Atlanta Hawks 2013 Draft Prospects: Mason Plumlee

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Atlanta Hawks fans have often wondered what life would be like with Al Horford not having to log a majority of his minutes playing center. When playing the 5-position, Horford is often at a disadvantage since his opponents are usually taller and heavier. This has caused Al to have problems with foul trouble when facing the better centers in the NBA.

In Game 4 of this season’s playoff series against the Indiana Pacers, for instance, Horford was forced to sit a large portion of the 3rd quarter due to fouls acquired trying to guard Indiana’s 7’2” 280lbs Roy Hibbert (Hibbert is 4-inches taller, and 32 pounds heavier than Horford). It is no coincidence that the Hawks saw their halftime lead of 17-points cut to a mere 7-points at quarter’s end. The Hawks need Al Horford on the floor as much as possible. By allowing him to play more minutes away from the center position, this is more likely to happen.

Horford’s natural position is power forward (the 4, if you’re talking in basketball lingo). Al, due to his ability to consistently hit jump shots from 15-18 feet outside the basket and defend quicker players, excels there. The problem is that the Hawks have had no other reliable starting option at center since Horford was drafted by the team in 2007. You know the names that the Hawks have tried to fit into the center position: Zaza Pachulia, Jason Collins, Johan Petro, Erick Dampier, Solomon Jones. All players who had their share of good moments with the Hawks, but all players that could not be counted upon to start at center regularly. This is an issue many expect the Hawks to address in this summer’s NBA Draft.

One prospect that could very well be available when the Hawks take their turn to pick is Mason Plumlee.

Plumlee is a familiar name amongst college basketball fans. He played 4-years at Duke University and this past season earned the honor of 2nd Team All-American. At May’s NBA Pre-Draft Combine, Plumlee’s height was measured (with shoes) to be 7’0.5″. He weighed in at 238.2 pounds, with a 6’11” wingspan.  Both Joe Kotoch (sheridanhoops.com ) and Chad Ford (ESPN) are currently forecasting that Mason Plumlee will be selected by the Atlanta Hawks. Check out his scouting video:

Plumlee has one of the more interesting scouting videos because his game has many areas strengths and many areas that need improvement. First, let’s take a look at the strengths shown in the video:

  •  At the 1:19 mark, Plumlee out races Maryland’s Alex Len (more on Plumlee vs Len later) up the floor for a dunk.
  • The 2:55 mark shows Plumlee getting a terrific rebound in traffic, against eventual National Champion Louisville
  • At 3:12, a beautiful box out (something I do not think the Hawks do well) against UNC
  • At 3:49, Mason executes a nice pick-and-roll for a dunk against Maryland (note: Plumlee does not have success with the pick-and-pop (meaning set a pick, then roll for a jump shot) like Al Horford. Plumlee will be successful ONLY when he picks and then rolls to the basket)
  • 4;38, Plumlee shows how well he can move without the ball and gets open for a dunk
  • 5:19, this portion of the video impressed me the most. Plumlee waits for just the right moment to post up and seal his defender and is in position to receive an easy entry pass.  He scores and displays a strong ability to post up. I think posting up is the strongest part of Plumlee’s game.
  • The 10:10 mark of the video is supposed to be an example of Plumlee’s weakness. I disagree. He does end up getting called for traveling, but he makes a very nice fake and goes into a nice up-and-under move on his defender. The problem is his pivot foot slips, leading to the travel call. The move, though, is good.

Now, the not so strong portions of the video:

  • At the 7:58 mark, the “hitch” in Plumlee’s free throw shooting is analyzed and shown (though, to be fair, Plumlee shot a respectable-for-a-center 68.1% from the line this season)
  • Cover your eyes at the 8:50 mark. I was almost embarrassed for Mason here.  He makes a brutal attempt to drive and dish to a teammate on the wing. Instead, he drives, stumbles, and falls into his defender for a traveling violation. It looks even worse than it sounds.
  • 12:25 mark shows Mason weakest area on defense. He struggles defending the pick-and-roll (red flags flying from NBA GM’s here).  Mason just does not do a good job slowing down the ball handler, prior to the pick. He should hedge higher and at least cause the ball handler to change direction before attacking the basket. On this play he simply leaves too much room and puts himself on an island. The ball handler had no problem scoring on Mason here.
  • 14:43 —  Mason shies away from committing the hard foul or taking a charge attempt. He allows Michigan State’s Gary Harris a clear, easy path to the basket for 2-points.

So, what do we know about Mason Plumlee from this scouting video? Well, he can post up well( I think very well, actually). This allows him to receive the ball close to the basket and have a higher chance at scoring. He can also run the floor well and move without the ball (not often a strength for a center). He is not a jump shooter, so his offense is limited to near the basket (not too much of a concern). He will not be likely to drive and create his own shot (again, not too worried about that). He often looks bad defending the pick-and-roll (ALERT!! ALERT!!).  This is a problem.

Mason will have to get better with his pick-and-roll defense. These days, in the NBA, almost all offense begins and ends with the pick-and-roll. If a player struggles defending that play, he cannot be on the floor. Should Mason Plumlee be drafted by the Hawks, new coach Mike Budenholzer will have to find a way to help Mason in this area.

One last interesting look at a portion of Mason’s senior season. He was able to go against Maryland’s Alex Len on three occasions. Len is likely to be selected early in this season’s NBA Draft. He is a highly thought of player. Duke had one win and two losses against Maryland this year. Here are Mason Plumlee’s and Alex Len’s numbers in those three games:

  • GAME ONE (@Duke, 84-64 Duke win)

Plumlee: 37 minutes, 19 points, 7 rebounds

Len: 34 minutes, 8 points, 10 rebounds

  • GAME TWO (@ Maryland, 83-81 Maryland win)

Plumlee: 33 minutes, 4 points, 3 rebounds (fouled out)

Len: 28 minutes, 19 points, 9 rebounds

  • GAME THREE (ACC TOURNAMENT, 83-74 Maryland win)

Plumlee: 38 minutes, 19 points, 7 rebounds

Len: 32 minutes, 10 points, 8 rebounds

Mason outplayed Len in two of the three meetings this season (Len was significantly better than Mason in the second game). Showing the ability to measure up against quality competition is one of the reasons Mason Plumlee is projected to be selected in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft.

Will the Hawks select Mason Plumlee? Who knows. Is Mason Plumlee worthy of being selected by the Hawks? I think so. Plumlee is a true center. He has the potential to allow Al Horford to slide over to his more natural position of power forward. For that to happen, Mason Plumlee must improve his ability to defend the pick-and-roll. He will encounter that play often in the NBA. If he can do that, Mason Plumlee will have a great shot at a long and productive NBA career.

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