Two dribbles of a basketball could help determine whether Mason Plumlee becomes the player he would like to be in his second professional season.
Plumlee, 24, is at that intriguing stage of an N.B.A. career, when all of one’s raw talent has been put on display and the only questions that remain involve how it might be shaped and built upon. The months between seasons are when a player adds new facets to his game, and the Nets and their new coach, Lionel Hollins, have challenged Plumlee to become a greater scoring threat.
The two dribbles are essential to that.
Plumlee thrilled fans last season with his aerial play and thunderous dunks, but he struggled with his shooting away from the rim and looked awkward at the free-throw line, where he shot just 62.6 percent. In an effort to remedy his free-throw shooting, he has changed his routine. For years, Plumlee would stand at the line, catch the ball from the referee, and shoot it. This season, he will take two dribbles, pause to breathe and then toss it up.
It is a miniscule adjustment in the vast catalogue of in-game situations. But it is symbolic of the tinkering and fine-tuning that often occur in efforts to elevate promising young players like Plumlee.
“You’re always going to get your field goals, but you need to be getting to the free-throw line a lot to be a high-volume scorer,” Plumlee said. “Practice is practice — but as far as that goes, I’m shooting as well as I ever have.”
Players who sink their free throws produce bigger scoring numbers. They are more dangerous to foul and thus more difficult to defend. They are tapped to play in late-game situations. The free-throw attempts, Plumlee and the Nets believe, should come as the natural extension of a more aggressive scoring mind-set.
Plumlee averaged 7.4 points in just over 18 minutes per game last season. His scoring was often a result of cuts to the basket from screen-and-roll plays. It was enthralling to watch Plumlee catch and slam alley-oops, but he was somewhat one-dimensional. His goal is to develop a more diverse offensive arsenal.
“I tell Mason all the time, in this league, there will be guys as athletic as you, and you want to have more skills to be able to play with them,” Hollins said. “You can jump up over somebody, but maybe there’s somebody that can jump with you — then what are you going to do?”
Hollins added, “It’s about being able to be a credible shooter and being able to be a credible post-up player with skills: jump hooks, jump shots, free throws, everything.”
Hollins has spent the first few days of training camp installing his offense, which is vastly different from the small-ball style the Nets used under Jason Kidd when center Brook Lopez was injured. The team’s big men are expected to be featured more this season.
Hollins chided Plumlee during a practice scrimmage Tuesday because he got the ball in the post and hesitated to shoot. Afterward, as practice was winding down, the players split off into groups to practice free throws, and Plumlee worked on his new routine at the line.
Staying upright, he bounced the ball deliberately onto the floor. Then he sank into a crouch, paused to breathe, and uncoiled his shot. The assistant coach Paul Westphal has been working with Plumlee to smooth out his motion, which looked arrhythmic last season, and standardize his point of release.
“It’s little things you mess with until you get more comfortable,” Plumlee said. “Then it’s work, reps, consistency, discipline.”
At Duke, Plumlee shot 44.1 percent from the foul line in his sophomore year, 52.8 in his junior season, and 68.1 in his senior year — evidence, perhaps, that his percentage could keep improving at the professional level.
“There are guys who have good touch and bad form, and there are guys who have bad touch and bad form, who are hard to change,” Hollins said. “Mason has good touch, and he just has a difficult time with his form, and we’re trying to correct it.”
If the adjustment works, it could produce a domino effect that opens up Plumlee’s offensive game. It all starts with two dribbles.
Deron Williams did not practice Tuesday. Lionel Hollins said it was just a day off, nothing related to the ankle operations Williams underwent earlier this year. … Andrei Kirilenko has been sitting out practice since Sunday, when he reported stiffness in his back. Kirilenko missed 25 games early last season with back spasms and missed 37 games in all.