Mason Plumlee is no defensive powerhouse, but he still can still teach young Piston bigs a thing or two

Detroit Bad Boys

Last week, we discussed the positive role Mason Plumlee is playing for the Detroit Pistons offense this year. However, the same stats that emphasize this fact – his on/off numbers – point to a different story on the other end of the floor. Opponents’ ORtg when Plumlee is on the court is significantly higher (116.5) than when he’s off (109.3). Overall, he has not too good DEFRTG of 114 which puts him in the 18th percentile in the NBA. And no, it isn’t because he played heavy minutes with a not fully recovered Blake Griffin. Blake had better numbers than the Pistons center: his rivals’ ORtg was 114.2 when he was on the court and his DEFRTG stood at 111.6. Mason simply has couple of his own issues.

Where Mason’s defense hurts most is one-on-one (isolations and post ups) and P&R coverage. He’s in 39.5 percentile in defending isolations, allowing 0.98 points per possession (PPP) in these type of plays. As we can see on the film, he doesn’t move too well laterally.

Good ball handlers can put him on skates and abuse him. It’s not that he’s unique among big men who struggle to guard the razzle and dazzle of playmakers. The problem is those moves constitute a very noticeable chunk (11.7% to be precise) of Mason’s defensive possessions, and they’re really hurting his overall defense outlook.

Plumlee also struggles guarding postups. Opponents score 1.03 PPP on him in these situations putting him in the 37th percentile. The film shows various reasons for this state of affairs.

Again there are problems with mobility, as he can be abused by more mobile and skilled big men. But it’s also a matter of numerous lapses: bad positioning, being late, bad decision making etc.

Finally, Plumlee has issues with guarding the roll man in P&Rs.

In this case it’s not all on him. His new teammates are still learning to play with him and everyone, Plumlee included, is still learning Dwane Casey’s defensive schemes. This often results in lack of comprehension that is easily exploited by the opponent. But other times, the blame lays more clearly on Mason, as he can be seen taking a bad position.

That’s plenty of bad news. But there is also good news on the defensive end. Mason is giving the Pistons’ defense things we wouldn’t suspect him to provide. Due to having a career year on defensive glass, with 23.6 DREB% he’s in 92.3 percentile in that category. But it’s not just his personal defensive rebounding that helps. He boxes out very well under own basket (2 box outs per 36 minutes puts him in the top third of the entire League), allowing Detroit to excel on the offensive glass. However, on nearly half of the occasions it’s not him who takes the rebound but his teammates.

Although he’s far from his career figures in blocks, with 2.7 BLK%, he’s still solid enough to be ahead of such big men as e.g. Montrezl Harrell, Al Horford, Robin Lopez, Brandon Clarke, Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas, Steven Adams, Nikola Jokic and Nikola Vucevic. As the film shows, he can surprise us with swats on athletic bigs like Marvin Bagley, Zion Williamson and Andre Drummond, stop other notable centers or help his fellow players by blocking their running cover at the rim or somewhere to it.

Similarly, with 1.5 STL% he’s middle of the pack, but still ahead of e.g. Vucevic, and way ahead of Valanciunas, Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Jordan and Serge Ibaka. By being active in passing lanes on entry passes and disturbing on handoffs he adds additional pressure to the one exercised by his teammates on opposing playmakers.

Mason is also solid in disturbing opponents’ offense with deflections.

The 2.3 figure per 36 minutes puts him in the first half of NBA in this regard. Here again, beside making his own job, he makes it easy for co-players by being active in passing lanes in all parts of the floor.

What we also need to mention is that despite of having issues in one on one and P&R defense, Mason can be solid in those aspects too, as is shown in the following clips. He can contain guards and other playmakers on switches … sometimes.

He can defend in the post solidly.

And he can execute P&R defense very effectively at times.

The things that Mason Plumlee offers the Detroit Pistons’ defense might not be enough to bring league-wide accolades, playoff appearances, or, well, even wins. But his defense definitely offers enough of a structure in which young Pistons players can develop and grow into their future roles playing with him or watching him from the bench. He just seem to be very well-matched for a rebuilding Detroit team from whichever end you look at him.

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