Nikola Jokic and as the backup center, something that couldn’t be said for the big man he replaced.
Joel: Plumlee had kind of a rough go of things when he first landed on the Nuggets, but a lot of that was adjusting to a markedly different role and system and getting used to playing with his new teammates. Once he found his comfort zone, things start to click, as evidenced in part by his rise in net rating from -3.0 in March to +6.2 in April.
Kalen: It’s difficult not to judge Plumlee with Nurkic in mind. In a vacuum, Plumlee is a solid backup center with shooting as a glaring weakness, but in comparison to Nurkic, he’ll always seem like an asset the Nuggets had to settle for rather than someone they worked hard to obtain. Plumlee had his ups and downs but overall he was satisfactory given his role.
T.J.: Plumlee was not presented with the easiest situation when coming over to Denver. He went from the unquestioned starting center in Portland to a bench role in Denver where he would also see time at the power forward position. He also had to learn to play with an entirely different set of teammates in an entirely different offensive philosophy. While Plumlee did progress as the season went on there were clear struggles throughout the year like trying to overpass and struggling to finish at the rim but overall, Plumlee deserves a passing grade for what he brought to Denver over the second half of the year.
What aspect of Plumlee’s game did he improve on most this season?
Harrison: I’m not sure if Plumlee improved as an individual while in Denver — that’s how hard to measure over just 27 games — but he solidified Denver’s bench unit and improved it from where it was prior to the trade. Denver went from Kenneth Faried anchoring their bench unit to Plumlee, which is a definite upgrade and one that will likely be in use next season as well.
Joel: Defense. Plumlee arrived on the Nuggets with a reputation for not being a very solid defender or rim protector, but especially near the end of the season he put in some defensive performances which belied that image, and in fact in April had more blocks per 100 possessions (3.7) than players like Myles Turner (3.2) and Hassan Whiteside (2.9), pointing to an area he could target for improvement next season.
Kalen: Plumlee appeared to shoot with more confidence at the free-throw line by season’s end. He’s gonna get fouled a lot given how athletic he is so it’d be nice to see him continue to gain confidence at the line moving forward.
T.J.: Dunking and not just laying the ball in. If there is one huge issue I have with Plumlee it is his struggles converting at the rim. For an athlete as explosive as he is he was getting blocked at the rim at an alarming rate and struggled to finish in traffic when he first arrived in Denver. By the end of the year, he was finishing with an aggression not seen during his time in a Nuggets uniform and he seemed to have a more authoritative mindset when scoring in the paint.
What does Plumlee need to work on this upcoming offseason?
Harrison: Knowing his role. If Plumlee receives the ball on the block or elbow, it should only be because a wing is about to cut off of him or the Nuggets are running some type of action off-ball. Plumlee’s not a post-up scorer, he’s a passing big that can set up his teammates, run the floor and finish at the rim in transition or in the halfcourt without dribbling. That should be his role going forward.
Joel: More than anything, I think developing better chemistry with his teammates and more comfort with his role represent the path forward to better performance for Plumlee. The “Poor Man’s Jokic” role off the bench he was expected to assume in Denver is unconventional, to say the least, and the need for him to go through a training camp and preseason to more cohesively jell with his new crew was clear.
Kalen: Shooting and interior defense — every day, all day, all the time. If he can shoot just a bit better from inside 15 feet he’ll really open up the floor when he plays alongside Jokic.
T.J.: Continuing to find where he fits in Denver’s grand scheme. Connelly wasted no time telling the media that Denver plans on keeping Plumlee long term and that they have had their eyes on him for a long period of time. Now Plumlee needs to figure out maximize his skill-set alongside his new teammates. Plumlee fits the identity of the Nuggets but now he needs to convert that to on-court production.