Miles Plumlee became a part of a reshuffled Atlanta Hawks roster via a trade in late June, with the apparent objective of jettisoning Dwight Howard from organization. He was traded along with Marco Belinelli, who the Charlotte Hornets would greatly miss as they would fall short of the Eastern Conference playoffs for the second season in a row. The Hawks had to move back ten spots in the second round of the 2017 NBA draft to complete the deal.
The 29-year-old is one of a handful of big men in the league that received a contract worth than more than $10 million per season during the summer of 2016. It’s fair to say he is still part of that group of players that teams are now watching the clock wind down for two more seasons apart from an unlikely buy out.
Pluimlee handled himself professionally as the Hawks prioritized the development of a number of young players including their first round draft John Collins. Plumlee brought value in the form of being a big body that was available especially during a long stretch of the season during which both Dewayne Dedmon and Mike Muscala were both injured. His availability meant that the Hawks coaching staff could play the 20-year-old Collins only the number of minutes that they felt was optimal for his development,
While many fans clamored for more playing time for Collins, it was ideal in some ways. Thanks to Plumlee’s presence, the rookie could play at both the center and the power forward position and did not have to take any on physical match-up that could have been an unnecessary risk for him from a wear and tear perspective.
Plumlee knows what he is doing. He knows where he is supposed to be. He’s alright with going long stretches without getting shots, or even touches for that matter. He’s pretty secure with the basketball. Offensively, though, he is unable to space the floor (at all) as a shooter, which is a borderline fatal gap for a player at this point in the league.
He averaged 9.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per 36 minutes which is not too far off from his career marks. The Hawks were 2.1 points per 100 possessions better on defense when he was on the court. Plumlee mostly occupies a ton of space but does move better than his reputation at this point might lead one to believe. They were 3.5 points worse on offense which is probably better than one might expect given his lack of shooting skills.
He shot at a 70.9% clip at the rim, which is pretty elite, albeit in very limited exposure. Plumlee also still has a massive catch radius on lobs, thanks in part to his undervalued athleticism. And that skill did allow the Hawks to be able to use similar actions whenever he or Collins were playing in the pick and roll or in the dunker spot.
Plumlee is an average rebounder at the position at this point. He is solid when allowed to play in the drop technique but does not have the ability more elite rebounders have to recover toward the paint once he is on the perimeter as a defender.
Plumlee still has the mobility to slip the screen action and get to the rim uncontested when the opposing defenders overplay the perimeter. And he seems to have as much ability to get vertical as he ever has. On this play, he gets behind the Indiana Pacers three biggest defenders and there is no one to deter him at the rim.
When the opposing defense plays the “ice” technique on side pick and rolls, he only needs an ounce of space to be able to cut to the rim. If the ball is delivered on time, as it was on this play from Belinelli, the typical result is an uncontested shot at the rim.
If the opposing defense has to use two defenders to contain the ball handler in dribble penetration, Plumlee has the feel and the IQ to create the passing lane. And he is quick enough to the rim that he can usually get the dunk even before the defense can close the gap and foul him. (He shot just 45% at the free throw line this season.)
On this play, Plumlee is settled in the dunker spot on the weak side baseline. Once Myles Turner has to step up to stop the ball, he is quick to the spot to get the pass and an easy shot at the rim.
He is on the left baseline in the dunker spot on this play versus the Phoenix Suns. The defense overplays the strong side and Plumlee gets to the rim easily in time for the flush before a defender can get close enough to try to put him on the free throw line.
Plumlee is not a player that you want to see operating in the “short roll” very frequently. But he does not embarrass himself and can usually execute when the simple pass is the right read. On this play, his pass to DeAndre’ Bembry is not perfectly accurate but it gets the job done. It’s nice that at least the ball does not get stuck when the defense forces the ball into his hands.
As a help defender, he is not going to be able to bail out a play when an opposing player breaks completely free in dribble penetration. But he can be counted on to be of use if the perimeter defender can cut down the angle somewhat. His block at the rim on Victor Oladipo on this play creates a 5 on 4 opportunity going the other way which leads to a nice look at the three point line for Kent Bazemore.
This play provides an example of where Plumlee is becoming increasingly limited as a defender. As the league continues to populate the center position with smaller, more dynamic athletes, he will more often struggle to be able to recover on a play once the opposing player gets behind.
Plumlee is very unlikely to be on the next playoff-bound Hawks team. But he handles the basic responsibilities on both ends of the court professionally enough and he was likely to have been a pleasant teammate to have around for the 2017-18 season.