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Phoenix Suns' Miles Plumlee, from throw-in to starting center

After trading Marcin Gortat to Washington for an injured, expiring Emeka Okafor, it's clear that the Phoenix Suns new starting center is Miles Plumlee. Yes, that Miles Plumlee who never played more than 21 minutes per game in college and logged a total of 55 minutes in his rookie season a year ago.

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sport

Ed note: Guest contributor Cody Ulm, editor of SB Nation's ASU Sun Devils blog House of Sparky, had the serendipitous chance to get an exclusive interview Miles Plumlee recently.

The inclusion of Indiana's lottery-protected first round draft pick was the main selling point when the rebuilding Suns sent their second leading scorer, Luis Scola, packing to the Pacers back in July. Of course, Gerald Green had to be included, too, for salary-matching purposes.

And then there was 25 year old, 6'11" Miles Plumlee: a player who was labeled as everything from a throw-in to an afterthought in the transaction.

But Plumlee used distinctly different words when describing his move to the desert.

"I looked at it more as a promotion because I'll get more of a chance to play," said Plumlee.

And play he will. After Marcin Gortat was traded to Washington on October 25, the Suns resident pogo stick will play a lot. In fact, it's possible that Plumlee will exceed last season's action by the fourth quarter of Bright Side Community Night - game two of the season, Friday, November 1. That is, if he can stay out of foul trouble.

After his first season with the Pacers, Plumlee's palpable hunger for playing time is understandable.

Indiana turned some heads when it made Plumlee the No. 26 overall selection in the 2012 draft. In four years at Duke, Plumlee never averaged more than 21 minutes in a single year and his best scoring season came out to 6.6 points per game.

The Pacers believed in him but didn't reciprocate with a rotational role. Plumlee only saw 55 minutes in his rookie season and was instead sent up and down from the Developmental League six times.

Despite his draft pedigree, Plumlee took a positive outlook on the constant stream of demotions.

"It was good to work on some things when you weren't getting to play at all in the games," said Plumlee, who averaged 11.2 points and 10.2 rebounds in 15 D-League appearances.

When he was up with the Pacers, Plumlee made it a point to learn all he could from Roy Hibbert and "especially" David West. He carried that quiet hunger into the Orlando Summer League and on July 7, he tied the league record with six blocks in a game against the Thunder. But with Hibbert, West, Ian Mahinmi standing ahead of him in Indiana's rotation, Plumlee would have needed a few more record-worthy performances to be taken seriously.

Newly-christened Suns GM Ryan McDonough had the foresight to realize that too. And just a few weeks later, he came calling with a "surprise."

"You never really see it coming," said Plumlee on the trade. "But the more I got to talk to the staff and management here, I was just really excited about it."

Plumlee used that excitement as fuel on the practice court and made an impression on rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek.

"Miles is a guy with his athleticism...he's fast enough where he gets into the pick and rolls quickly," said Hornacek. "Guys are looking for him and if you give him a little space, he's going to go dunking."

But throwing down isn't Plumlee's bread and butter. In college, Plumlee made a name for himself by banging the boards. And that's precisely what the fast-break oriented Hornacek is looking for.

"We need somebody who can get some big rebounds," said Hornacek, who emphasized Plumlee's ability for quick outlet passes. "If we don't get the rebounds and teams are getting those offensive boards, it's going to kill us."

For that reason, Plumlee was given an opportunity to start at power forward last Tuesday against the Clippers. After a getting the jump ball nod over since-traded starting center Marcin Gortat, Plumlee went on to score Phoenix's first points of the game on a quick dribble-drive. But with the Clippers building a quick nine-point lead, Plumlee was relegated to the bench.

The second-year big man got another chance late in the fourth quarter. Plumlee was part of a unit that helped dig the Suns out a 14-point deficit with just under five minutes remaining. His finest moment came on a shifty move around the rim that cut it to a 95-94 game with 38.6 seconds remaining.

Ultimately, his late-game heroics weren't enough as the Suns were downed 102-96 for their first loss of the preseason.

Two days later, he was back to coming off the bench in Sacramento, and a week later he put up eight points and 10 rebounds off the bench against Denver.

Regardless of his role, Plumlee promises to bring his trademark intensity to whatever is asked of him.

"I think in the NBA you learn that it shouldn't be much of a difference. You have to come in with the same energy...If you're coming off the bench, you have to treat it like you're starting. That's what works for me."

Now that Marcin Gortat has been traded, Plumlee will most likely be the team's starting center for the near future. Channing Frye is still getting his wind and legs after not playing basketball for 16 months until three weeks ago (heart condition) and rookie center Alex Len is getting into shape himself while recovering from double ankle surgery that kept him out of action for six months. The acquired Emeka Okafor is out indefinitely with a bulging disc in his neck. Add in Markieff Morris' one-game suspension, and Plumlee is sure to jump center to kick off the 2013-14 season.

"It's going to be kind of trial and error when [Plumlee] goes with another big guy such as Alex [Len] or Gortat," said Hornacek, before the Gortat trade. "But if he's in there with a Channing Frye or even Markieff...teams are going to have to make a decision: ‘Do we leave the shooters? Or Miles is going to get a dunk?' So that will be a weapon."

To help his cause, Plumlee has been proactive about upgrading his offensive repertoire. According to Hornacek, he's been working on his post ups and shot selection with former pros and current Phoenix assistant coaches Mark West and Kenny Gattison.

"Now when he catches the ball and he's within 15 feet, we feel comfortable with him making a move or taking a shot. I'm not sure we could have said that a month ago," said Hornacek.

And as an evolving player on an evolving team, Plumlee is eager to get his first considerable taste of the NBA alongside a collection of unproven commodities.

"I just want to have a great year and grow every day," said Plumlee. "I feel we're going to improve each day and that's a great feeling."

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