Kevin Garnett has missed each of the last nine games with back spasms. It sounds like a terrible blow to the Brooklyn Nets, especially with Brook Lopez already out for the season, but instead the team has gone 7-2 while Mason Plumlee averaged 6.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in 20.3 minutes per night.
The result has been a lot of positive attention sent Plumlee’s way. And why not? He has only led all rookies with a 62.6 shooting percentage, a 17.45 Player Efficiency Rating and 74 dunks.
Alex Raskin of the Wall Street Journal even went as far as to say that the team might be better off with Plumlee starting at center next season rather than Lopez. He made a decent case too:
With Lopez, a lumbering seven-footer, the Nets scored just 10% of their points on the fast break and 16.4% off of opponent turnovers. But with Plumlee starting over the previous eight games (entering Monday’s game against Phoenix), those figures ballooned to 16.7% and 27.1%, respectively.
The real advantage of having Plumlee on the floor, as opposed to Lopez, is how the rookie fits with Williams. The 29-year-old point guard has never publicly complained about playing with Lopez, but he has repeatedly stressed his preference for playing at a faster pace—similar to Kidd. So it’s not surprising that the Nets’ offense has been better when Williams shares the floor with Plumlee (111.5 points per 100 possessions) than with Lopez (104.1).
Lopez was the Nets best player before he got hurt so I wouldn’t be so quick as to completely agree with Raskin after just nine games, but he may be on to something. It would really be a big lift to the organization too if they could plug in the low-cost Plumlee into next year’s starting lineup while dealing Lopez for another piece or even just to recoup some of the draft picks that they have lost over the years.
In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait and see how Plumlee continues to develop into one of the NBA’s best rookies and one of its most athletic big-men.