“With the 26th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft the Indiana Pacers select … Miles Plumlee.”
-David Stern, NBA Commissioner
With those words, David Stern ruined draft night for every Pacers fan not already blacked out from the Jay Bilas Drinking Game. In the moment, I was among them, because in the moment, the pick was … well, it was perplexing as heck, to be perfectly honest. Miles Plumlee?!? He wasn’t even listed on Bilas’ Top 10 Best Available at the time of the selection.
And there wasn’t a single credible mock draft that had the Pacers making him a first rounder. I did see one instance where a message boarder stated he hoped the Pacers would buy their way into the second round to take Miles, but I’m pretty sure it was just some troll trying to rile up the community.
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The situation was exacerbated by the fact that guys like Perry Jones III, Draymond Green, Arnett Moultrie, and Marquis Teague were available. Moultrie, and especially Jones, weren’t supposed to be available at the 26th pick, and Green and Teague had been pre-approved by the fan base prior to Thursday’s festivities. Plumlee didn’t just fly under the radar, he wasn’t even significant enough to be on it. When his name was uttered, stunned Pacers fans acted like most fans would – they pretty much lost their you-know-what. I mean, they totally freaked out, man. Radio stations were called, vitriolic tweets were twept, and insane rants were left scattered across message boards all over the internet. Larry Bird was openly cussed in public for crissakes! The next morning wasn’t much better, as fear-mongering local columnists stirred the pot, and local talk radio, fueled by irate fans, batted the subject around all day, before tearing it apart limb-by-limb and finally dining, then barfing it up and eating the regurgitation. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
The most common complaints about Plumlee were, in no particular order:
“He’s not even the best Plumlee!”
“He only averaged six points per game in college!”
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“He’s 23 years old!”
Now, all five points are true, I won’t dispute that. They’re just not relevant. Who cares if his sibling is a better basketball player? That didn’t stop Reggie Miller from becoming a Hall of Famer. And so what if he has a limited offensive game? Plumlee wasn’t drafted to score buckets. The Pacers had a very specific role in mind when they took him, and it doesn’t include hitting 17-foot jumpers and being isolated in the post. He will be asked to defend, both the post and the pick-and-roll, and rebound, two things his former coach, some guy named Krzyzewski, thinks he can do at the next level:
“At 6-11, 255-260, he’s an incredible athlete. I think he’s still growing as a player and he’ll only be asked to do things he does well”, said one of the best coaches in the history of basketball. “He can run. He can play defense. He can rebound. He doesn’t have to be a great shooter. He’s an adequate shooter, but he can physically play right away. And he can do the things you would ask a complementary player to do.”
As for the college Plumlee attended and his age, I’d like to submit that both work in his favor. Everyone knows that a typical Dukie is a hard-working, well-coached, disciplined d-bag who irritates the opposition and puts winning above all else. That’s a guy you want on your side. And at 23, soon to be 24, Plumlee is physically matured and ready to contribute what he has to offer immediately, this season.
That brings us to the most common complaint I heard against Plumlee, and the least relevant of all – he’s white. In a lot of cases “white” was followed by the word “stiff”, although even when it wasn’t, the implication was clear – tall white basketball players (i.e. Miles Plumlee) are unathletic (and thus suck). Never mind that Plumlee tested off the charts at the Chicago pre-draft camp and was coveted specifically because of the athleticism he offers at his size – but why let the facts get in the way of a good stereotype. I didn’t have time to conduct a meaningful poll, so I could be way off base here, but I kind of get the feeling that if the Pacers had drafted an identical player to Plumlee – exact same size, skill set, work ethic, age etc. – only he was a black guy out of San Diego State named Maxwell Thompson, the hate wouldn’t have been nearly as great.
And you thought people from Indiana were racists.
“You have to understand what your organization is about. We’re a smash-mouth team. We find hard-working kids that play smart and play together. (Plumlee) is exactly that. This is something that is overlooked all of the time … he knows where his bread is buttered. It’s being physical on defense, it’s toughness, it’s blocking shots, (and) it’s taking charges.”
