It’s not like Miles Plumlee was driving to some strange new land every time the Indiana Pacers assigned the 6-foot-11 forward/center to their D-League affiliate.
Plumlee was born in Fort Wayne and grew up in nearby Warsaw. Thus, suiting up for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants against competition wearing Rio Grande Valley or Sioux Falls on their uniforms wasn’t entirely a stretch.
It’s not where someone who used to start for Duke University’s storied men’s basketball program preferred to be. Yet Plumlee understood why he was beginning to memorize every landmark along Interstate 69.
Asked recently how many to-and-froms he endured during the 2012-13 season, a smiling Plumlee said, “I lost track. But it was a great tool to improve my game. A year ago I didn’t know what I had to improve on.”
Miles Plumlee is well-versed on the city of Fort Wayne, having made repeated trips to and from as an Indiana Pacers rookie in 2012-13. With backup forward Tyler Hansbrough having apparently made his final appearance in a Pacers uniform, the 6-foot-11 Plumlee is working toward more minutes next season. Here is how he fared last season:
Fort Wayne Mad Ants
15 games, 12 starts, with averages of 30.5 minutes, 11.2 points and 10.2 rebounds a game
14 games, no starts, with averages of 3.9 minutes, 0.9 points and 1.6 rebounds a game.
Plumlee, who is part of the Pacers summer league team in Orlando that concludes its games on Friday, is noticeably larger in the chest, shoulders and arms than at the outset of his rookie campaign. He weighed 245 pounds his senior season at Duke and is currently in the 255-260 range.
Moreover, Plumlee’s knowledge of the system and a more assertive demeanor on the court could earn him minutes as a Pacers backup after the club rescinded the $4.1 million qualifying offer to 6-8 backup forward Tyler Hansbrough.
In Indiana’s 76-68 loss to Oklahoma City’s in Sunday’s summer league opener, Plumlee had nine points, nine rebounds, six blocks and three assists.
Granted, the players he’s posting up in July aren’t what he would see in, say, January. That wasn’t Kevin Durant, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka of
the Thunder he was battling beneath the glass. Rather, it was rookies Steven Adams and Grant Jerrett.
But Plumlee isn’t about to underestimate the passion exuded by grown men doing everything in their power to earn an NBA paycheck. Rookies and journeymen alike dot summer league rosters, the common denominator being a lifelong thirst to make it big.
“Just because the star players aren’t on the court, there are a lot of guys who are really athletic,” Plumlee said. “I just have to go out there and play.”
Areas Plumlee seeks to improve this offseason include making stronger post moves, a more dependable touch from 10-12 feet and better rim protection defensively.
This is all fine and good, according to longtime Indiana assistant coach Dan Burke. Only Burke, who doubles as the Pacers summer league coach, also hopes to see growth in other areas from the player selected 26th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft.
“It’s not just working on your basketball skills, it’s becoming a leader. Being the first in line. Things like that. You may not be a leader now, but you’re looking down the road. Miles is working so hard on his individual game, but you want these guys to know there’s more to do than just work on your hook shot,” Burke said.
“He is playing slower now because he’s thinking the game. For Miles and (Orlando Johnson) specifically, (summer league) is a chance to play.”
It’s possible Plumlee’s development could translate into fewer car rides to Fort Wayne next season. Or better yet, none at all.