Fantasy Basketball: Mason Plumlee Is Playing Like a Draft-Day Steal

When we think about Portland, we think guards. We think Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. After all, that's where all the production -- both in real life and in fantasy basketball -- stems from.

On the season, the Portland Trail Blazers' starting backcourt is combining for 50.2 points, 10 assists and 5.1 threes per game. Individually, Lillard and McCollum rank 18th and 12th in our own fantasy basketball rankings. That makes up just about all of the Blazers' fantasy production, though, right?

Or does it?

Unbeknownst to many, Mason Plumlee is flying under the radar as a draft-day steal.

Better Than Expected

Last year, the Blazers' starting center averaged 9.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 25.4 minutes. According to Basketball Monster, despite the fact that Plumlee played in all 82 games, he finished as an 11th-round commodity with a fantasy value of -0.25 in standard leagues. And by Yahoo's standards, that's a final O-Rank of 139.

Appropriately, Plumlee's preseason O-Rank stood at 136, and his ADP (average draft position), was 124.4 when fantasy drafts concluded. He was drafted as an 11th-round asset, but he's produced at a much higher level through 39 games.

Plumlee currently ranks 96th in Basketball Monster's rankings, which means he's performing like a player selected in the eighth round of 12-team leagues. He's owned in 79% of all Yahoo leagues and has a value of -0.16 overall, via Basketball Monster -- an improvement over last year's mark.

How has he done so?

Year Pts/36 Rebs/36 Asts/36
2015-16 12.9 10.8 3.9
2016-17 14.5 9.8 5.7

In comparing Plumlee's per-36 averages from last year to this year, we can see that his scoring and playmaking have both seen an increase. His usage rate (18.2%) is only 1% higher than a year ago, but he's taking an additional 1.6 field goal attempts per 36 minutes and making 1.2 more per game.

Surprisingly, volume isn't the difference -- it's efficiency.

Though Plumlee's attempting more shots per game than he ever has, he's shooting over 4% better from the field than a year ago. The improvement is a product of better inside and outside shooting, as he's increased his shooting percentages from both 0-to-3 feet and 10-to-16 feet by at least 8%.

As it pertains to his growth in assist production, Plumlee has always been a skilled passer, but he's refined it this year. The 26-year-old has taken advantage of what's around him by getting the ball to elite shooters on the outside. As a result, his assist percentage is 24.3% (compared to 16.2%) and he's made just five turnovers via a bad pass -- way less than his total of 59 last season.

Early Round Value?

If you didn't already know, now you have seen the development and progression of Plumlee from his third to fourth NBA season. But still, he's just a seventh-round player -- until he isn't.

With the expansion of Plumlee's offensive game and his continued efforts on the boards, his value is even better when you eliminate -- or, in other words, punt -- certain categories. For Plumlee, his weakest categories are easily free throw percentage and three-pointers, for which the athletic big man has values of -2.72 and -1.41, respectively, by Basketball Monster's rating system.

However, if we look past one or both of those, here are Plumlee's league values and NBA ranks.

Punting Value Rank
3PM -0.01 71
FT% 0.16 40
Both 0.38 20

As we go down, Plumlee goes from an eighth-rounder, to a sixth-rounder, to a fourth-rounder, all the way to a second-round fantasy talent when punting both categories.

Punting two categories isn't for everyone and it's not going to make sense for someone consistently reliant on those categories to seek out Plumlee in a trade of some sort. On the other hand, if you're in need of field goal percentage, rebounding or assist help (especially from the center spot), he could be a good addition.

The same can be said even more for someone who has already decided they're punting one of the two categories. If you don't have three-point shooters, for example, maybe just give in and flip a Brook Lopez for Plumlee.

No matter your situation as a fantasy owner, or even which categories we look at, an improved Plumlee has performed like an absolute steal so far this season.