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Trending Hornets: Mason Plumlee’s usual consistency didn’t follow him to Charlotte

After eight consecutive years of consistent, above average advanced stats, Plumlee’s metrics dropped in his first season in Charlotte.

Boston Celtics v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

The Trending Hornets series evaluates the career trajectories of Charlotte’s players based on two advanced stats - Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) - as provided by Basketball Reference.

PER measures per-minute production standardized such as the league average is 15. A PER above 15 means a player contributed above league average. As a frame of reference, among last season’s PER leaders, the Top 20 players were 21.8 and higher while Nos. 21-40 ranged from 18.9 to 21.6.

VORP is a box score estimate of the points per 100 team possessions that a player contributed above a replacement level player. A VORP of 1.2 means the team was 1.2 points better off per 100 possessions with this player on the floor versus a league average player. Among last season’s VORP leaders, the Top 20 were 3.5 and higher and Nos. 21-40 ranged from 2.2 to 3.4.

This week we’ll look at the trajectory of center Mason Plumlee.

2021-22 results and league ranks

Stats: 73 G, 24.6 MPG, 6.5 PTS, 7.7 REB, 3.1 AST, 64.1% FG, 39.2% FT

PER: 14.7; ranked T-98th overall

VORP: 0.9; ranked T-129th overall

Career trend overview

Mason was the 22nd pick in the 2013 NBA draft and spent his first two seasons with the Brooklyn Nets. He averaged about 20 minutes per game with the Nets but even in that reserve role he posted really strong advanced stats. His 19.0 PER as a rookie was the best of his career and he followed that up in Year 2 with a healthy 18.0 PER.

Over the next six seasons he bounced around between the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, and Detroit Pistons. Despite changing zip codes a few times there was one constant through these years: Mason Plumlee’s PER had the consistency of an NBA metronome.

Despite playing for four teams over his first eight seasons (before joining the Hornets last year), Mason’s PER landed somewhere between 16.9 and 19.0 each year. That’s just remarkable consistency. He had the trend line of an above average player with a low ceiling but a high floor. He was the basketball equivalent of a fairly new Ford F-150 - reliable, functional, and generally effective, but not flashy.

After this remarkable eight-year run of consistency, the Hornets traded for Plumlee last year. He had two years left on a very reasonable 3-year, $24.7 million deal when he arrived in Charlotte last season, but that’s the good news. The bad news is during Plumlee’s first season with the Hornets he put up the worst season of advanced metrics in his career. His PER of 14.7 was well below his previous low of 16.9 from 2017-18.

Plumlee’s VORP of 0.9 last year tied the lowest mark of his career. From an advanced stats perspective, Plumlee’s first year in Charlotte was the worst season of his career.

The one saving grace, somewhat surprisingly, is Plumlee’s defensive performance. His Defensive Box Plus/Minus of 1.5 (an estimate of the defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player) was by far the highest of any regular Hornets player. Number two was Cody Martin at 0.7 followed by PJ Washington at 0.2. Plumlee was also highly rated by ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus with a defensive rating of 5.05, which ranked 11th among NBA centers.

New head coach Steve Clifford should be able to put Plumlee in situations where he can make a real impact on the defensive end.

What this means for the Hornets

Okay, while at age 32 Mason Plumlee’s overall advanced stats are starting to fall off a cliff, all is not lost. He’s still a capable, roughly average NBA big man and a plus defender. Charlotte could do better at center than what Mason Plumlee has to offer (something Hornets fans have been clamoring for over the last several years), but the team could also do a whole lot worse.

While Plumlee’s performance last season was down from previous years, he performed as expected for a veteran with a $9.2 million cap hit. His cap hit goes down slightly this upcoming season to $9.0 million - the last year of his deal - which again is reasonable for the overall contribution he makes.

The Hornets finally upgraded the center position this offseason by selecting Mark Williams at No. 15 in this year’s draft. Mason Plumlee should be an ideal mentor to help Williams adjust to life in the NBA. A rotation of Plumlee and the much bigger Williams could put both players in positions to succeed. (Note: Plumlee is 6’11” with a scant 9’0” standing reach while Williams is 7’0’ with an incredible 9’9” standing reach, the highest at the 2022 combine by four inches.)

The 2022-23 season will likely be Mason Plumlee’s last year with the Hornets. Charlotte should once again get consistently fine but unspectacular contributions from him as they push for the playoffs this year. The Hornets should be able to rely on him for opportunistic, high-percentage scoring, deceptively good passing, and overall solid defense. The struggles, of course, will continue to be Plumlee’s ability to keep bigger centers out of the paint and off the boards. (Let’s not talk about his free throws).

The pairing of Plumlee and Williams will be interesting to watch. We’ll see if this change to Mason Plumlee’s role will help reverse his recent downward trend.