While Miles Plumlee's 2013/14 season was one of many pleasant surprises for the Suns, his shortcomings were eventually made just as apparent as his considerable talents. Here is what he'll need to do to stave off the much larger Alex Len for the starting center position.
Plum Kind Of Wonderful
Before I delve into the ugly stuff, here are some of the things that Plumlee did well enough to enable him to start 79 games for the Suns. All stats were yanked from Bkref.com unless otherwise linked.
Plumlee's athleticism is elite for the center position, surpassed only by the likes of DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond. 197 of his 286 field goals came at the rim, with his leaping ability making him a prime target for lobs both in transition and in the halfcourt. He also showed a knack for diving to the rim to clean up missed shots, evidenced by his 3.6 ORebs per 36, surpassed only by Len at 3.9 and Slava Kravstov, A.K.A "McDonough's McMistake", at a beastly 5.5.
Miles is plenty active on the boards, turning in a stellar 11.5 total rebounds per 36. He registered a 20 rebound game vs. the Lakers, and for some reason went Berserker on Robin Lopez, destroying the Fro'sen One in the battle of the hipster big men to the tune of 12.8 boards per game in the four meetings against Portlandia.
Much has been made of Plumlee's inability to box out on the defensive boards. I'll have to mostly cop out on highlighting this issue since boxing out is (to my knowledge) a facet of the game that as of yet isn't quantifiable with stats. Going off the eyeball test it seems to me that this criticism is fair, but also a bit overblown.
Miles did an admirable job defending the paint, despite it being perhaps the biggest weakness of the 2013/14 Suns. Opponents shot 50.4% when challenging the Plumster at the rim on a large sample size of 4.1 attempts per game. To put that in perspective, of the 17 players that were challenged at the rim at least 4 times a game, Plumlee played by far the fewest minutes per game out of this group (24.7). From this, we can deduce that the Suns' struggles defending the paint went beyond their bigs, which was partly by design as their perimeter defenders would frequently chase shooters away from the three-point line.
As for how his rim protection stacks up against those in the 4 attempts per game group, his 50.4% allowed was about middle of the pack. Better than the Al Jeffersons and Pau Gasols of the league, but quite a ways off from the Ibakas and Hibberts.
Here are the things that Miles will have to clean up if he wants to hold onto his starting job, be it in Phoenix or anywhere else in the NBA.
Wait a tick ... I'll need to fill up the ol' tumbler before I can jump into this sludge. In honor of Miles' uberhipness, I'll go with something full and crafty. Ahh, here we are ... Humboldt Hemp Ale will do quite nicely. Sure to make you a hit at Coachella or Burning Man. Better keep a cold one on deck, too -- this isn't going to be pretty.
Miles shot an abysmal .341 on 208 attempts from 3-10 feet and a putrid .311 on 45 attempts from 10-16 feet. He also only hit 4 of 15 shots outside of 16 feet, but I'll give him a pass on that since I can only assume that on each of those 15 attempts the offense must have completely broken down.
Basically, the defense does not need to account for Plumty Dumpty and his clean-and-jerk jumper outside of 3 feet from the rim, and even his effectiveness inside 3 feet is somewhat mitigated by his poor freethrow shooting (.561).
Oh sweet Jesus ... I'm gonna keep this short. Miles is not a threat in the post. He has no turnaround jumper to speak of, which leaves only his hook shot. Problem is, he shot only .380 on 166 hooks attempted. The biggest issue I noticed when I was able to steel myself into watching him go to work in the post was that his shoddy footwork seemed to lead him away from the rim into a less advantageous position than he started from.
Having a post game is a bit of a rarity these days for big guys. The current wide-open style of offense that most teams -- including the Suns -- prefer is making back-to-the-basket scoring somewhat obsolete. Because of that, I won't condemn the potential of Miles based on his limitations in the post, although it is a bit puzzling that he attempted 166 hooks at such a low conversion rate. Perhaps his teammates need to be more cognizant of his limitations and offer him a bailout option instead of clearing out when he finds himself with the ball in the post, where he exhibits about as much grace as Edward Scissorhands on the mandolin.
Lensanity vs. The Plum Of All Fears
It is somewhat inevitable that at some point in the next two seasons, the Suns are going to give Len the keys to the starting center position and find out exactly what the Ukranian Behemoth can offer. Plumlee is at a natural disadvantage due to two factors that are no fault of his own:
- The Suns used a number 5 pick, their highest since drafting Armen Gilliam second overall in 1987, on Len. He is the first draft pick of the McDonough era and they would be foolish not to eventually take a sink-or-swim approach within the duration of his rookie contract. On the other hand, Plumlee was a bonus throw-in in the Scola trade and is essentially found money for them.
- Plumlee is blessed with athleticism but is a bit undersized for the center position. In contrast, Len looks like he was assembled in a science experiment intended to create the prototypical NBA center. No matter what improvements Plumlee makes to his game, he'll never be able to compare to Len's sheer size and length.
There are some things that Plum-Diggity can improve on to stake his claim as a starting-caliber center regardless of Len's development. Virtually all of them boil down to him making himself more useful on offense. Baseball fans are familiar with the term "mistake hitter", used to describe a batter that only does damage when the pitcher floats a softball down the middle of the plate. This is essentially the offense of Miles Plumlee. He can be a terror if the opposing team fails to pick him up on the offensive boards or in transition, but can be completely nullified when he is so much as bodied up. As this became more apparent, the Plumdinger saw his minutes plummet from 27.0 to 20.2 after the All-Star break.
There will always be a spot for Miles in the NBA as long as his athleticism is there and is accompanied by hustle and competitiveness. Whether or not he'll be a starter or a sparkplug off the bench will depend greatly on if he can expand his offensive capabilities. Perhaps another year with Hornacek will yield some positive development in his midrange shooting? Will he feed off of some healthy in-house competition with Len?
Surely the Smashing Plumkin is aware that he has a lot of work to do this summer. He'll already be 26 by the time the 2014/15 season tips off, so if he's going to add some skill and polish to his considerable talent, the time is now. Hopefully he forces Len to take his job, rather than the Ukranian being prematurely sent into action out of necessity.