By Steve Lichtenstein
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The axiom for all investment assets should be: Buy low, sell high.
When it comes to Nets center Mason Plumlee, at least general manager Billy King got the first part right.
Taken with the 22nd overall pick in the first round of the 2013 NBA draft, Plumlee has outperformed not only the prospects King passed up, but also most of the players (Plumlee has the highest “win share” contribution to his team of any of the selections, per basketball-reference.com) chosen earlier that night.
Having taken over the starting center slot when Brook Lopez sprained his back three weeks ago, Plumlee has found his niche on the court, averaging 15.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in that span.
Anyone analyzing the Nets’ recent three-game winning streak, which ended with a whimper in a 110-85 home defeat to Indiana on Saturday, would point to the following, in order, as the underlying roots: the NBA schedule-makers, Plumlee and Jarrett Jack.
In fact, Plumlee has played so well that coach Lionel Hollins has had Lopez come off the bench since Lopez’s return to active duty in the Nets’ last two games. After Lopez turned in an 0-for-5 scoreless outing on Saturday, Hollins mentioned that Lopez will have to earn the right to supplant Plumlee in the rotation.
The Nets have been rumored to be shopping Lopez (along with point guard Deron Williams, another max-contract player undeserving of regaining his role in the starting lineup following an injury), but it is likely difficult considering his medical chart. Lopez has missed 160 of the Nets’ last 275 games over the last three-plus seasons, mostly due to multiple fractures to his surgically reconfigured right foot.
The Cavaliers recently lost starting center Anderson Varejao to a season-ending Achilles injury, but their likely reaction to a Lopez trade proposal would appear to be, “Nah.”
Similar to how the talks between Brooklyn and Sacramento ended, as reported by Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, in a separate deal involving Williams.
You see, these teams don’t want the Nets’ brittle, overpriced and underachieving anvils. Not without the Nets sweetening the pot to include their younger assets.
According to the Yahoo report, the Kings tabled their conversation with the King when Brooklyn refused to consider any deal involving Plumlee.
Now, I am not privy to all the details and I certainly would agree with King that Plumlee has higher return value than the garbage names on Sacramento reported by Yahoo.
But let’s stop with the notion that Plumlee is somehow “untouchable.”
I have stated often that Plumlee deserves credit for all the hard work he puts forth on the court and off to get to this point in his career. His energy and athleticism are, unfortunately, rare commodities on this team.
After a difficult start to this season, Plumlee reportedly had a discussion with Hollins and reverted to how he played in his rookie campaign—fewer post-ups and more dives to the basket off pick-and-rolls.
It’s been working. In the meantime, Plumlee has also improved on his rebounding numbers and his rim protection.
However, this recent stretch may be Plumlee’s ceiling. For all the talk of Plumlee’s youth, he is 24 years old, not 21. Lopez, a seven-year veteran, is less than two years older.
And the limitations in Plumlee’s game may be just who he is. For all the heavy training Plumlee did in the offseason with the U.S. Men’s National Team to prepare for the FIBA World Cup, he is still far from Hakeem Olajuwon.
Any shot further than a few inches from the rim remains a challenge for Plumlee. His career shooting percentage from beyond three feet is 36.8 percent, per basketball-reference.com.
Then there’s Plumlee’s issues at the free throw line, where he is shooting 44.6 percent this season. Close games down the stretch are at risk if Plumlee gets fouled in these situations.
Again, there is value in what Plumlee brings to the court every night, but he is only a backup center on a good team.
That means that the Nets can’t simply exclude Plumlee from all discussions if they want indeed plan to blow up this ill-conceived roster.
On the contrary, now be the time for King to extract the most trade consideration–before Plumlee has more games like Saturday, when he struggled against Pacers giant Roy Hibbert.
It all comes down to what the Nets can get. There’s a price for every asset, and the Nets should take advantage if Plumlee’s has spiked in the NBA marketplace.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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