With just two days to go before the NBA draft, The Chronicle's Daniel Carp and Bobby Colton discuss Mason Plumlee's draft stock and NBA future, examining some of the reasons why he may fall out of the draft lottery Thursday night.
Daniel Carp: Once considered a surefire lottery pick during the season, it appears Plumlee's stock has fallen as of late. With a plethora of teams in the market for big men in the middle of the draft's first round, it is almost a certainty that Plumlee will be taken somewhere between the Philadelphia 76ers at No. 11 and the Brooklyn Nets at No. 22. But despite being a frontrunner for National Player of the Year for a good portion of the season, Plumlee will likely be taken after Indiana's Cody Zeller, Pittsburgh's Steven Adams and Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk, players he outplayed during his senior year. Bobby, why isn't Mason Plumlee higher on teams' draft boards right now?
Bobby Colton: For three years scouts were waiting for Plumlee to finally realize his immense potential. This year, the Duke big man finally improved his play and, as you mentioned, was a frontrunner for National Player of the Year. But now that teams have seen Plumlee's talents, they aren't convinced Plumlee has a higher ceiling than guys like Zeller, Adams and Olynyk. Already 23 years old, Plumlee was something of a man among boys this season. While the younger bigs—Zeller, France's Rudy Gobert and Brazil's Lucas Noguerira are all 20 and Adams is 19—weren't as impressive during the season, they have more room to develop once they are under the tutelage of their NBA employer. In the lottery, teams are often shooting for home runs. Scouts just don't think Plumlee has that sort of potential.
DC: Some think that Plumlee's potential is tapped out, but maybe he is just a late bloomer. Look at the significant leap he made from his junior season to his senior season, adding moves to his arsenal in the low post and improving significantly from the free throw line. When I look at Plumlee's college career, he improved steadily in each of his four seasons. Who is to say that improvement stops now?
Watching tape from his workouts, Plumlee continues to make strides toward expanding his game. He used to be a player who was only efficient around the rim, but has looked impressive with his jump shooting from mid-range—something he rarely attempted during his Duke career. He already has an NBA body and has worked for four years under one of the top minds in the game. All of these are signs that he should be able to make a rather smooth transition to the NBA and contribute immediately. His ceiling may be lower, but so is the risk.
BC: There's no argument that the risk seems lower for a guy like Plumlee than it is for some of the younger bigs, but teams in the lottery—with the exception of the Oklahoma City Thunder—need significant pieces that can pull the the club out of the doldrums and into the playoffs. That is why teams with multiple first round picks—the Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks—are names most frequently associated with Plumlee. They can afford to play it safe with one pick and swing for the fences with the other one.
Though Plumlee looks ready to contribute offensively, there are a few concerns on the other side of the court. His arms are relatively short for a guy his size, which will hurt his shot blocking abilities at the next level. There is uncertainty over whether he can play center at the next level or whether he'll be limited to the four. Though he has elite athleticism—the trait that catapulted brother Miles into the first round—that alone isn't enough to make teams reach for Mason in the lottery. The three names you mentioned, Zeller, Adams and Olynyk, all have important strengths that Plumlee does not have. Zeller and Olynyk have NBA-range on their 3-point jumpers and Adams is viewed as an immediate defensive force. Though his offense has improved, it isn't enough for Plumlee to leapfrog these other big men.
DC: It just seems a tad ridiculous to me how big of a deal the scouts are making out of Mason's age. He is 23 years old. When did 23 become the new 35? Obviously he's a couple years older than most of the marquee prospects in this draft, but I think some teams may be overlooking the advantages that come along with drafting a more experienced player—namely his maturity, which will be integral in adjusting to an NBA lifestyle.
BC: Why is 23 such a big deal? Five players 23 or younger were All-Stars last season, including Duke's own Kyrie Irving. That's five players who at Plumlee's age are already playing at the highest level. Now no one is arguing that guys like Zeller and Adams will be All-Stars by the time they're 23, but they will have valuable NBA experience by that age. Maturity is very important to NBA teams, which is why guys like Ben McLemore and Shabazz Muhammad are falling in mock drafts despite their considerable talent. But none of the guys you're talking about have generated similar maturity concerns from NBA teams. Especially Zeller, who has two older brothers in the league to help him get acclimated.
When all's said and done, I expect Mason Plumlee to have a long, successful NBA career. I don't think he'll be an All-Star, but he will be a solid bench player, maybe even a starter, for the next decade. But if your favorite team missed the playoffs this year, would you rather roll the dice on a guy with big upside, or play it safe and get a career backup, a guy like Udonis Haslem or Tyler Hansbrough?
DC: It all depends on the organization. Some of the teams sitting at the fringe of the lottery probably believe they're a piece or two away from becoming a perennial playoff team. Others, like the Boston Celtics, are more likely to be in full-fledged rebuilding mode. If you're one of those teams that is looking for the missing piece, a guy like Plumlee could be exactly what you need. Last I checked, Udonis Haslem has three rings with the Miami Heat, and I bet they'd tell you he played an important role in all three of them.
With two days to go before the NBA draft, Plumlee's potential landing spots are numerous, but although some teams have their reservations, it only takes one franchise that likes him enough to pull the trigger.