Suns' Plumlee Used to Earning his Spot

by Matt Petersen

Miles Plumlee knows he will be fighting for a role and playing time when training camp commences late this month. In that sense, he’s not much different from his teammates, all of whom will have an equal shot at making preseason impressions, according to Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek.

Just know that Plumlee is used to making his own place at the basketball table. The kid who grew up in Duke’s backyard (Plumlee starred at Christ School in North Carolina) had to wait for and ultimately earn his turn with the Blue Devils. He averaged just 6.9 minutes per game as a freshman in college at Duke and didn’t see that number rise above 17 until his senior year.

But that was when Plumlee played well enough to become a first-round NBA Draft pick.

“I had to work really hard at Duke,” Plumlee said. “I wasn’t the only big guy. I didn’t get a whole lot of minutes [at first]. It was a competition all four years. That’s really all I know, and I think that’s the path that will make me the best player I can be.”

That attitude isn’t the only reason the Suns went out of their way to make sure Plumlee was included in last month’s trade with the Indiana Pacers. At 6-10 and 245 pounds, the second-year big man boasts unusual speed and energy at his position.

The former Duke standout's rookie season at Indiana mimicked his freshman year at Duke. He saw just 3.9 minutes per game while playing for a contending Indiana team. Actual game time, however, doesn’t give an accurate picture of the work he put in before and after the games.

His performance this summer did, however.

At the NBA Summer League in Orlando, Plumlee manned the interior while averaging 10.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game, more than enough to pique the interest of attending Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough.

When asked why he appeared to be a completely different player in Orlando, Plumlee credited his rookie season, a marked difference from others who might have been discouraged after a lesson-filled first year.

“A lot of it was just being with the Pacers for a year, learning the system,” Plumlee said. “My confidence is just higher. I’ve improved as a player for sure, but a lot of it was just going out there and being the aggressor and not worrying about making mistakes. I knew what I was doing out on the floor and I think my talent just kind of shined.”

Talent and the Plumlee surname isn’t an unusual combination. The Suns’ big man has two younger brothers who have also chosen the hardwood path. Mason Plumlee was drafted by the Brooklyn Nets this summer, also in the first round. while a younger brother, Marshall, is entering his sophomore season at Duke.

Phoenix, Brooklyn, and Durham, N.C., mark the farthest locations ever between the siblings for any length of time. Just don’t expect Miles or his brothers to be broken up about it.

“It wasn’t like we were attached at the hip,” the elder Plumlee laughed. “Originally in high school, we really had a lot of competition, so we were kind of like, ‘I wanna get away from him.’”

This season, Miles plans on spending a lot of time with a different duo of kindred spirits in Suns assistant coaches Mark West and Kenny Gattison. Both are former NBA post players who figure to offer plenty of advice, experience and position-specific help to Plumlee and the rest of the Suns’ big men.

“Personally, that’s something I’m really excited about,” he said. “I haven’t gotten a whole lot of one-on-one time with big guys' that have actually played in the league. I think that’s just something that can only be taught, the little subtleties of the game, from a big guys’ perspective. Already this past week I think I’ve made big strides.”

With other talented big men already in tow, the second-year man knows he’ll have to earn every minute of playing time he gets this season.

It’s a setting with which he feels more than comfortable.

“I couldn’t be more excited to be here,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity."