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Nets bolstered by their rising star

Mason Plumlee's penchant for emphatic dunks is energizing the resurgent Nets. All photos AP

Plumlee provides punch off bench for Brooklyn

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

It's certainly not easy for a 7-foot-1 center to slip in under the radar.

But Mason Plumlee did just that last June, when his selection as the Nets' first-round pick (22nd overall) in the 2013 NBA Draft went virtually unnoticed during an evening in which news broke of Brooklyn's blockbuster deal to acquire Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from the Boston Celtics.

The second-team AP All-American from Duke had just averaged 17.0 points, 10 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game during his senior season in Durham, N.C., where he also won a national title under legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski.

But no one seemed to care about anything other than the pending arrival of Brooklyn’s Big Three to the Barclays Center.

A former McDonald's All-American out of Christ School in Arden, N.C., Plumlee spent most of draft night talking about the opportunity to potentially play alongside the likes of future Hall of Famers like Pierce and Garnett, as well as a former NBA Sixth Man of the Year in Terry.

Just over three months into his rookie season with the Nets, it's the former Celtic greats who are now gushing over Brooklyn's high-flying first-year dunk machine.

"I've just seen the growth and maturity from Mason that we've all been waiting for," Terry noted after watching Plumlee score a career-high 22 points and match his season-best with 13 rebounds during Sunday night's 93-81 victory over visiting New Orleans at the Barclays Center.

"He's doing everything we've asked him to do," added Terry, who picked up his 5,000th career assist during the Nets' third consecutive home win. "[He brings] a lot of energy, he's rebounding the ball well but offensively setting picks. He's rolling hard to the basket and when he catches it, he's finishing."

Plumlee, who shot a tick above 60 percent from the floor during his final season at Duke, is making 63 percent of his shots at the NBA level, mainly because he specializes in rising well over the rim and slamming the ball through it whenever he can.

Since being named to the Rising Stars Challenge during this coming weekend's NBA All-Star Game festivities in New Orleans, Plumlee is averaging 11.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and burying nearly 65 percent of his shots over the past six games.

"That's my role right now," Plumlee said of his overpowering inside presence. "If it start knocking them down, coach will tell me to take it. He definitely wants me attacking the rim, being aggressive and getting to the foul line."

With All-Star center Brook Lopez out for the remainder of the season with his latest foot injury, Kidd knows he will rely more heavily on Plumlee along the interior.

Though he doesn't expect the lanky rookie to take over the league anytime soon.

"We don't have a crystal ball, but he brings youth, athletic ability, fresh legs, the ability to catch and finish, and you can see the hard work that he's put in since this summer," Kidd noted.

Plumlee, who spent the summer before last interning for Barclays Wealth Management, has been all business on the court.

He starred during the Nets' exhibition Summer League participation in Orlando, Fla., and is averaging 6.5 points and 3.3 rebounds over his first 39 games in the NBA.

But the 23-year-old pro neophyte readily admits that he still has a lot to learn.

"I've been fortunate to be on this team with a lot of guys who've seen it all," Plumlee said. "They've been around a long time. Not only that, some teams have those guys, but we have those guys who are willing to share and teach me what they already know. I'm just fortunate to be on their team."

Apparently, that feeling is mutual.

"I think his teammates believe in him and that's something that you have to give him credit for," said Kidd. "[He's] listening to veteran guys like KG, Paul, them being able to help him understand the NBA game."

For a $180-plus million roster loaded with experienced 30-somethings and somewhat depleted by injury, Plumlee is well aware that his youth and energy are valuable assets to his teammates and his coach.

"That's my role," he said. "If I'm not bringing the energy then I'm not doing my role. That's been understood since I was drafted. It's a lift for some of these older guys who've been doing it a while."

The way Plumlee has adapted to the NBA game, he may be doing it for a while himself.

"He's a rookie, so he's going to have his ups and downs," Kidd reminded the media gathered at his press conference following Plumlee's breakout effort against the Pelicans. "This is something he can build on and get better with."

Nothing But Net: All-Star G Joe Johnson will join Plumlee in New Orleans this weekend as he was the Nets' lone selection to the Eastern Conference All-Star team and will also participate in the 3-point shooting contest Saturday night in advance of Sunday's All-Star Game. ... The Nets will host Charlotte on Wednesday night in their final game prior to the All-Star weekend. Brooklyn has won 10 of its last 12 home contests, and is 13-5 overall since a dismal 10-21 start to the campaign. "Guys are playing well since the New Year," Kidd noted. "So we understand the importance of trying to protect home, and right now that's what we're doing." ... Terry wasn't aware of his milestone assist Sunday, but did give credit to his young center for the feat. "I did not know at all [that I had 5,000 assists]," he admitted. "Thanks to Mason Plumlee, it probably was one of the assists to him." ... The Nets, who are 9-9 in inter-conference games this season, are one of only three Eastern Conference teams with at least a .500 record against Western Conference opponents, joining the likes of East powerhouses Miami and Indiana. ... Plumlee's only previous career double-double came on New Year's Eve during a blowout loss in San Antonio, where he registered 15 points and 13 boards.

February 11, 2014 - 12:00pm


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