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written by Russell Peddle on Aug 1st, 2014
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Is There a Good Basketball Reason for Team USA to Pick Mason Plumlee Over DeMarcus Cousins?

Rumor has it that Mason Plumlee is set to make Team USA over DeMarcus Cousins. How in the world does one justify such a thing?

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Earlier this week, I wrote about DeMarcus Cousins and just how good making Team USA would be for his career. I don’t need to spend any more space explaining just how good Boogie is and has the chance to be, so just click here if you need such info.

Today, we need to discuss this nugget from last night:

Mason Plumlee was a late addition to the Team USA National Team, picked from the Select Team to even out scrimmage squads that were thin on bigs after the bowing out of guys like LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, and Kevin Love in the last few weeks. After being the last guy added to the pool, Plumlee’s now suddenly rumored to be making the team heading to Spain for the FIBA World Cup over more skilled bigs, specifically Boogie Cousins. To make matters worse, Brian Windhorst is a plugged in and reliable source, so said “rumor” could conceivably become a reality before long.

Does. Not. Compute.

Don’t get me wrong, Plumlee is a fine basketball player. He was a deserving member of the All-Rookie First Team last season, even if his rookie class was one of the crappiest in recent memory. He certainly has the potential to have a good - maybe great - NBA career specializing in energetic defense and efficient shooting inches from the rim.

Seriously, 259 of Plumlee’s 302 shots last year (85.8%) were taken right at the rim. Yes, he shot 73.0% from there and his 65.9% shooting from the field would’ve placed him second in the NBA behind DeAndre Jordan, only he didn’t take enough shots to even qualify him for the leader board. He’s not exactly what you would call a versatile or prolific scorer, at least not yet.

Other than accurate scoring at the rim, what reason is there to take him over Boogie?

Offense?

2013-14PTS / 36TS%AST%TOV%
DeMarcus Cousins25.355.5%17.8%14.7%
Mason Plumlee14.767.0%8.1%16.6%

Plumlee may be a more efficient scorer with a superior true shooting percentage (weighted twos, threes, and free throws), but that’s only because he takes practically every one of his shots at the rim. There’s something to be said for someone that knows his limits and does only what he’s good at, but the predictability becomes limiting. Cousins spreads the floor with a decent mid-range game (40.8%, slightly above the league average of 39.5%) and has a more complete offensive arsenal. He scores at a better rate per 36 minutes and is a better passer, having an assist percentage twice as good as Plumlee’s and a lower turnover percentage.

Ok, it’s not offense. Besides, Team USA has that in spades. What else could it be?

Rebounding?

2013-14OReb%2nd PTS / 36DReb%TReb%
DeMarcus Cousins10.6%4.630.5%20.4%
Mason Plumlee9.3%2.319.6%14.5%

Boogie grabs a higher percentage of available offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, and thus total rebounds when he’s on the floor than Plumlee. He also produces double the second-chance points per 36 minutes. Cousins ranked 5th in rebounds per game (11.7) in the whole NBA last season as a result of ranking 1st in defensive rebound percentage and 4th in total rebound percentage.

Nothing more to see here.

Defense?

One of the main arguments I see coming from #TeamPlumlee (whoever you are) is a claim that Plumdog is a better defender than the Boogie Man.

Advanced metrics, as they stand these days, do a great job of measuring a player’s offensive efficiency, but still fall a little short in assessing a player’s individual defensive abilities. Raw steal and block numbers don’t account for much paint on the real defensive picture, while defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions by a player’s team while he’s on the floor) and rim protection stats are subject to team influences. When you check out the table below, keep in mind that Plumlee’s Nets were 20th in our defensive efficiency rankings for a 107.7 defensive rating and Cousins’ Kings were 23rd at 108.8.

2013-14Def RtgDWS / 48Opp FGA at RimOpp FG% at Rim
DeMarcus Cousins1010.0797.551.1%
Mason Plumlee1040.0645.254.3%

Wait, Cousins had superior defensive stats (defensive rating, defensive win shares per 48 minutes, field goal percentage his opponents shot at the rim with him guarding it) while playing on a worse defensive team than Plumlee? Mason may be a more energetic defender and better lateral mover than Cousins (who outweighs him by 35 pounds), but calling Mason a superior defender might be selling Boogie a little short.

Ok, Why?

It’s not offense, it’s definitely not rebounding, and it’s not really defense. Plumlee is certainly more efficient, but that’s partially negated by a lack of offensive versatility.

So, what exactly does Mason Plumlee have that DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t?

Is it because Plum’s only a rookie and maybe they’re grooming him for the future? He and Cousins are both only 23 and DeMarcus has four times the NBA experience in years played (and nearly seven times the minutes).

Is it because Plumlee is more suited as a role player on a team full of superduperstars? Sure, but wouldn’t you rather just have the best player available? That’s like passing on a surefire star in the NBA Draft because you already have an inferior starter that plays the same position. What if Anthony Davis gets hurt or in foul trouble? Do you want Mason Plumlee to be your go-to big or would you rather have a budding superstar and monster body like Cousins instead? Don’t forget that you have over 500 pounds of Gasol brothers to deal with at some point.

This can really only come down to two things and two things only: Plumlee has the Duke connection with Team USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Cousins has a history of being a knucklehead. Choosing which of these two players makes it based on nepotism or fear of a Cousins meltdown does not seem like a good message to send to players - knowing the coaches and being a behaved student is worth more than being a more talented one. Besides, is Cousins really that impossible to mould? Haven’t there been a bunch of reports that he wants to make this team to an almost unhealthy degree and he's noticeably more mature and driven in practices? Can’t you work with that and hope that he grows even more under your wing and becomes a fixture for future international competitions?

It’ll be very hard for the Team USA brass to justify a Plumlee pick if they're claiming basketball reasons. The numbers simply couldn’t disagree more.

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In This Article

LaMarcus Aldridge
FC, San Antonio Spurs

Kevin Love
FC, Cleveland Cavaliers

DeMarcus Cousins
FC, Sacramento Kings

Blake Griffin
FC, Los Angeles Clippers

Mason Plumlee
FC, Brooklyn Nets

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