Phoenix Suns 2013-14 Report Cards: Miles Plumlee

Vanilla Sky - Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sport

Miles Plumlee was one of the biggest surprises on this season's Suns' team, and in the NBA as a whole. Let's take a look at how the Suns' starting big-man fared in his first season as a full-time starter.

Miles Plumlee first came to the Suns as what many thought to be a throw in...as a part of the Luis Scola trade with the Indiana Pacers.  Most had him pegged as a third-string center, behind former starter Marcin Gortat, and the Suns blue-chip draftee, Alex Len.

In fact, many thought he would never crack the roster, save for the occasional blow-out.

However, before the start of the season, and before the Suns traded away Gortat to make room for the Plumster, I wrote a preview about the young up-and-comer, with a word of caution for those ready to write him off as just filler.

Miles Plumlee may be one of the less heralded additions to the Phoenix Suns this off-season, but he may very well be a player that fans should keep an eye on.

Miles, who is the older brother of this year's 22nd overall draft pick Mason Plumlee, was also the 25th overall pick just a year earlier...In what many believe to be a much better draft class overall.

Now, this isn't to say Miles is better than Mason. However, he's certainly more than just trade or camp filler.
Only time will tell what type of future Miles Plumlee has with the Phoenix Suns. However, he's certainly an intriguing player that fans should keep an eye on in the preseason...He just might be one of this year's surprises.

Now before I pat myself on the back, I'll admit that I watched Miles play during his entire career at Duke, and even his summer league games for Indiana.  I was very impressed with his strength and athleticism, especially during this year's summer league, just before he was traded to the Suns.

Shortly after writing the preview, I also had an opportunity to watch Miles scrimmage live against Gortat and Len during the Bright Side's Staff trip to Flagstaff...where the Frequent Flyer (courtesy Jim C.) put on an impressive show against the other bigs...full of dunks, blocks, and rebounds.

I specifically remember Dave, Jim, and I remarking to each other just how impressive Plumlee looked, and how he appeared to be dominating Gortat in that scrimmage.

So, I had a bit of an idea on who the Suns were really getting...but could anyone have really expected this?

The 2013-14 Season

Shortly after his acquisition, The Suns jettisoned the Polish Hammer Gazelle for a first round pick + Okafor's expiring contract, and Miles was given the starting job. Everyone assumed this was just further evidence of the Suns' intentions to tank the season away, but was it really?

Although Miles received only 55 minutes of combined playing time in his first season on the Indiana Pacers, the athletic big-man from Duke was ready to make an impact.  He took the starting job and ran with it instantly, registering 18 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks in the first game of the season, and his first game as a starter!

Plumlee continued to surprise people and work his way up the scouting report during the early part of the season, becoming one of the standout players for the Suns.  In fact, he played so well that he eventually earned a spot on the "Rising Stars" game during the All-Start break, showcasing the best freshman and sophomore players in the league.

However, after playing so many minutes for the first time in his career, he seemed to hit what is commonly referred to as the rookie wall.  Miles seemed to slow down and he was noticeably less energetic and impactful on the court.  His splits (courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com) comparing his stats pre and post All-Star break pretty much tell the story (click to enlarge):

Screen_shot_2014-04-25_at_9.38.27_am_medium

As you can see, Miles was a different player in the second half of the season.  However, to his credit, he did bounce back toward the end of the year with a mini-resurgence.  Still his overall stats for a 55 minutes removed rookie is still nothing to sneeze at, especially compared to his rookie season at Indiana:

All in all, this was a very good year for the Plumster.  He led the team in rebounding (7.8), field goal percentage (.517), defensive rating (104), and blocks (1.1) per game...All while averaging the lowest minutes per game of any starter (24.6).

Overall Grade for the 2013-14 Season:  A-

He started out the year with an A+, but had a significant drop off toward the middle, then started to bounce back toward the end.  This should certainly improve with more conditioning and exposure to the pace of the NBA.  Plumlee will also benefit from the Suns training staff, who will no doubt work with him in the off-season to prepare him for next season.

Defensively, you don't need stats to see just how much of a difference he makes as a rim protector, which is his most valuable attribute and greatest contribution to the team, in my opinion.  He completely changes the way the opposing players approach the rim, and alters shots consistently with his athleticism and innate ability to block shots without fouling.

Add to that the fact that Plumlee still has a substantial amount of upside to his game.  He needs to continue working on his post game and his free throws, as well as develop at least a serviceable jump shot from inside 15 feet.  His hook shot at times looked like a thing of beauty, but it was very inconsistent and sometimes looked flat.  This is probably one aspect of his game that I expect will improve significantly over the off-season, as he continues working at refining it.

Future Outlook

He has all the tools to be a very successful big man in the league.  But there are still questions.

Fortunately, the Suns still have him under contract for another year at only $1.1 million, and then have a team option on him for the following season at only $2.1 million, which they will certainly pick up, before he becomes a restricted free agent in the 2016/17 season...assuming he isn't included in any trades before then.

This gives the Suns plenty of time to evaluate him on a very inexpensive contract, to see where he fits in their long term plans.

In fact, I expect next year's competition between he and Alex Len in training camp to be one of the premier position battles on the team.  It really could go either way, but no matter what happens, I expect Miles to continue improving and refining his game, and helping the Suns in whatever role he finds himself in.

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