Miles Plumlee and 55 minutes to create expectations

PHOENIX – For the sake of parallels, consider Miles Plumlee the former Kendall Marshall of the Indiana Pacers. The first-round pick for Indiana in 2012 wasn’t a popular choice during the draft and certainly didn’t help to change opinions last year.

Unlike Marshall, Plumlee really didn’t have the opportunity to change the perception of him. And unlike the Suns’ 13th overall pick, Plumlee was dealt this offseason.

Scour through all the stats from Plumlee’s rookie season, but know that only a few matter. The most telling one is this: the big man out of Duke played 55 total minutes in 2012-13.

“I learned a lot last year and I think coming here is a great opportunity for myself,” Plumlee said at media day. “I really like the moves they’ve made with the team and think I’ll have the opportunity to play, especially as a young guy.”

Plumlee might be viewed as a throw-in to the trade that sent Luis Scola to Indiana. But be sure that Suns general manager Ryan McDonough didn’t make Plumlee part of the deal mindlessly. At a bouncy 6-foot-11 and 255 pounds, the second-year big man can play either center or power forward. Though Plumlee isn’t skilled, he projects as a rebounder, a very good finisher off pick-and-roll plays and potentially, a fine pick-and-roll defender.

He was one of the most well-chronicled players in the team’s pickup games leading into training camp. That’s about all the evidence there is for what he can bring to Phoenix.

“Plumlee has a motor, he doesn’t stop,” said guard Dionte Christmas. “He’s very, very, super athletic. He’s very good. I think he’s going to have a good year.”

Plumlee could play the role of energetic rebounder at power forward for stints on the second unit. If he develops an ability on defense to hedge hard on pick-and-rolls – he has the athleticism to do so – his value could increase two-fold. Head coach Jeff Hornacek would prefer to have stretch power forwards on the court, and Plumlee’s best asset, his rebounding ability, could make him a viable center alongside a Morris twin or Channing Frye.

Offensively, it’s Plumlee’s hard rolls to the rim that could make him useful in the Suns offense. Marcin Gortat has been more comfortable popping out for 15-foot jumpers and the Morris twins have hardly shown the desire to score in two-man games, and Plumlee’s athleticism gives him a distinct advantage. He’ll also be able to score on offensive putbacks in transition and otherwise.

“For my size and athleticism, I’m a hard working guy, a lot of energy,” Plumlee said. “I feel like I’m going to fit in well with the program. I think we’re going to play really fast, up and down the court. I like to run and jump so I think that will play to my strengths.”

Assistants Kenny Gattison and Mark West, two former bigs themselves, have been working with players – even pointing out little details during pickup games – and Plumlee said he’s already improved since being traded.

“Just improving your offensive package,” he said, “working on all your pivots and moves, making them more natural. I feel like I’m getting a lot better.”

Against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, Plumlee played 21 minutes and grabbed four rebounds to go with two blocks. He looked uneasy catching the ball and attacking once outside of 10 to 12 feet, but through two preseason games he has shown an ability to get solid lowpost position, then take one or two dribbles for a sweet jump-hook. It seems his work with the Suns’ coaching staff is paying off.

Pacers fans saw Plumlee’s statline at Duke and likely weren’t impressed. He averaged 6.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game as a senior and only averaged 20.5 minutes per game. Was an offensively-limited rebounder really worth a first-round pick?

Suns fans can relate. Phoenix took Marshall as a gifted passer who couldn’t – and still cannot – do much else.

The hope is that Plumlee has something more to offer, something uncovered in those 55 minutes played during his rookie season. Whether it’s his defense, that little jump hook or simply an outright energy, we simply don’t know yet.

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