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Player Review: Miles Plumlee

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

June 25, 2013, 10:15 AM

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Age: 24
Years Pro: 1
Status: Entering second year of rookie contract. Will receive $1.12 million next season.
Key Stats: Averaged 0.9 points in 14 games, playing an average of 3.9 minutes in those games.

So, is Miles Plumlee a bust? Did the first-round pick fail to live up to expectations by playing in just 14 games and scoring 13 points his rookie season?

It will take a few years to know, but it's too soon to declare anything. What's a player drafted late in the first round and stuck behind proven talents supposed to do but sit on the bench and wait his turn? Plumlee hasn't proven he can play in the NBA. But he certainly didn't prove he can't, either, in his 55 mop-up minutes.

Plumlee was compared to Jeff Foster when he was drafted with the 26th pick, and the link still rings true for the Pacers' coaching staff and front office. Plumlee is not regarded as someone who'll average 20 points and 10 rebounds someday. He's a role player, but one who might be able to do select things very well and last a long time in the league, as Foster did. If you think Plumlee was a failure for scoring 13 points in 55 minutes as a rookie, remember that Foster scored 43 points in 86 minutes spread over 19 games in the 1999-2000 season, and was left off the playoff roster. Foster wound up playing 13 seasons, more than justifying his selection with the 21st pick.

Still, Plumlee is a player who averaged just 6.6 points as a senior at Duke, when he started fewer than half of his games, so there's obviously work to be done. He's shown the willingness to put in the time, so it's going to be a question of how much he can improve his skill level and how willing he'll be to mix it up physically.

“Miles just needs opportunity,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said late in the season. “My belief in his ability to be a solid player in this league for years to come has not wavered at all. I'm just as excited as I was on draft night when we picked him. He's behind an army of quality big men. With Miles, it's just going to be about time and opportunity and hard work. He's already got the hard work part of it down.”

Plumlee never scored more than four points in a game with the Pacers, although he did score nine in a pre-season game against Minnesota. He hit just five of his 21 field goal attempts, revealing the challenges he faces offensively, but still showed the athleticism that impressed teams before the draft last season. He was regarded as one of the most athletic big man in the draft then, and at least a few other teams – Miami, Chicago and Minnesota – indicated serious interest in drafting him.

Plumlee's season highlights came in Fort Wayne, during his time with the Development League Mad Ants. There, playing in 15 games for an average of 30 minutes, he scored 11.2 points and grabbed 10.2 rebounds. It was reminiscent of his summer league performance with the Pacers last year, when he averaged 13 points and 6.6 rebounds in 31 minutes, and was a first-team selection for the eight-team league in Orlando. Again, he hasn't proved he can have a long career in the NBA. But he hasn't proved he can't.

Fans rarely saw Plumlee last season, but the coaches saw him every day in practice when he wasn't in Fort Wayne.

“He's become more skilled,” said assistant Jim Boylen, who specializes in working with the big men. “He's improved his jump hook, his face-up, and he's got a terrific first step. He understands how physical you have to be now. He's got all the physical tools. He's just got to develop his skill level and put it all together. The biggest thing for him is the mindset of protecting the rim and rebounding the ball. Those are huge things in our system.

“Offensively, with his back to the basket, he's ahead of where Jeff was. Defensively, having a feel for the game, he's behind Jeff. But as far as a worker who has a physical presence, can play with energy and speed and quickness, they're very similar.”

Plumlee is viewed by the Pacers as a power forward, rather than a center, and he was stuck behind three last season in David West, Tyler Hansbrough and Jeff Pendergraph. With West a free agent, Hansbrough a restricted free agent and Pendergraph a free agent, it's unlikely all of them will return next season. The team's highest off-season priority is to re-sign West, but either Hansbrough or Pendergraph seem likely to look for more playing time elsewhere.

That would create a greater opportunity for Plumlee next season to prove what he can do. Or can't.

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