While the draft pick may still play an important role in setting up this franchise for future success, the Suns appear to have discovered a much more valuable diamond in the rough.
Through five games, second-year center Miles Plumlee is averaging 11.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. And with veteran center Emeka Okafor still out indefinitely with a herniated disk in his neck, Plumlee will have the opportunity to start for the next several months.
The question is, can he hold that starting spot? Or will other players such as Alex Len, Slava Kravtsov and Channing Frye start to steal some of his playing time? Furthermore, is Plumlee's success thus far sincere, or can it be written off as a couple of fluke games?
Well, let's start with his Suns debut, a 104-91 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. Not only was Okafor out for this game, but Markieff Morris was suspended as well. That left Phoenix with a particularly thin frontcourt, and as a result, Plumlee ended up playing 40 minutes.
And his performance was nothing less than extraordinary. He finished with 18 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks on 8-of-14 shooting from the field. Plumlee scored more points in the first half than he did in his entire rookie season with Indiana, and he also was the first Suns player to record a double-double in his debut since Shawn Marion did it in 1999.
Whether he was on offense or defense, Plumlee found a way to contribute. On defense, he not only blocked shots but also altered them, intimidating the opposition with his presence in the post and guarding the rim the entire night.
On offense, he dominated opposing center Robin Lopez, using a mix of hook shots, post moves, mid-range shots and even alley-oops to score 18 points. He also had five offensive rebounds, keeping plays alive that would lead to second-chance points.
In his second game, not much was different. In 35 minutes, Plumlee put up 13 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks on 6-of-11 shooting. Again, we saw the same recipe of footwork, body control, post moves and rebounding that led to another great all-around performance. The full highlights of that game can be found below.
Since then, Plumlee's production has decreased, though he has only had one "bad" game so far. That came against the Oklahoma City Thunder, with Plumlee putting up zero points and five rebounds in 23 minutes. He faced a strong, tough and physical adversary in Kendrick Perkins, and Plumlee also found himself in early foul trouble.
But Plumlee has still been following the same recipe for success. He averaged 12.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and a block per game over his last two matches, and that decreased production can be partially attributed to the fact that he logged fewer than 30 minutes in both games.
So with only one disappointing performance to speak of so far, Plumlee seems to have solidified himself as the starting center.
But what about his competition? Is there anyone who can take that role away?
It isn't likely, or at least not this season. Viacheslav Kravtsov, the 26-year-old Ukrainian center, is a great pick-and-roll player and a solid third-string center. But he has played only nine minutes this season and may not take on a bigger role unless there is another injury.
Channing Frye could technically start at center with Markieff Morris at power forward, but that would leave the Suns with virtually no defense or rebounding from their starting frontcourt. Frye will log some minutes at center this season to spread the floor, but he won't start.
And then there's Alex Len, the fifth overall pick from the 2013 NBA draft. Many Suns fans were surprised when Plumlee was announced the starting center over Len, but now, five games into the season, it's easy to see why the coaching staff made the decision they did.
Len has played 21 minutes in two games so far and has put up five points and three rebounds while committing seven fouls. He has also missed a couple of games because of soreness in his left ankle.
Len is still recovering from two ankle surgeries this summer, and frequent ankle issues may keep him "day to day" for the entire season. Some games he will play 20 or 25 minutes, and other games he will sit out entirely to rest.
As head coach Jeff Hornacek said to Paul Coro of azcentral.com, “He’s always going to be day-to-day. This is what we anticipated would probably happen all year. However, the way he came back in the beginning, we thought maybe it won’t be like that. Obviously, when you have those surgeries and the pounding and the extra weight that he has on, we knew it was a possibility. It’s not an injury.”
It may not be an injury, but it is certainly something to be cautious about. The Suns do not want Len to start every game, as that would only increase the chances of a major injury. Instead, they will bring him off the bench this season, limiting his minutes and developing him slowly.
And even if healthy, Len still may not be a better future option than Plumlee. Plumlee seems both more athletic and more skilled than Len, and he is simply a more seasoned prospect. That is to be expected, of course, as Plumlee is five years older than Len.
Even so, for now Plumlee should be considered the future starting center of the Suns. Unless his level of performance plummets, another prospect proves better, or a major injury occurs, he will continue to start alongside Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. It is his spot to lose.