Plumlee blossoming in Garnett's absence

March, 21, 2014
3/21/14
11:25
PM ET
NEW YORK -- Everyone seemed to think Nets rookie Mason Plumlee was headed for the NBA’s Developmental League at the start of the season.

Everyone, that is, except for Plumlee. “There was one person that wasn’t assuming that,” Plumlee said, referring to himself.

[+] EnlargeMason Plumlee
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsMason Plumlee had a big night in the Nets' win over the Celtics.
Plumlee, 24, never did make it to the NBDL. “I didn’t know how quickly he would adjust,” Nets GM Billy King said. “That’s why I said at the beginning of the season he’ll probably play in Springfield. Maybe that was motivation for him not to be going to Springfield. No disrespect to Springfield. I’ve been there, it’s a nice town.”

Maybe. But unless it’s for some sort of Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame event, Plumlee probably never wants to end up there. And based on the way he’s playing right now, he probably never will.

Plumlee has emerged in the absence of Kevin Garnett, going from benchwarmer to starter. Garnett has missed the past 11 games due to back spasms, but the Nets are 9-2 without him, and Plumlee is a huge reason why.

On Friday night, he missed just one shot, going 6-for-7 from the field and 6-for-6 from the foul line. He ended up with 18 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals in the Nets’ 114-98 victory over the Celtics at the Barclays Center.

“I’ve grown a lot,” Plumlee said. “And a lot of it is just opportunity. But just being around this group of guys, like I’ve said all season -- even when I wasn’t playing -- it’s true, you just wanna be like a sponge and soak up what they have to offer. All the knowledge and stuff. And that’s what’s helped me in this role.”

In this 11-game span as a starter, Plumlee is averaging 8.3 points and 5.6 rebounds and shooting 68.5 percent from the field. All but one of his 37 made shots during that stretch have come outside the restricted area.

Sure, there’s a lot of room for growth. But seriously, who could’ve expected this from the 22nd overall pick out of Duke?

“Being a rookie, he’s going to make some mistakes,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said. “But the way he can finish around the rim with the guys passing the balls, it’s fun to watch.”

Plumlee says his development has come by watching a lot of video with the coaching staff. “The coaches are great. If they show me something on film, most of the time they’re pretty much right, it’s gonna happen in the game, and that allows you to see openings,” Plumlee said. “They’ve been great. Film study has helped me the most.”

Plumlee also credits Garnett, who has said these game minutes are so valuable for Plumlee going forward. “He’s spending a lot of time with me,” Plumlee said of Garnett. “At shootaround he’ll take me through who I’m guarding. He’s really helpful.”

Plumlee has flourished in his role. “This is the time of the season you have to know your role,” he said. “You can’t question, ‘Does Coach want me to do this or that?’ They’ve made my role very clear and as long as I do that, I think they’ll be comfortable playing me in the playoffs.”

Plumlee hasn’t had much time to reflect on just how far he’s come.

“I think once the season’s over then we’ll look back at it and kind of[reflect on] the timeline,” he said. “But right now it’s just, they need me to start and play well because Kevin’s out just out of necessity for our team, but I’m just glad and ready to do that.”

Mike Mazzeo

ESPN New York Writer

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Joe Johnson
PTS AST STL MIN
15.5 3.7 0.9 35.5
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsK. Garnett 7.1
AssistsD. Williams 6.3
StealsJ. Jack 1.2
BlocksB. Lopez 1.6