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Plumlee at Critical Checkpoint

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

July 6, 2013

Many coaches and veteran players attest that often times a player’s greatest improvement comes between their first and second year. That’s because they’ve had their eyes widened for a full season and the realities of what it takes to be a professional have been drilled into them for a full year.

For some guys, a player was also able to observe through others what it takes to bring it each day – whether in practice or a game. Conversely, he’s seen – and heard – why others may sit the bench and not hear their name called. It’s for a reason.

The time is now for Miles Plumlee; he’s at another stepping-stone of his NBA career.

Just days after the Pacers’ season ended in Miami, Plumlee returned to Indianapolis to work out with the coaching staff and strength coach Shawn Windle. Then, he began a five-day-a-week routine with Julian Mavunga, a fellow Indiana native who’s also with the Pacers for Summer League. The two have lifted and competed on the floor for hours each day.

“I remember Julian from high school,” Plumlee said. “We’ve been friends and just push each other on our workouts. He’s really helped me with the stuff he’s learned and I try to help him and we’ve improved over the last month.”

After one season, it’s unfair to judge the Pacers’ 2012 first-round selection (No. 26). In his rookie season, he saw time in 14 games and averaged 3.9 minutes per game when he was on the floor. He had a handful of games where he’d come in and grab three rebounds during his short stint. More work and more improvement on his own may lead to a larger role next season.

“One thing we don’t do is to make judgments on rookies in the first year because you know going in they’re not going to play very much, particularly with a team that’s trying to win every game,” said former team president Donnie Walsh at his end of the season wrap-up.

His next big opportunity to demonstrate what he can do will come next week in Orlando for Summer League games, which run July 7-12. (Note: All games can be seen on NBATV and Last year, the 6-10, 245 pound forward earned First Team All-Summer League team honors. Coach Dan Burke recently pulled him aside and told him not to feel like he needs to dominate as a former first-round pick among undrafted free agents who are trying to find a job. His message was to keep working on his game, compete, and try some of the stuff he’s been practicing.

“Don’t go down there thinking it’s going to be easy and put pressure on yourself thinking you have to average 30 and 15,” Burke recalled of their conversation.

So what does Burke, who’s coaching the team, want out of Plumlee?

“I want to see at least 10 rebounds every game,” he said. “I don’t care about his points. I just want 10 rebounds and I want to see three blocked shots.

“I want to see him just play the game and not just worry about making jumpers. I want to see him get in the post with some toughness and finish strongly. And then shore up our defense once again. I want him to talk more. I want him to be a traffic cop back there telling ‘there’s a screen coming, cutter here,’ and just growing his game that way.

Most importantly, Plumlee wants to solidify who he is, “whether it be an energy guy out there, protect the rim, rebound, finish on the offensive end and influence the game as much as I can.”

Though he’s just 24 years old, he can also share some tips or lend a hand with the newcomers.

“I’ve been in the system a year now so I feel like I know some things so I can help the new guys out,” he said. “We’ve got a great group and a lot of these guys have picked it up really quickly so it’s been an easy process.”

Now is a critical time in the development of Plumlee. The work ethic is there, his focus is apparent, and now he’ll try to achieve results against those just as hungry.

“Miles is showing a lot of improvement,” Burke said. “Now, when we go down there and he may be against some size and better teams, we’ll see how he handles it. We spend so much time with these guys on an individual basis – every pregame we do 1-on-1 drills and every day after practice [we’ll do] individual instruction, and watching tape. You start seeing fruits of their labor.”

Looking forward to the Orlando Summer League, Burke already has his starting lineup, which surely includes Plumlee, Orlando Johnson, and Donald Sloan, in mind. The rest of the minutes will be divided up among 12 guys, although some will leave mid-week to play with another team in the Las Vegas Summer League.

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