At a spry 32 years old, Mason Plumlee is the oldest player on the Charlotte Hornets roster (beating Gordon Hayward by a whopping 18 days), rendering him by default as the team’s elder statesman.
Though he doesn’t have the locker room presence of Terry Rozier nor can he lead by example on-court in the same way as Gordon Hayward, Plumlee does have a stabilizing role on the Hornets. Some fans may not agree, but he’s the most consistent option to feed the bulk of the center minutes even as Nick Richards emerges throughout the preseason — head coach Steve Clifford can count on Plumlee to rebound, set screens, make plays rolling to the rim and execute a drop coverage scheme. At this moment, none of the other centers have proven the ability to do that with consistency at the NBA level better than Plumdog Millionaire.
It’s certainly worth giving those younger options meaningful reps to see what they’ve got, but the Hornets don’t seem motivated to head down that road just yet. Clifford said weeks ago that Plumlee was the starting center and that stranglehold has not loosened at all this preseason, but there’s always the chance a trade market opens up for a veteran center with Plumlee’s aforementioned skillset on an expiring contract, which in turn would open up minutes for Kai Jones and/or Mark Williams. Until then, Plumlee can be expected to start and play anywhere between 20 and 32 minutes nightly with Richards and PJ Washington eating up the rest of the minutes at the five.
Clifford’s defensive schemes and tendencies might benefit Plumlee more than any player that was in James Borrego’s rotation. He’s not a zone-friendly center; especially in Borrego’s malleable matchup zone defense, Plumlee was asked to cover too much ground in rotation and bore most of the responsibility for cleaning up after his teammates. Now, he won’t have to venture as far away from the paint and will ideally be hidden from switches that strand him on an island with a ball-handler. Maybe Cliff’s drop-heavy scheme will allow Plumlee the chance to match or exceed his career-high rebound total of 12.5 per 36 minutes set in 2020-21 with Detroit, too.
If any of the three young centers pan out as a rotation-caliber big, Plumlee will shoulder less of a burden and thus settle into a role better fit for himself. There may not be a bigger pariah among fans on the Hornets roster than Plumlee, but I promise it gets worse. Not to be rude, but the Lakers might be starting Damian Jones with the intentions of competing for a championship this season. The Hornets can and will upgrade the center position in due time, but it is the easiest position to find replacement-level players and until the roster is truly ready to take the next step, acquiring and utilizing low-cost veteran bigs is necessary.
I’m also going to use this opportunity to promote a new (?) nickname for Plumlee; the Plum Bucket. Like the Chum Bucket from Spongebob Squarepants, but for whenever Mason gets himself a nice bucket. We can keep workshopping.