Don’t be naïve, Miles Plumlee has been the Phoenix Suns’ most valuable player during their surprise 2013-14 NBA season. Given that Goran Dragic is playing well and Eric Bledsoe was fantastic before his knee injury, Plumlee’s breakout season has been the most pivotal development to the Suns’ success.
No Marcin Gortat, no problem. Right?
Candidly, the trade looked more like a white flag than a personnel transaction.
Sure, Phoenix secured a 2014 NBA draft pick in return. But how could they expect to compete in the Western Conference this season without any interior presence?
On another note, when was the last time any squad was “doomed” after losing a player of Gortat’s caliber?
The point is that things were looking bleak in the Valley of the Sun.
Anyways, enter Plumlee.
A guy who barely played last season in Indianapolis and looked more like an extra heartbeat on their bench, he’s been nothing short of dependable in the paint for Phoenix.
Plumlee is averaging close to a double-double (almost 11 points and nine boards a game) this season and ranks ahead of Dwight Howard, Andrew Bogut and Gortat in blocks per game (1.75).
He’s played big-time basketball during big wins this season.
In a win against the Houston Rockets in Texas, Plumlee anchored the Suns’ interior defense with two blocks, holding them to only 40 points in the paint and pestering Howard into 36 percent shooting.
That’s a far cry from the 50-plus points Houston averages in the paint this season. Not to mention Howard is shooting almost 58 percent from the floor.
Against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center in December, Plumlee hosted a block party.
Led by his three swats, the Phoenix Suns’ interior defense forced Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan into only 17 points on 35 percent shooting. Jordan had only two field-goal attempts, proving that Plumlee can run the floor and keep up with high-tempo offenses.
He’s also been highly efficient, putting up 10 points per game on less than nine field-goal attempts. The Suns won’t run plays for him and, no disrespect, they shouldn’t (not yet). Plumlee’s just one of the players whose own activity creates buckets. Plus, he’s boasting a healthy 16.30 player efficiency ranking, via espn.com.
Oh, and he’s working on his second season in the league. Not too shabby.
Plumlee’s development this year hasn’t really been advertised. Quiet or not, new head coach Jeff Hornacek is noticing his progress according to Matt Petersen via NBA.com:
“I feel now that he’s just taking what the defense is giving him and making his moves from there rather than predetermining what he’s doing,” Hornacek said. “That’s a credit to him and the effort he’s putting in day in and day out.”
When all is said and done he might even be an improvement over Gortat. Who knew?
Beyond his paint influence, Plumlee’s mobility gives Phoenix the freedom to call a variety of different defenses. Not that Plumlee can lock down players like Lamarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love, but he can certainly step out of the paint and contest jump shots. The Suns can switch pick-and-rolls since Plumlee can rotate onto shooters and keep guards in front of him. He’s also an extremely underrated help defender inside.
Underrated seems to be a recurring theme here.
Without him, the Suns’ fast break would be almost non-existent. His team-leading six defensive rebounds a game provide valuable opportunities for the Suns to run. Something they do better than any other team in the NBA.
Right now they’re a top-10 team in scoring, and nearly 20 percent of their offense comes from running the floor. It’s hard to be an efficient fast-break team without grabbing defensive rebounds.
Just ask the New York Knicks, who are last in the NBA in defensive rebounding and, consequentially, last in fast-break points. Then again, the Knicks have other things to worry about.
The bottom line is that Plumlee matters.
Maybe not the most explosive player on his team, but he’s been the difference between tanking and competing this season. Because he stepped up his game, the Suns don’t have to embarrass themselves for a year in order to build a competitive squad. They’re competitive now, which begs the question: Where would the Phoenix Suns be this season without Miles Plumlee?
Plum out of luck.