Mason Plumlee will be in the NBA. At 7-1 and 240 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to play either post position in the League. Though he will assuredly be a first-round pick in June’s Draft, he could have been approaching his fourth NBA season right now. You see, Mason turned down the opportunity to trade in calculus for cash each year since he arrived at Duke. Now after his senior year, he has no choice but to head to the League.
“It was a different reason every year,” Plumlee explained of his yearly decisions to stick around at Duke. “After my sophomore year, I wasn’t really projected where I felt that I should have been and it was important for me to come out in the first half of the Draft. I wanted to come out where there was guaranteed money and a team was expecting something from you. Then my junior year, we lost to Lehigh. We weren’t a very good team and it was a disappointing season, so I couldn’t go out that way.”
He added, “Of course we didn’t win it this year, but of course I felt better coming out this year. It’s a good thing too, because I couldn’t come back anyway.”
With a college degree in hand and his playing days in the ACC now behind him, Mason put his faith in the hands of Josh Oppenheimer of Excel Basketball to get him right for the Draft. A former standout college player, overseas pro and DI college coach, “Opp” has seen it all. With his star pupil Plumlee, they look to continue to hone the things that he excels in, while also putting in work on one particular aspect of Mason’s game that we didn’t see quite as much of at Duke: His ability to face-up.
Having personally watched Plumlee since his high school days, there was a long period of time in which the 7-footer (he recently measured 7-0.5 at the NBA Draft Combine) would do the bulk of his damage facing the cup. At both the Christ School and running for Indiana Elite, he was given the freedom to showcase his full arsenal of talents. Once he got to Duke, some of those talents had to be put on the shelf for the team’s best interest. Doing so allowed the middle of Plumlee bros. to develop his game on the blocks, but it’s time to put it all together now.
“When I went to Duke, I didn’t really have a post game. By the time I left, I averaged about 17 points per game. It came a long way,” he humbly admitted about his post game, or lack thereof, when he arrived at Duke. “I think that the face-up stuff is an asset that I’ve had since high school, so if you bring it all together, I feel prepared for any position that a coach will put me in once I am in the League.”
The workout that Oppenheimer put Plumlee through blended the best of both worlds. Facing-up, you could see that the raw talent is still there. He’s not going to blow past you with a blazing first step, yet he still manages to get around smaller defenders en route to the basket. There were times in which the 23-year-old would drill five or six in a row from right around the NBA line. Then there would be times that he’d miss three in a row. Much of this is to blame on the re-vamping of Plumlee’s jumpshot and it’s better for him to take his lumps now than once he puts an NBA jersey on.
“We’re trying to change some things on my shot by getting a little more arc on it, so it gets a little crazy every here and there trying to adjust,” Plumlee said with a laugh. “I’m heading in the right direction, though.”
Now what Plumlee improved upon the most as a Blue Devil was his low-post game, which showed flashes of brilliance in Chicago. He shoots an unblockable sweeping sky hook with either hand at a high clip. While no one is donning him the next Kareem, you would have to fight for memories of Cap not to pass through your mind. Additionally, Plumlee has developed a series of counter moves that are further enhancing his ability to score with his back to the basket, adding value as a prospect.
Still, there are concerns. Many expected a player with Plumlee’s superior size, athleticism, and talent to dominate at the college level. Duke’s system doesn’t necessarily allow one player to completely take over the team, but some center the fact that he only averaged more than 11 points per game once in his career (17 as a senior) around his lack of aggressiveness. Mason has to continue to work on his free-throw shooting and dust off his perimeter skills, but the amount of talent and upside that he offers is right up there among the top players in the Draft.
With the Draft just three weeks away, Plumlee’s stock has remained fairly consistent. Teams drafting in the late Lottery have shown a lot of interest and there are even a few teams in the top 10 that will have him in for workouts. It’s hard to imagine him falling any lower than 16 or 17 in the Draft, but regardless of what team selects Plumlee, he’s going to carry on Coach K’s foundation with him.
“It doesn’t matter how much he has achieved, his approach is the same every day. [Coach K] calls it ‘being hungry’ and he’s always hungry for more,” Plumlee told. “At 65, it’s really impressive.”