Big Projects

Plumlee leads group of big men possible for Pistons in 2nd round

(Editor’s note: continues its 14-part draft series with a look at a group of nine big men who could be under consideration by the Pistons with either of their second-round picks, 39 and 44. Coming Tuesday: a look at perimeter players for those two picks.)

Merely mention the name of Mike Mamula and every NFL general manager will know exactly the implication. In 1995, Mamula cashed a dazzling performance at the NFL draft combine into the No. 7 pick, by Philadelphia, despite a Boston College career that didn’t seem to warrant such status.

NBA general managers perhaps will bear Mamula’s name in mind as they consider what to make of Miles Plumlee, whose senior-year averages of 6.6 points and 7.1 rebounds were the high-water mark of a four-year stay at Duke that fell far short of lofty expectations.

Never a full-time starter, Plumlee was quickly overshadowed by his younger brother Mason. (A third Plumlee, Marshall, redshirted at Duke last season.) Yet tales of Plumlee playing spectacularly in pickup games persist, and his dazzling performance at the Chicago combine give NBA personnel executives something else to chew on as Thursday’s draft approaches.

There is some talk that Plumlee could sneak into the first round after he measured at 6-foot-11¾, posted a phenomenal 40½-inch vertical jump and a top-five lane agility time among the 61 Chicago participants.

“I don’t feel like there’s anyone quite like me with my size, strength and explosiveness,” Plumlee told me in Chicago. “I can play hard, all that stuff. I’m going to crash the boards and run the floor hard, set hard screens, bring the things (NBA teams) want from a role player’s standpoint. I can do that every night.”

Plumlee was scheduled to work out for the Pistons the week after the combine and left Chicago confident he at least would be drafted when that seemed unlikely as his college career ended with Duke being upset by Lehigh in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game in which Plumlee had little impact: four points, six rebounds.

“I knew I could make this happen, but in the eyes of a lot of people, they had me projected undrafted,” he said. “I don’t think there was much faith in me as a player overall, so anything is going to be amazing. I feel like I’ve elevated my stock considerably since the beginning, but I feel I can keep going higher. I just want to go as high as I can.”

Though Plumlee will be 24 by the time the 2012-13 NBA season starts, he’s not the oldest big man who is a candidate to be picked at either 39 or 44 by the Pistons. That would be Air Force veteran Bernard James, 27, who after six years of military service and two years at a Florida junior college became an NBA prospect as a Florida State senior, averaging 11 points, eight rebounds and better than two blocked shots per game. James didn’t play basketball in high school, picking it up only at the insistence of his Air Force supervisor. To the extent James’ age works against him, it likely will be mitigated by the sense of team and self-discipline expected of a military veteran.

In the fall of 2008, Georgetown was excited about the arrival of two big men considered among the best in the country. Greg Monroe quickly made his mark and could have been a 2009 lottery pick, but returned for his sophomore season and then became the No. 7 pick of the Pistons in 2010. His Hoyas classmate, Henry Sims, struggled to see the floor for Monroe’s two seasons, but blossomed as a senior into a legitimate NBA prospect. He averaged 11.6 points and 6.2 rebounds and had some eye-opening performances in the Big East tournament, including back-to-back games of 20 points and 13 rebounds and 22 points and 15 rebounds.

“This year was really my first time being able to play significant minutes in all the games and it took me some time to get used to it,” Sims said in Chicago. “By the time the Big East tournament rolled around, that clicked. Everything meshed together well and I was comfortable on the court. I felt like I could do whatever I wanted with the ball.”

Sims enthusiastically embraces the notion of reuniting with Monroe.

“We played off of each other well,” he said. “To get back to that at the pro level would be more than I could ask for. He’s a great player. He’s like a brother to me and vice versa. We can both do a lot of things off the block and on the block. If he’s on the block, I can be off the block. We know how to talk to each other.”

Another big man who rose from relative obscurity late in his season is Norfolk State’s Kyle O’Quinn, who exploded for 26 points and 14 rebounds as the No. 14 seed upset third-seeded Missouri in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Like James, O’Quinn came late to basketball, not getting the chance to play until his senior season in New York and earning a scholarship offer only from Norfolk.

“(The Missouri game) did a lot,” O’Quinn said in Chicago. “Everybody got a chance to look at it.”

O’Quinn followed up with an impressive showing at the Portsmouth Invitational, a scouting event attended mostly by fringe draft prospects, where he interviewed with the Pistons. O’Quinn worked out for the Pistons following the Chicago combine.

“I like those guys,” O’Quinn said of his interview with Pistons vice president Scott Perry and personnel director George David. “I got a good feeling from them just from the people side. They’re good guys. I looked at their roster and I think I’d probably be a good fit there in Detroit.”

Two relatively undersized power forwards who could be in the running are similar in the way they compete and get the most out of their ability: West Virginia’s Kevin Jones and Baylor’s Quincy Acy.

There weren’t many college players to outproduce Jones, who averaged 19.9 points and 10.9 rebounds for the Mountaineers. Though not quite 6-foot-8 with a less than chiseled physique, nobody plays any harder than Jones. Any GM who saw Jones log 43 minutes against a supremely talented Baylor team while posting 28 points and 17 boards in an overtime loss last season would have to consider adding Jones’ smarts and relentlessness to the end of his bench.

Acy’s full-throttle style stood in contrast to that of his two more talented teammates, Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller. Like Kevin Jones, Acy measured one-quarter inch under 6-foot-8 in Chicago. He averaged 12 points and 7.4 rebounds and while a better athlete than West Virginia’s Jones, isn’t quite as skilled.

New Mexico’s Drew Gordon was highly recruited in that 2008 high school class and started his college career at UCLA before transferring to New Mexico. Strong and athletic, Gordon measured 6-foot-8¾ in Chicago after averaging 13.4 points and 10.9 rebounds a game for Steve Alford’s Lobos as a senior.

“Defense, run the floor, rebound – kind of do the dirty work,” Gordon said when asked how he could help an NBA team as a rookie. “I tell people I’m good at a whole lot of things with basketball. I’m not excellent, but I have the potential to do that. It all depends on what the coaches ask. As soon as they ask me to key in on one or two things, I’m good enough that I can really excel at those one or two things. It really all depends on what they need.”

Alabama’s JaMychal Green and Virginia’s Mike Scott are two more big men who could be under consideration. Green averaged in double figures all four years for the Crimson Tide and is a good athlete at 6-foot-9. Scott spent five seasons at Virginia, averaging 18.1 points and 8.4 rebounds as a senior. He’ll be 24 in July.