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Questions About Plumlee Miss The Point

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The suggestion that Duke doesn't know what to do with Mason Plumlee is spreading, with Brad Daugherty weighing in now, arguing that his game has "regressed":

"When he was at Christ School, he had tremendous potential as far as the NBA goes, but his game has gone backwards. I think he’s still an NBA caliber player, but he’s not developing as a big man at Duke. This is not a knock against Duke, but Mike (Krzyzewski) wants to put the ball in the middle of the floor. If you are a guard or a perimeter player, it’s a great system, but it doesn’t fit Mason’s skill set."

Probably the first question to ask here is simple: just what is his skill set?

Plumlee is an excellent rebounder, a superior passer, and a surprisingly good ballhandler for a big man. He has a lot of talent, but it hasn't translated into consistent offense, and while we're not insiders, we think there's a reason for that, which we'll get to in a minute.

Both the elder Plumlees have left us wondering why they aren't more assertive on offense, but particularly Mason. We've seen him at times do brilliant things, but we've also seen him double and triple pump against guys who aren't as good as he is.

This past season he developed a pretty reliable jump hook with either hand, which really helped.

Yet there were games when he just disappeared. Take Western Michigan for example. He scored just three points. Happened at BC too. Michigan State held him to one and in the first game, FSU did as well.

Yet the evidence shows that he has a seriously competitive side: Plumlee was aggressive against Kansas, against Ohio State, against UNC in Chapel Hill and was very effective against Lehigh when the pressure was really on Duke.

Look, when you can go against the Kansas frontcourt, Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller and John Henson and Florida State's very rough inside presence, you can play.

There were a couple of occasions when he really put something extra into chasing down a guard or two on a break to block their shots, too, and that was spectacular.

Yet there were stretches where he was very quiet, and here we necessarily enter the Land of Speculation, since we don't have any inside information on why. But here's what we think.

It's not that Duke wants to simply shoot outside, but it's been awhile since Duke's had a real offensive force around the basket. Does anyone really think that if Duke had ended up with Tyler Hansbrough or Jared Sullinger that they wouldn't have ridden them as hard as possible? To ask it is to answer it. It's totally obvious. Of course they would.

Plumlee could be a consistent scorer, but his high school coach told Adam Gold and Joe Ovies that he didn't think he was going to be a dominant scorer simply because he is a team first player.

That said: why does he have games where he disappears on offense? Here there are three basic possibilities. 1) defense; 2) ball movement, and 3) confidence.

Lesser Games By Mason Plumlee In 2011-12
Opponent Shots made & taken Free Throws Offensive rebounds Total assists (excluding M.P's) Points
Michigan State 0-1 1-2 2 8 1
Georgia Tech 3-6 3-3 2 10 9
Tennessee 3-5 2-5 2 10 8
Michigan 3-3 0-3 1 11 6
Western Michigan 1-2 1-2 1 20 3
Miami 2-7 2-3 7 12 6
B.C. 1-5 1-1 2 12 3
FSU 0-1 1-2 1 12 1
Virginia Tech 3-5 1-2 4 7 7
FSU 2-6 4-4 2 7 9
But On The Other Hand...
Kansas 5-10 7-9 5 8 17
Ohio State 7-12 2-5 1 9 16
UNC 7-13 3-5 1 10 17
Lehigh 9-9 0-1 5 12 19

In the case of Florida State, much of it was great defense. There was another game - we can't remember which right now - where he was often triple-teamed. Those things you can't do much about. Sometimes you just get shot down.

Passing is a trickier thing. Duke didn't have a natural (or healthy) point guard this year, and the guards, Quinn Cook excluded, were not great passers.

It's tempting to wonder what Plumlee's career arc would look like had Kyrie Irving not injured his toe and Quinn Cook not blown out his knee. Early on, Irving had a knack for finding Plumlee which would have presumably continued, and Duke might well have won the national championship again had he stayed healthy. Cook, you'll recall, was more highly regarded in high school than Kendall Marshall and could be superb if his knee continues to improve.

Great point guard play would have made a big difference. But you can't wish injuries away.

Which leads us to confidence and, by extent, emotion.

Confidence is easy to expect but not always easy to maintain. Why do we mention it? Well, in part because Plumlee was an outstanding free throw shooter in high school. His struggles from the line are well known. He got better at it later, but at times, watching him shoot fouls was almost painful: he seemed to agonize over each one.

When you consider his outstanding athletic ability, and that unlike, say, Casey Sanders or Taymon Domzalski, he has excellent hand-eye coordination, watching him hesitate under the basket doesn't make sense except as a confidence thing. And yet you see him tee off on Ohio State, Kansas and UNC.

There was a point late in the season where he really seemed to struggle, and we wondered, again without any particular insight, if he were having some emotional issues. We see these guys and expect them to be superheroes, always and instantly productive, but they're just as human as the rest of us.

Several years ago, a Duke player's parents nearly split up. It really messed up his game. Who can blame him? They're not machines.

Anyway, everyone can see his potential: it's huge and very real. All we'd like for the kid is that he have immense fun and play with great passion. The rest of the noise, including our own, he should just ignore. Go be great.

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