By way of introduction, I have been a long time, ardent Duke fan going back to Johnny Dawkins. I will admit that I see myself as an “honest homer” inasmuch as I am willing to vocalize when I see a problem my team has, rather than rationalize it.
Back when I heard of the Plumlee brothers and their matching initials and that they might all end up at Duke, I decided to pay homage to such loyalty (and height) by creating the nickname “PlumTrees” and assigning them No.1, No.2, & No.3 … It is not a knock by any means.
Most of us have heard references to the problems Duke has traditionally had with bigs and verbalized last year by current Michigan player Mitch McGary, who was being recruited by Duke. He essentially said that all Duke wants from bigs is to rebound and set screens. Well, he’s at Michigan, but the “PlumTrees” are with Duke.
Last year, Miles (No.1) graduated after a career with some, but all too few, highlights. Baby brother Marshall (No. 3) was Red-Shirted last year and started this year off with an injury. So that left it up to middle brother – Mason (No.2), who has played significant minutes all along.
He was a starter as a sophomore and we all heard Dick Vitale lament just how much No. 2 “missed” the presence of Kyrie Irving once he went down with his injury. We saw he and No. 1 become cogs in the new chemistry that team established, but all that time did was exaggerate his failings:
- Poor defense which often left the Baseline open and caused him to commit ill-advised fouls while trying to recover.
- Poor footwork which left him tangled up in himself rendering him useless against more agile bigs on offense.
- A distinct lack of toughness that caused fans to see him pushed, shoved, and dunked upon over and over again. Even being bloodied in the ACC tournament did not toughen him up.
Last year Mason had a good, but not great year. My best example is what happened to both he and Miles in MSG, when they were pushed and shoved all over the floor by Michigan State’s bigs. It didn’t get better during the season. Oh, there would be highlight dunks and swatting blocks but not with the consistency any team needs. Granted, he suffered along with the rest of the squad from the presence of Austin Rivers, whose nickname of “Da Black Hole” I borrowed from another of the Duke faithful to describe just how much of a deleterious impact he had on the whole season.
All this past summer I had high hopes that he would find someone to work with over the summer. Someone who could fix his hand, feet, and toughen him up. I heard nothing.
Early on this year, Mason came out of the box looking as if my hopes had been answered. He was smoother and more substantial, and he was doing exceptionally well at the charity stripe. Very soon people began to mention his name as a front-runner in the National Player of the Year competition on the undefeated play of Duke. They won against programs that boosted them to the No.1 ranking, but on closer examination, we see that Mason’s performance was not a grand departure from previous years. While still replete with dunking and blocking highlights, and practically always registering a double-double, the problem is that most times it was against opponents who were not NPOY caliber.
So, the question has to be asked: Has Mason ever gone head-to-head against a NPOY player? The unfortunate answer is no, and I don’t see one on the horizon since Duke is not playing their usual out-of-conference game during conference season. The truth of the matter is that Mason’s name got entangled with the NPOY talk because Duke was playing very well. Seth Curry would be ignored because no one in the national media expected him to play a full season once his injury was characterized with question marks by Coach K.
Sorry friends, I’m here to tell you that, in all honesty, “PlumTree” No. 2 is nowhere near a reputable candidate for NPOY. I’ve equated it to being the 53rd card in the deck. It’s nice to see him there as a fan, but as an honest fan, you truthfully cannot include him in the discussion. Think of it this way:
- NPOY candidates lead their teams. By now, everyone, everywhere understands the leadership that Duke lost when Ryan Kelly went down. Mason has yet to step up into the role in four (4) games.
- NPOY candidates excel at all aspects of the game. Mason has yet to be an offensive threat outside of his odd spin moves, or baby hooks, both which often do not garner scores.
- NPOY candidates garner virtually no media criticism for failings. Earlier this month, before the NC State game, Shane Ryan of Grantland commented that: “… he still doesn’t have an ounce of grace or fluidity when he gets the ball in the post.” Later in the article he apologetically observed: “… I’m afraid he’s reduced himself to a guy who can finish alley-oops, or pass out of the post. But he’s certainly not someone you need to double.” Please don’t shoot the messenger, shoot whoever is responsible for this guy not reaching what everyone saw as tremendous potential.
So now we come up against the most recent outings:
- Against NC State, he played all 40 minutes and produced an anemic “double-double” while their bigs logged in impressive performances, overshadowing any presence of Mason. Yes, Coach K’s lack of developing bench players to compensate for Ryan Kelly’s injury was glaringly evident, but a NPOY candidate steps up and compensates in some way for his fallen teammate . Mason, instead, allowed himself to be pushed and shoved all over the PNC Arena floor.
- Against Georgia Tech, he produced another double-double for the stat sheet, but a closer look shows that he was 7 of 20 from the “floor.” I put “floor” in quotations because his “floor” is always from inside the paint. How does a NPOY candidate shoot 35 percent and leave the rest of the team to compensate by shooting 73 percent?
Fans will remember this game as the one when Coach K jumped into the arms of No. 2 in a futile effort to elicit a fire and brimstone response from him. Mason just stood there stone-faced, probably embarrassed as many of us were.
Against Miami (Do we REALLY want to talk about this game?) Suffice to say, while there was a wholesale collapse of the team, Mason did nothing more than log another double-double that didn’t even keep the game to a respectable margin. A NPOY candidate excels despite his team’s inabilities. Mason was as neutered as everyone else by Miami’s exceptional performance.
Against Maryland, Mason failed to log in that usual double-double against a sophomore who had yet to be out-rebounded, and while his behind-the-head dunk will be a sure inclusion on Sports Center, it proved that he was easily outplayed by more physical, more athletic players. Fortunately, he was out rebounded by freshman teammate, Amile Jefferson. This game replicated his performance against Kentucky where he was outplayed by a freshman, but everyone was so pleased for the win, it was swept under the stats table, just like it will be in the Maryland game.
So, there it is, if you will, the story of a NPOY candidate who simply does not belong on the ballot. I’d like to be proven wrong, but I doubt that he could win NPOY without Duke winning it all, and then, I would think Seth would suddenly find himself in the race because he will have to stay on the floor through April 8th.
At the approximate half-way point in the season, there are others, elsewhere, who are much more attractive candidates, leading their teams through thick and thin. To my point of view, when things have gotten thick, Mason has gotten thin by comparison. I wish it were different, but I honestly do not see it happening after watching him for four years. Sorry.
Bermuda Bob is a contributing writer for Duke Sports Blog. You can follow him on Twitter @TheBermudaBob where he muses on a number of issues. He is also the Golf writer for www.Edraft.com