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2018-19 Season Review: Miles Plumlee

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NBA: Orlando Magic at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018-19 season was generally positive for the Atlanta Hawks. The team exceeded rational expectations in year two of their rebuilding effort and, in an overall sense, the future appears bright with Trae Young, John Collins, Lloyd Pierce, Kevin Huerter and others in the mix. With that said, the campaign wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for every member of the roster, and Miles Plumlee is an example of that.

The veteran center battled a left knee ailment for the vast majority of the campaign, appearing in only 18 games for a total of 173 minutes. While some of that muted playing time stems from Plumlee’s place in the rotational pecking order, the former Duke standout’s last appearance on the floor was Dec. 31 and he took the court on only two occasions after undergoing a non-surgical procedure on Dec. 10.

Plumlee then underwent a second non-surgical procedure on Jan. 4 and, just as he was presumably nearing a return to the floor, another issue emerged. The 30-year-old was diagnosed with a cartilage injury in the same left knee after an MRI on March 25 and, after arthroscopic surgery on Apr. 2 to address the ailment, Plumlee’s focus shifted from a 2018-19 return to readiness for the 2019-20 season.

“It was extremely frustrating,” Plumlee said of the knee injury during the team’s exit interviews. “We tried to deal with it by strengthening my leg and fixing some issues the first time, and then it came back. Hindsight is 20/20, but I wish I could have done the surgery a little earlier, but we really tried to do everything we could for me to play this year. After the second time, I had to see the doctor and do what was necessary.”

Despite his frustrations, Plumlee sees a brighter path for the future, including a timetable for return to full on-court training activities in the near future.

“I’m really optimistic it’s on the low end of what they normally say, so like 6-8 weeks,” Plumlee said of his return. “I want to be here training with the staff and getting right as quickly as possible.”

When Plumlee did take the floor, he was relatively productive. He set a career-best mark as a passer (14.7 percent assist rate) and, with all small-sample caveats in play, Plumlee also posted career highs in PER (18.9) and true shooting percentage (65.4 percent).

Plumlee has long been underrated as an athlete, providing legitimate gravity as a dive man in the pick-and-roll, and he can be an effective finisher at the rim when put in the right position. In addition, Plumlee is an above-average offensive rebounder and he uses his length and athleticism effectively in that realm.

As a defender, Plumlee is a serviceable rim protector and, when used in drop coverage, he provides stability on the back end in pick-and-roll. On the flip side, the seven-year veteran does struggle mightily to defend in space, allowing the opposition to target Plumlee from a schematic perspective when certain lineups are on the floor around him.

In an overall sense, Plumlee serves as a perfectly reasonable third center on an NBA team. He certainly isn’t an optimal option as a primary backup but, in a “break glass in case of emergency” situation, Plumlee has proven to be solid and, by all accounts, the veteran is well-liked in the locker room as a stabilizing presence.

The elephant in the room, however, is the fact that Plumlee will earn $12.5 million for the 2019-20 season. The big man was signed to a four-year, $50 million contract during the fateful summer of 2016 and the Hawks acquired the final three years of that pact in the infamous Dwight Howard swap with the Charlotte Hornets. In the grand scheme, the move was largely focused on the organization parting ways with Howard but, on the down side, Plumlee’s contract rolls into the 2019-20 campaign, leaving the Hawks will less salary cap flexibility.

At this juncture, Plumlee’s contract is virtually untradeable, at least without significant pain (in the form of assets) on Atlanta’s end. As such, the most likely outcome appears to be that Plumlee will complete his four-year contract with the Hawks and, provided he is healthy for the start of training camp, Pierce and his staff will have a useful reserve big man at their disposal when Plumlee’s number is called.