When the Denver Nuggets traded disgruntled center Jusuf Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers on February 12th, 2017, they acquired skilled big man Mason Plumlee as compensation.
The trade gave the Nuggets two things: It gave Nurkic a fresh start after becoming unhappy with his role in Denver and it gave the Nuggets a playmaking big man in Plumlee that could come off the bench while still playing a similar brand of offensive basketball as franchise superstar Nikola Jokic.
The trade formed a whole new world for Plumlee as he would now have to come off the bench after starting for most of his career. Before the trade, Plumlee had started in all 54 games for the Blazers in 2016-17 before being traded and had started 267 of the 369 games he had played in prior to that. Before his NBA career, Plumlee started 99 of his 141 games he played at Duke University, and missed just three starts in the final 70 games of his college career.
Coming off the bench instead of starting has not seemed to effect Plumlee. He has started in just 26 of the 122 games he has played in Denver, with none of those coming this season. His ability to adapt to his new found role with the Nuggets has been the key to his success. Even off the bench, Plumlee has been instrumental in the Nuggets’ performance so far this season.
“It says a lot about Mason Plumlee. You’re right, he was a starter on a playoff team, and he was a big contributor to that team,” Nuggets heads coach Michael Malone told the media at practice before the Los Angeles Lakers game. “Now, he comes here and, I think, initially it was hard. ‘Ok, now I am backing up a franchise player who is going to play 30+ minutes a night. What does that mean for me?’ What I have seen this year is Mason saying, ‘I am not going to worry about that. All I can control is that when coach calls my name and my number, I can go out there and impact the game’.”
Impact the game is certainly right as Plumlee is currently averaging seven points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Plumlee has played a major role in the Nuggets rejuvenated bench unit as he has fit like a glove next to Denver’s rookie backup point guard, Monte Morris.
“Mason is very skilled. I feel like he does not get enough credit for how skilled he actually is,” Morris told the Nuggets media at shootaround prior to the Lakers game. “He can put the ball on the ground, he can shoot roll hooks from 10 or 15 feet…he is a lob threat also and a shot blocker. He is a great player and I think he is underrated for sure.”
The Monte Mase Connection pic.twitter.com/pvQaxC0WEJ
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 24, 2018
The connection of Plumlee and Morris is a big reason why the Nuggets bench unit is averaging 39 points per game, which is good for 12th in the NBA. It is no coincidence that the Nuggets bench unit has has so much success offensively this season as Plumlee is currently averaging 61.4 percent shooting from the field, which is the second highest mark of his career. Plumlee’s also shooting 33 percent from distance as he has gone 1-of-3 from distance so far this season (I just really wanted to throw that stat in there).
It has not just been offense though as Plumlee has become arguably the Nuggets best rim protector and arguably their best overall defender. Plumlee is currently averaging 1.1 steals and 0.9 blocks per game and he is constantly effecting shots at the rim this season. He has been a big part of the Nuggets new and improved defensive dominance.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 25, 2018
Plumlee has not just effected the team on the court though as he is also been instrumental in the teams success off the floor. The professionalism and spirit Plumlee plays with is one of the big reasons why he is so respected within that Nuggets locker room. Plumlee’s ability to play selfless — just like every single one of Denver’s players does — is why the Nuggets culture continues to grow in such a positive direction.
“Most importantly, it speaks to our culture. We talk about being a work team, a selfless team, and a team that trusts. Mason Plumlee is exhibiting a great example of being selfless,” Malone said on Plumlee’s character. “He is putting the team and our success above his own personal agenda and that speaks to his maturity and his professionalism.”
Plumlee is regarded so highly within that Nuggets locker room that his team and his coaches think that there is even some talk he should be considered for the Sixth Man of the Year award; an award handed out mostly to skill players and players who fill up the stat sheet off the bench. Believe it or not, Plumlee is not that type of player. If you are looking for a Sixth Man of the Year that brings constant energy on both ends of the floor every night and might fill up the stat sheet from time to time, than Plumlee is absolutely the player you are looking for.
“Mason Plumlee — forget stats because you wont probably be able to make a great argument from a stat perspective, but from an impact perspective — he is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate,” Malone explained. “He comes in the game and, on both ends of the floor, impacts the game in a positive way.”
That positive impact is not just recognized by coach Malone though as Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic also acknowledged how he believes Plumlee is the most underrated player in the league.
“I think Mason is the most underrated player in the league. He plays so hard, he protects the paint, aggressiveness — everything,” Jokic told the media prior to the Lakers game. “I think he is a really underrated player in this league. He can’t shoot, but he does everything else.”
Jokic is certainly right about the shooting part as Plumlee often does not made long distance jump shots, but as we mentioned above, there was that one shot this season that most people will never forget.
FEAST ON THIS pic.twitter.com/TqG7iFOWWs
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 4, 2018
The celebration after he made the three says everything about the Nuggets culture as Plumlee was certainly excited, but so was every single one of his teammates. That speaks to the camaraderie this Nuggets organization has built and Plumlee is at the forefront of that development. There is no doubt it was hard for Plumlee coming over to the Nuggets after almost starting his whole life, but his ability to embrace his role and perform on a nightly basis speaks volumes. Sixth-man of the year, most underrated player in the NBA, whatever it is one thing is for certain, the Nuggets organization has the upmost respect for number 24, and it is something Plumlee feels fortunate to be apart of.
“This is a fun group to play with. Whether it is starting, finishing, coming off the bench — whatever. It is just fun basketball,” Plumlee told the media after his big time performance against the Utah Jazz. “I think if you asked 400 guys in the league, or however many players, everybody would love to start, but it is more fun to be on an 8-1 team and playing well. I feel fortunate to be a part of this.”