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He might not be perfect, but Mason Plumlee helps make the Pistons offense go

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The new Pistons five isn’t a stud who puts spectacular individual numbers, but the team puts much better collective numbers because of him

Detroit Pistons v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Before the Pistons tipped off their 2020-21 season, I suggested that with his efficiency and passing skills put to work with a modest usage rate, Mason Plumlee looks to be a made to measure center for Dwayne Casey’s offense. Almost halfway through the season, and we can provide numbers that support this hypothesis. Despite his modest USG% of 15.7 (the lowest in his career), with him on the floor, Detroit has a better ORtg – 108.7 compared to 104.4 with him off the floor. This is because he very effectively helps the team to have a better eFG% (52.8 to 48.9, better AST% (66.3 to 58.0) and better TOV% (14.0 to 15.3) as well as makes opponents’ STL% and BLK% worse (7.4 to 8.4 and 10.2 to 12.2 respectively).

The Effective Field Goal Percentage factor doesn’t look good for the Pistons overall. With 51.0 figure for the season, the team is near the bottom of the entire League (26th place). But the difference that Plumlee on/off numbers produce (it’s the second biggest difference on the team, behind Frank Jackson’s 4.2 percentage points, but Jackson played a total of 54 minutes this season so his numbers are suspicious of small sample size woes) is so significant as being dead last without him and 20th with him. Although, the 20th place still isn’t great, but for a rebuilding franchise like the Pistons, that’d be a good start.

So how is Mason is making this difference? For starters, he’s an efficient scorer inside. He makes 76.8% of his shots within three feet, and those consist of 59.8% of all his shots. In other words, the Pistons C wastes very few shots to produce his 10.4 PPG (or 9.4% of Detroit’s PPG).

Most of his scores here (71.8) are assisted. As you can see in the film, the praise for those should go not only to the passers but also to Plumlee who is able consequently to be at the right place, at the right time and has the skill to convert those passes frequently in tough situations.

Mason is also above average as roll man (1.19 PPP, 64.9 percentile).

Here, as the film shows, he can convert most often simply by taking advantage of his height and slamming it home. But there’s skillfulness to this too as not every big man can do this as frequently as Pistons number 24 (Mason is 12th in the NBA in dunks). And Plumlee plays a big role in initiating the whole play with nice handoffs.

Even in those aspects of his game at which he’s not too good, like postups (0.85 PPP, 35.9 percentile), isolations (0.77 PPP, 26.1 percentile) or jumpers (23.8 FG% on midrange jumpers, 0 from 6 on three ball), Mason shows adroitness as well.

This is because he doesn’t use them too often. And the recent Pistons history teaches us that not using too often the type of plays that you’re not effective at should per se be accounted as an achievement for Motown big men. And, second, that when he uses them, it’s in situations in which they have big chance to end with good results.

Plumlee also keeps the Pistons’ efficiency from going down by clearing the offensive glass. His close-to-elite job on putbacks (1.29 PPP, 72.7 percentile) secures that the team doesn’t need too many tries to score a basket.

The other part of Mason’s contribution to a more efficient Detroit’s offense is his passing game. He’s very good at identifying players in excellent positions to score, be it shooters on perimeter or cutters inside and trailers in transition.

Mason’s assists to shooters

Mason’s assists to cutters

His AST% of 18,9 puts him at 88,3 percentile among League’s centers. This contribution is blurred a little by Mason’s career-high 21.1 TOV%. But here we need to factor in two things. On the one hand, Detroit as a team has 24th TOV% in the NBA, and as we said it’s worse when Mason is off the court. On the other hand, even playing in a rebuilding team prone to turn the ball over a lot, Plumlee’s 1.68 AST/TO ratio puts him at 77.7 percentile among League’s fives.

Finally, the new Pistons center is not only very good at passing to teammates who find themselves a space on the floor to score. With 5.7 screen assists per 36 minutes – a figure that make him among the best in the NBA – he helps to create this space for them.

Editor’s Note: Detroit is the only team to have two players in the top 20 in screen assists per 36 minutes with both Plumlee and Isaiah Stewart excelling in the role.

The things we discussed also explain better the team’s AST% with Mason on the court. As a skillful passer (who in addition can set you a great screen) he contributes to this stat directly. As efficient scorer, he does it indirectly.

As regards the lower numbers of team’s TOV% and opponents’ STL% and BLK%, by contributing to all of the above, Mason also contributes to a better flow of the game.

And in these circumstances, it’s easier to have fewer turnovers and it’s harder for rivals to contain your play by stealing you the ball or block your shot. Duh.

Even though Mason Plumlee has his issues, he fits very well into the rebuilding Detroit Pistons’ offensive system. As a 30-year-old veteran, he probably won’t be able to fix all of those issues (not to mention those on the other end, which constitute a whole different story) to be part of rebuilt future team. But with what he’s doing right now he’ll be much help for young Pistons players both those who play with him and those who’ll replace him some day.