Mason Plumlee could have easily entered the NBA Draft last April. The Draft Express website predicted he would have gone 12th overall. The agile, athletic and strong 6-11 big man can run the floor well, and showed last season that he’s capable of scoring with his back to the basket as opposed to on tip-ins and fastbreak dunks.
But under his weaknesses, Mike Schmitz of Draft Express wrote in his evaluation video: “shooting range, scoring prowess, consistency and lateral quickness.” Two of those – scoring prowess and consistency – have been the biggest knock on the talented Plumlee since he got to Duke.
Under consistency, Schmitz wrote: “Lacks a great feel for the game…Can disappear in games and isn’t always a consistent presence…Duke needs him to be a major factor….Can he be relied on as a No. 1 guy?” We’re about to find out. During head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s preseason press conference, he declared that Plumlee would be the key to Duke’s 2012-13 season.
“It’s his time to be the key guy. He’s the key guy. Ryan (Kelly) and Seth (Curry) are also key guys, but Mason is the key guy,” Krzyzewski said. “I love when a guy wants that. He owns it. … He’s not making predictions or anything – he’s just saying, ‘I’m going to be there for you and let’s see what the heck is going to happen.’
“I just think he’s one of the best players in the United States. He having that type of year will be key for us. i’m very anxious to see how that will turn out. I’m excited for him. … You’ve got to be in their moments. I’m anxious to be in his moment and see what it produces.”
High praise from one of the best basketball coaches of all time. When Plumlee made the decision to return to Duke for his senior year, though, he committed himself fully to the program. “I think that showed (Krzyzewski) that it was more than just talk. It was like, I’m back. I’m here. (Krzyzewski) was the one that really sat down and convinced me this is where I needed to be,” Plumlee said. “There’s more to be gained this year and we could do something special this year.”
Kelly, a fellow senior forward, has seen a different Plumlee in the off-season. “He’s definitely on a mission. There’s no question about it,” Kelly said. “He’s in the gym more than anybody else. That’s what you want out of a guy who could have been a first-round NBA draft pick. He came back and said, ‘We’ve all got something to prove.’”
Krzyzewski’s ability to adapt his offense each year depending on his personnel is well-known, and this year will be no different. Last year, Austin Rivers took the lion’s share of Duke’s shots. But he entered last year’s NBA draft, and someone will have to step up to fill that void. It will be a big change for Plumlee, who attempted ten or more shots in a game just nine times last season. He got to the foul line ten or more times just four times.
But Krzyzewski all but said this would be a more post-oriented offense, without a lot of the pick-and-roll types of sets that Duke has run so much of over the last few years. “I think we’re going to be more of a team that helps each other get shots. In the last 12 years, except when J.J. (Redick) was here, we’ve done a lot of stuff with the pick-and-roll or ball screen because we had breakdown guys,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re not really that type of team. I think we can score inside really well this year. The balance will be better.”
Plumlee shot 57.2% from the floor but attempted just 13.1% of Duke’s shots on the season (12.5% of the team’s shots in ACC play). That’s going to need to increase significantly, and Plumlee is going to need to be more assertive, too. To Krzyzewski and Plumlee’s teammates, that’s been the most encouraging part of Plumlee’s offseason development. Krzyzewski said that Plumlee was calling him often – “not texts or tweets…but actually voices” – to let him know how workouts were going.
“In the time I’ve been coaching, I’ve been lucky to have so many good players. The great ones are the ones who grab you and say, ‘Let’s do this together. I’ll do whatever you want me to do.’ You form a bond with those players,” Krzyzewski said. “I really love where he’s at. If we do something special this year, a big thing will be because of him. I don’t think that puts pressure on him. I think he wants that.”
His teammates read the news, too. They know how high Plumlee would have gone in last year’s draft. They respect his decision to come back, and his fellow seniors have fed off of Plumlee’s newfound intensity, and it has trickled down to the rest of the team. Last year’s Duke team got along with each other fine and played hard. But this year’s Duke team appears to already have something extra behind it, a little bit more energy, a little bit more of an edge.
“(Plumlee) ready to take on that role and you can definitely see it in the workouts, in the weight room. He just attacks everything. HIm, Seth and Ryan really have assumed that leadership role that we need with our seniors and everybody else has pretty much followed,” Tyler Thornton said. “You can just feel the energy in the gym and we just feed off those guys. We really want to do something special for those guys because they put in a great amount of work in the past three years. We just want to have fun for them their senior year.”