What do Art Heyman, Mike Gminksi, Christian Leattner, Grant Hill, JJ Redick, and Nolan Smith have in common? They were all voted as ACC Player of the Year during their tenure in a Duke jersey. As Duke has raced out to an impressive start on the season one can’t help but ask; is Mason Plumlee Duke’s next ACC POY?
Arguably the front runner for several post-season awards, Mason has been lights out through six games. His leadership and ability to control the post has been a cornerstone for Duke.
I have said all along that for Duke to be special this season, all things have to go through Mason down low. Duke should run an old school Orlando Magic offense with Shaq. Give it to Mason down low and allow him to create for himself and for everyone else. This leads to a ton of shots for Curry, Sulaimon, and Cook as Mason is pressured in the post.
Currently, Mason is second in the conference in scoring. He has scored 118 points and averaging 19.7 per game. It would be a huge surprise if Mason led the conference in scoring. He simply isn’t the type that is going to get you 25-30 a game. If he wins this award it will be because of a full body of work, not a scoring barrage.
One of the things that Mason should be able to do well in the ACC is rebound. He is leading the conference with 10+ rebounds per game and is the only Blue Devil in the top 20 of this stat within the conference. That is huge and proves his importance.
As the season progresses one of the stats he will have to control is field goal percentage. Currently second in the ACC at .686, Duke will need him to score down low. It is no secret that shooters often fade at the end of the year. They tend to get tired legs resulting in a flat shot and decreasing percentages. This is how a team dies with the three. Something Duke knows all too well. That being said, utilizing Plumlee down low for instant offense is something they haven’t had in some time. A strength for this team, Mason can dominate the paint against most (if not all) ACC teams. Something they will have to do if they want to be “special”.
All being said, this award is not his yet. Obviously there is a whole lot of ball left to be played, but Mason has two key weaknesses that must be cleaned up. The first is foul trouble. As an aggressive defender who likes to alter shots, Mason tends to pick up his share of fouls. His share meaning he is prone to fouling out. Duke needs him on the court. If he does not play smart and stay out of foul trouble then he will never give himself the opportunity to win POY. It also puts Duke in a rough place because their best player will be coaching, and with the winningest coach in history, they have that part covered.
The other thing that Mason needs to fix is his free throw shooting. Yes, I understand that he is eighth among the ACC in free throw shooting at .800 but it must continue. He will have the ball late in games and he will win or lose games at the stripe. Last season Mason was Duke’s worst free throw shooter at just above .500. Think about that for a second. If Mason can’t hit free throws then teams will simply foul him and make him shoot them. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that you can either get dunked on or make him shoot. If he can’t shoot, then teams will purposely foul.
Mason Plumlee is the best big man at Duke since Elton Brand. He gives the team a front court look that not many others can. In what could be the strongest front court in D1, he could put himself into a rare class if he continues to step up and lead this team. On paper, he is the ACC’s best big man and is expected to at least be ACC First Team. He could also do something that Elton Brand could not do, and that is finish. Brand led arguably one of the best Duke teams in history but lost in the Final Four to UCONN. Learning from the past could be important as Plumlee hopes to help Duke hoist another banner inside Cameron Indoor Stadium.