May 6, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Mason Plumlee (1) looks prior to a game against the Miami Heat in game one of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Brooklyn Nets: The Emergence Of Mason Plumlee

Talk about an unexpected turn of events for the Brooklyn Nets this past season.

It was just last summer when winning an NBA championship was expected, thanks to the acquisitions of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from the Boston Celtics. Adding two future Hall of Famers to a starting lineup that already consisted of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez gave the assumption that the team had a shot in competing for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

However, a major decline in production from Williams, Pierce and Garnett, as well as a season-ending injury, to Lopez contributed to Brooklyn’s playoff run ending in five games against the Miami Heat in the semifinals. Heading into this offseason, many questions hang over the Nets’ head as the room for improvement is vastly limited due to not having any draft picks this year and a payroll of $89 million for 2014-15.

Apr 5, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Mason Plumlee (1) during the third quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Nets defeated the Sixers 105-101. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t get me wrong, there is light at the end of the tunnel for Brooklyn’s future and one of those pieces that’ll determine their fate is Duke product, Mason Plumlee.

Plumlee, 24, was selected 22nd overall by the Nets in last year’s draft after receiving first team All-ACC and second team All-American honors in 2013 with the Blue Devils. Many believed that the rookie would be sent down to the D-League to improve his game before contributing full-time to the Nets, but surpassed all of the assumptions given to him before the season began.

Following the injuries suffered by Lopez and Garnett, Plumlee managed to help the Nets to a 16-6 record with him as the starting center. His 21.4 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per 100 possessions allowed him to be named to the NBA’s All-Rookie first team, as well as finishing fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. Plumlee also finished first amongst all rookies in player efficiency rating, field goal percentage and dunks with 116.

The 7-foot-1, 235 pound big man’s career highlight from last season came during the Nets’ series finale against the Miami Heat. Plumlee provided the game-winning block on LeBron James to clinch the regular-season sweep over the former defending champions.

What turned Plumlee into a game changing athlete for the Nets was the influence passed down by the veterans on the team. Playing alongside Pierce, Garnett and Lopez gave Plumlee the basic idea of what it took to be successful in the league at such a young age. Even if it was for just a year, the presence of multiple leaders provided Plumlee an exceptional environmental to improve on his game in order for him to become the face of the franchise one day.

“I think Mason Plumlee, as a rookie, will be a much better player for the rest of his career because he played with Paul [Pierce] and KG,” Nets GM Billy King told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com.

Dec 31, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) is defended by Brooklyn Nets forward Mason Plumlee (behind) during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

One thing that Plumlee must work on this offseason is developing a jump shot or shooting outside of the restricted area. Plumlee took seven shots outside of that area and missed all of them. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, it may turn into a long-term project rather than short-term, according to Nets Daily.

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of role Plumlee receives from head coach Jason Kidd. It’s expected that he will see a lot more playing time, compared to this past season in which he only saw the floor for 18.2 minutes per game.

This is because of the fact that Lopez’s time on the bench will probably be extended to keep the big man healthy in time for the playoffs, as well as the possibility of Garnett retiring and walking away from $12 million that he’s expected to earn in 2014-15.

Plumlee is under contract with Brooklyn until the end of 2016-17 with a team option the two years following next season in which he will earn $1.3 million. Seeing that Garnett doesn’t have much to give anymore and the uncertainty of whether or not Lopez can get back to All-Star form makes it easy to assume that Brooklyn will keep Plumlee until his four-year deal is up as the future of the Nets may soon revolve around how well Plumlee performs from here on out.

Zach Libby covers the Brooklyn Nets for Hoops Habit.

Tags: Brooklyn Nets Mason Plumlee

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