If you had told me the Pistons’ best performance coming out of their opening-night loss in Minnesota would be Mason Plumlee, I wouldn’t have believed you. He looked like an awkward fit throughout the preseason, a guy with a lot of skills but no clearly defined role.
Turns out, all it took to make him look good was a game against the Timberwolves, one of the worst defenses in the league last season ... and probably this season, too. While his stats were less eye-popping in Detroit’s game 2 loss, Plumlee displayed some of the same skills. With the offensive system still a work in progress all while being led by a rookie point guard, we’re starting to see how they envision utilizing Plumlee over the long haul.
Start with the stat line, which was about as good as you could hope for: 14 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists.
Plumlee put up most of that over the first 36 minutes as the Pistons controlled the game. It’s his passing that really caught my eye. Honestly, that was a big part of what made the Detroit offense passable for much of the game:
This was surprising! Stuck in the corner with the shot clock running down, this should be no-man’s land for a non-shooting big like Plumlee. He wasn’t going to get off a good shot here, but he shows enough wiggle with the ball to get moving to the rim. Credit him for hitting a cutting Delon Wright (and for Wright to have the wherewithal to try and bail him out) for the bucket.
The whole big-man-leading-the-break thing still isn’t my jam—especially with two point guards on the floor in Wright and Killian Hayes—but Plumlee makes the right play here. We saw this kind of stuff with Andre Drummond, albeit without much success, and Blake Griffin is more than capable of it, too, but Plumlee flashed a little chemistry with his old Nuggets buddy Jerami Grant by finding him for the transition three.
This was by far my favorite play of the night. Plumlee drops a dime here as Hayes makes a smart cut after giving up the ball. With Hayes learning on the fly, these are the kind of easy buckets that the Pistons need.
Those were the best passes from Plumlee. His three other assists all came off dribble-handoff plays and led to layups. I tweeted this after the signing, but while Plumlee is absolutely nothing special as a player, he’s funky enough to sneakily finish with a triple-double once or twice this season.
He took the right shots against the Wolves, but he’s not going to shoot 7 of 8 very often. He was solid rebounding, but it’s weird that his athleticism doesn’t translate on the boards much.
But Defensively it was... a struggle. Karl Anthony-Towns routinely blew past him as Plumlee looked very uncomfortable guarding him on the perimeter. When the two battled down low, Plumlee fared better, but he’s so slow on his feet. Paired with Griffin, the Pistons are going to give up a lot of points.
But maybe that’s not bad. The Pistons played a pretty tank-approved game. Outside of Hayes not finishing it out, they checked all of the boxes: fun to watch, competitive most of the time, and notched the loss.
Plumlee has his flaws, but he’s the kind of player who’ll help make this drudge of a season a little more fun to watch.