The Phoenix Suns' 2014 NBA Summer League roster boasts some impressive young talent. With the return of the incendiary Archie Goodwin, a first time Summer League appearance from a healthy and stronger Alex Len, as well as the first look at Suns' newest draft picks T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis, it's easy to overlook one of the most important players on the team, Miles Plumlee.
How it all started
After being drafted 26th overall in 2012, Plumlee played in his first two summer leagues as a member of the Indiana Pacers. In his first appearance, he averaged 13 points and 6.6 rebounds in just over 30 minutes per game. Last year, Miles played just slightly less in his summer league outing, averaging 27 minutes along with 10 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
Although his points slightly declined, it was last year when I first really noticed Miles making a difference with his strength and athleticism in the post. He not only increased his rebounding, but also his blocks...going from an average of one a game to three.
Plumlee is now entering his third season in the NBA, his first after suddenly being thrust into the starting center position for the Suns last season after only playing a total of 55 minutes in his rookie season with the Indiana Pacers. That's a big change for a player who didn't even know if he had a future in the NBA just a year earlier.
"It boosted my confidence a lot," Miles stated. "From one year still hoping I'd find my place in the league to the next year finishing up and realizing I do have a place in the league. It feels great but I realize I have a lot to work on."
That transition from being a player at the end of the bench to a starter on a 48 win team in the Western Conference shouldn't be understated. While Plumlee won the starting job after Marcin Gortat was traded, due to his impressive play in practice and scrimmages before the season, that puts a lot of pressure and physical demands on a player who was never accustomed to playing such an important role.
What to expect this summer
This will be his first NBA season in which he will actually be prepared to play a substantial role, and Miles seems to embrace his role as not only a key component to the success of the Suns' team during the regular season, but also a veteran leader among the younger players on the Summer League roster. "I feel more like a veteran out there," Plumlee said. "Since I understand the game and I know the mistakes I made the first couple of years, now it's my job to kind of help the younger guys understand the offense and how to execute the defensive schemes. I'm a little more of a teacher on the court."
The Suns' head coach of the summer league team, Mike Longabardi, hinted that the Suns could use both Plumlee and Len on the floor together in their version of the twin towers. When Miles was asked how the two of them have meshed together thus far, he responded, "It's gone well. We're really working on our big-to-big passing, and Alex has a great mid-range jump shot. It's not the same as having Channing (Frye) space the floor, but I think we've got something really good going right now."
Miles also has a good understanding of how he fits on the summer league team. "I know my role." Plumlee continued, "Just get better at the things I do well and maybe show some of the things I've been working on if the opportunity arises."
This means you are likely to see Plumlee continue to do many of the things he did so well last year. And that is to be a force down low in the paint, where his athleticism and strength can be used to the team's advantage on both ends of the floor.
Miles also said that he's working on expanding his range and working on his face up game as well, which will definitely be important in the regular season, especially when left alone off the screen. So, you may see him attempt a few more shots outside the paint in the summer than you're used to seeing from him.
However, Miles certainly knows what side his bread is buttered on. You can bank on him to do the majority of his work in the post, as expected.
Of course, Plumlee hasn't been focused on merely making an impact for the Summer League version of the Phoenix Suns. For Miles, it's all about making strides in his game that will carry over to the regular season.
When I asked Miles what aspect of his game he's been working on the most during the off-season, he replied, "Just really solidifying my post game." He continued, "I had a good skill level, but really getting the confidence and understanding the game more and slowing it down and making the right decisions."
Plumlee also elaborated on the effects of his increased comfort level in executing those post moves. "I don't have to think about it as much anymore. I'm thinking more about looking where everybody else is on the court." He continued, "I think it makes me a better play-maker. I can see what's developing...It's not just go score every time. If I see someone for a three or someone cutting, that's something we're really emphasizing. The more it's natural instinct it definitely makes it easy."
Miles has been spotted at the facility numerous times during the off-season, so his commitment to getting better isn't just lip service. When asked what motivates him to spend so many hours in the gym and practicing, Miles replied, "I've played this game my entire life. It's exciting the moment you realize you're getting better, and you see what you can be and what you can become." He added, "It's that excitement that keeps you in the gym and keeps you working."
But Miles hasn't been alone in his hard work and spending time at the facility this summer. When asked about the uniqueness of the players spending so much time working together in the off-season, he replied, "It's a testament to what made us so good last year. Guys want to work together and get better. I don't know of many teams that have that many guys working together (in the off-season )"
This not only points to their tight-knit relationships on and off the court, but their cohesion as a team and how they all seemed to function so well together last season. Could this same dynamic continue into the upcoming season as well? "I'm very faithful that it's going to carry over." Miles added, "We all love playing together and it's going to be the same next year."
With a full year as a starter now under his belt plus a commitment to getting better and also to helping his teammates, Miles Plumlee seems intent on not only being one of the most important players on the summer league roster, but on the entire team as well.