In the locker room after the Nuggets’ last game of the season, Mason Plumlee ate a post-game meal and looked forward to being able to obtain one thing right off the top: His clothes.
“They’re in Portland,” he said, grinning. “In a storage unit.”
Plumlee had “been living out of the same bag for two months.”
The hidden aspects of mid-season trades are contained in things no one thinks about. Plumlee arrived in Denver on Feb. 13, part of a pre-trade deadline deal that sent center Jusuf Nurkic to Portland.
“Because when they trade for you they’re like ‘can you be here tonight?’” Plumlee said.
Yes. Yes, he could. He packed a few essential belongings and patched the rest together as he went along in the couple of months with the Nuggets. The Nuggets were happy to have him.
“Mase brought a lot of what we thought he would bring – intensity, a vertical threat at the rim. An athletic big. A very good passer,” Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly said. “It’s not an easy transition going from a starter to the third or fourth big.”
The sample size of Plumlee’s time with the Nuggets was small – 27 games in all. In that time, injuries to others dictated he’d start 10 times. Then there was the matter of deciphering what combinations of players and lineups he meshed with best. All while the Nuggets were actively in a playoff race.
With the Nuggets, Plumlee averaged 9.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists. As a starter Plumlee averaged 12.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He had five double-doubles.
“I have enjoyed it,” Plumlee said. “I think that it’s a good young group that could grow together, and we’ll definitely make strides going into next year. It was a lot of pressure on the last month to make the playoffs, and hopefully that’s something we come out on the other side of next season.”
OFFENSE. The most tangible things that can be evaluated going forward were the intangibles Plumlee brought to the table. His screening. His ability to defensive rebound and push the ball up court himself, keeping the Nuggets pace fast. His ability to be a reliable decision-maker as a passer at the top of the key.
He’ll continue to work on shooting of all kinds – jump shooting and free throw shooting in particular — to raise those averages. His turnovers were mostly of the overzealous kind – getting sped up and losing the ball in half court ball-handling, getting in the air with nowhere to pass, player-control offensive fouls. Easily fixable miscues.
Plumlee was at his best at the rim. Encompassing his entire season – both with Portland and Denver – he shot 64 percent in the restricted area, and the vast majority of those were dunks. He threw down 132 dunks during the season. If you add in layups, 250 of his 334 made field goals (74.8 percent) were either layups or dunks.
He was big on the offensive glass for the Nuggets, averaging 1.333 points per possession on putbacks, and shooting 72 percent (18-of-25). It can be expected he’ll bring those energy plays back with him next season.
DEFENSE. If the Nuggets change things schematically on defense, in all likelihood it will be to tilt things toward how Plumlee played on that end. With aggressiveness. He hedged high on most screen-rolls and sprinted back to recover to his man. In the 27 games in which he played, he led the Nuggets in blocked shots – by far – with 29. Nikola Jokic had the next-highest number with 18.
So there is a lot to like and for the Nuggets to build on with Plumlee on the court defensively. And with a training camp, it stands to reason Plumlee will easily improve in defending some of the actions that tripped him up in the quarter of season he spent with the Nuggets. As with offense, the raw numbers and analytical breakdowns don’t hold a ton of weight due to a small sample size and with all that was hovering around him.
But his first course of action? Getting cozy in his new city.
“I’m off the grid right now,” Plumlee said. “Find a spot, get settled.”