Plumlee's Offseason Progress Paying Off

Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek isn’t a huge fan of overselling the individual. He doesn’t hand out Player of the Game acknowledgements. He prefers cautious optimism over eager compliments. He’s just as aware of what’s left on a player’s to-do list as what’s already checked off.

That being said, praise does come when it’s earned, and offseason acquisition Miles Plumlee has earned plenty of it. The second-year center became the answer to a question posed to Hornacek last week: who has been the most pleasant surprise on the Suns’ roster so far?

“If I had to say any one player right now, it’d probably be Miles,” Hornacek said. “When we got him, obviously he only played 55 minutes [total] in Indiana last year. When we got him, we watched him shoot the ball. He had a little bit of a hitch he said he was trying to work on. Offensively he didn’t look that great. He came here and worked his tail off for a month prior to the season.”

The effort has paid off for the former first-round pick, who has become a mainstay in the Suns’ big man rotation throughout the preseason. He finished with nine points, four rebounds and two blocks in just 21 minutes at Portland. In Phoenix’s most recent game, he came up with five points, five rebounds, a steal and an assist in just 14 minutes at Sacramento.

The production has come in a variety of ways, a big reason why the coaching staff has been impressed. Pick-and-roll sets, hustle plays and isolation opportunities have all proven to be surprisingly reliable options for a player once considered offensively limited.

“I think it’s just his offensive moves from what we saw when he first got here,” Hornacek said. “His athleticism, his ability to block shots, his ability to take it to the hole, I think we knew that about him. I think it was his shooting, his turnaround jump shots, his moves that he’s really worked on this last month and a half that he’s really gotten a lot better. He’s going to continue to improve with those moves. He’s become a real weapon down there.”

Plumlee’s offensive development was helped along by assistant coaches Mark West and Kenny Gattison. The current Suns big man spent the bulk of his offseason workouts with the former Phoenix post players, learning tricks of the trade that allowed his separate skills and knowledge to become a set of cohesive, in-game options.

“He worked with our coaches Kenny Gattison and Mark West,” Hornacek said. “Now he’s at the point, [after] a short month, that he’s got the ball within 15 feet, we don’t mind him shooting it, making a move, making a post-up move. He’s proved it over and over in training camp and the preseason games that he can do it now. I think his confidence is at a point now where he can just play and not worry about things.

“I think [West and Gattison’s] perspective from having played in the league a long time, playing against big guys, they know not just how to teach you the moves, but more the objective behind it,” Plumlee said. “What you’re looking for, what you’re trying to do, what’s a good shot, how to get a good shot. A lot of those things you don’t learn growing up. People teach you here’s what it should look like, but you don’t know why. It’s a lot of learning the ‘why’ of things that I think is helping me out.”

“He’s playing hard, he’s playing the right way. He’s doing what we ask. That’s what you want from your players. Those are the guys that will get better as time goes on. Those are the guys that will help us win. If you had 15 Miles on the team, we’d be alright.”

— Jeff Hornacek

Plumlee’s effort fits in well with the Suns’ current “tryout” status. With roster spots and roles up for grabs, the former Duke standout’s energy has become contagious while simultaneously providing a cycle of self-improvement.

At first, Plumlee was surprising teammates during scrimmages with his athleticism and nose for the ball. Now, he says, other Suns are preventing those plays and forcing him to counter with fundamentals.

“You get away with a lot of stuff when you’re athletic and bigger,” he said. “Now, I think I put pressure [on my teammates] to raise their game. In a real game you don’t just get in there free all the time. You’ve got to learn to how to swim off guys, set them up and fight for the rebound more. It’s making me a better player.”

Opportunity has provided the biggest lift to Plumlee’s progress, though Hornacek stressed he earned it in the first place with his play in workouts and training camp. The young big man’s resulting confidence has earned the coach’s confidence in return.

“He’s playing hard, he’s playing the right way,” Hornacek said. “He’s doing what we ask. That’s what you want from your players. Those are the guys that will get better as time goes on. Those are the guys that will help us win. If you had 15 Miles on the team, we’d be alright.”

“I feel like they’re getting a lot out of me and I’m improving every day here,” Plumlee said. “My confidence is growing a lot.”