When the Charlotte Hornets traded for Mason Plumlee last offseason, it was largely applauded as a steal. They gave up the 57th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft (Balsa Koprivica) for Plumlee and the 37th pick (JT Thor). In theory, this was a great move. They moved up in the draft while simultaneously finding a short-term answer to their center issues.
Well, that’s exactly what happened. Plumlee was a short-term solution to a very real problem the Hornets had (and still have). Unfortunately, his first season in Charlotte wasn’t quite as glorious as some hoped it would be. (Even if that hope had no legs to stand on.)
The big man’s success with the Detroit Pistons did not quite translate to Charlotte, leaving fans wanting more. His numbers dropped in every major statistical category, including points, rebounds, assists, and blocks, yet he played just two fewer minutes per game.
Plumlee finished the regular season with averages of 6.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists while shooting 64.1% from the field. He added 0.8 steals and 0.7 blocks on top of that. The big man played 24.6 minutes a night in 73 total games. That’s all without mentioning his horrific free-throw shooting, which ended up at 39.2% on the season, which was by far a career-low.
At 6’11, the 32-year-old’s strong frame gives the impression that he would be a formidable interior presence on the defensive end. And while Plumlee is passable on that end, he’s far from the defensive-minded, athletic big that would fit Charlotte’s needs perfectly. Instead, he often found himself out of position and overworked this season.
Take a look at this play:
Cody Martin gets screened by Domantas Sabonis and ends up behind the play. Instead of stepping up, Plumlee gets caught in the middle, resulting in a wide-open Caris LeVert three-point attempt. This isn’t entirely Plumlee’s fault, but it represents the larger issue with him being the team’s starting center.
Here’s another example:
Mason Plumlee just gave us the worst drop coverage rep i've ever seen or he's point-shaving pic.twitter.com/F3IwjVqx3B— Nekias (Nuh-KY-us) Duncan (@NekiasNBA) October 21, 2021
Again, maybe it’s just the defensive system Charlotte ran this year, but if a center is forced to play this far back in drop coverage, there are other issues at hand. He’s just not quick enough to stay with guards on the perimeter, forcing the Hornets to adapt their defense to his abilities.
Plumlee’s awkward movement and lack of horizontal mobility made him a liability at times. He’s a quality big man to have on the roster, but with Charlotte’s other defensive issues, having an immobile center made things even more difficult.
Another facet of the Plumlee experience was ‘point Plumlee.’ It was super fun when it worked… but not fun at all when it didn’t. In all seriousness, Plumlee is a decent enough ball-handler for a center, but on a roster with LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward (sometimes), and others, he’s probably not the team’s top option in the open floor.
That didn’t stop him, though:
Point Plumlee sighting pic.twitter.com/7Zl4q9uhG3— Bally Sports: Hornets (@HornetsOnBally) March 6, 2022
Just look at him fly:
Mason Plumlee showing off his bag pic.twitter.com/qgat0pwYZH— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 26, 2022
Plumlee is under contract for $8.525 million next season, but as the Hornets inevitably look to upgrade their center position, his contract could be used to match salaries in a trade. Dreams of Rudy Gobert and Richaun Holmes could start with the contract of Plumlee.
All-in-all, the Plumlee experience was severely underwhelming. His lack of mobility, lack of versatility, and lack of free-throw shooting cost the Hornets in some crucial moments. But in hindsight, thinking Plumlee was ever going to be more than a short-term solution was foolish. He’s a quality center that’s best suited as a backup, not a 73-game starter.
There’s still a chance Plumlee ends up back in Charlotte next year, but if he does, it would almost surely be as a backup center. That would be a much more palatable role for the big man.