-Kevin Pritchard, Indiana Pacers general manager
So what did the All-Knowing Fan want the Pacers to do with the 26th selection? There were three prevailing thoughts:
1). Draft Perry Jones III, Arnett Moultrie or Marquis Teague, if not to use on the basketball court, at least to have as an asset to trade.
2). Draft Draymond Green and get rid of Tyler Hansbrough.
3). Trade out of the first-round and into the second to select Plumlee, picking up a future pick in the process.
All three seem like perfectly reasonable options, and certainly would have been met with approval from the fan base. The Pacers front office obviously thought differently. We won’t know who’s right for a year, at least, but allow me to play Devil’s advocate in the meantime:
1). PJ III’s knee was red-flagged by every medical staff in the league, and he’s been cited for apathetic, unmotivated play throughout his short career. There’s no denying his freakish potential, (DraftExpress.com described his Best Case Scenario as Rudy Gay meets Josh Smith), but there’s also no denying that he’s an unfinished product and a bad defender for a man of his size and talents (not surprising, considering defense is like 99 percent effort). I watched exactly zero Mississippi State games this season, as did, I’m sure, all of the fans calling for Moultrie on draft night. According to reports he’s an intriguingly raw offensive prospect with a questionable attitude, skinny body, and poor defensive skills. In other words, Moultrie and Jones are exactly the type of players the Pacers don’t want in their organization.
Teague was most likely never an option for the Pacers anyway, seeing as they already have two starting-caliber point guards on the roster, but even as a trade piece, a raw, third string point guard taken at the end of the first round doesn’t exactly move the needle.
Speaking of the “trade asset” argument, otherwise known as the “Good Value Strategy”, I agree that when you’re selecting in the lottery, you don’t pass up on a can’t-miss talent to fill a need. But when you’re selecting 26th, and there’s a player available who can help immediately, what’s the point in taking someone that 83-percent of the league has already said they don’t want, just because they’re perceived to have more value? The media, and by extension the fans, seem to have forgot that it’s not about winning the draft. You don’t get bonus points for maximizing the value of each selection, and there’s no award in place for Highest Draft Grade. It’s about making your team better, plain and simple. And as a personnel department, if you can do that by drafting a guy six picks too early, you’re doing a disservice to the owner, the coaching staff, the team, and the fan base by dicking around trying to get “good value.”
2). Personally, I was hoping for Draymond Green prior to the draft, and I think a lot of Pacers fans were in the same boat. The reasoning was simple – being in the heart of Big Ten country, we’d all seen Green play a ton over the last four years. We were familiar with him. We watched him slim down, develop into a true leader, and win Big Ten Player of the Year his senior season. What we didn’t see was Green standing next to power forwards three inches taller than him at the combine, or trying to defend small forwards two steps quicker in workouts.
Tyler Hansbrough comes with his own set of strengths and limitations, but he’s two inches taller than Green, and has an uncanny knack for creating his own shot, a valuable skill to have coming off the bench. Green isn’t that type of scorer, and his size and lateral quickness figure to make him very exploitable on the defensive end. It’s not that I don’t think Green will be a valuable bench contributor, it’s just that I think Tyler Hansbrough already is. It’s obvious the two couldn’t coexist on the same unit, and I don’t see what you’d really gain by flipping one for the other. Remember, the goal is to make the existing team better, not create a positional logjam.
3). Ah, the ol’ “why didn’t they just trade down?” argument. Theoretically, it sounds so simple. Reality is never simple though. For starters, who was trading up to #26? Maybe there was a team dying to pick-up Jones III, but if so, why didn’t they do it? Probably because there was no team. It’s also important to note that Plumlee was one of the fastest rising prospect in the days leading up to the draft, so while Pritchard could have been lying when he said that at least one other team tried to trade up to take Plumlee, it’s certainly not inconceivable.
Analogical Side Note: Pretend the draft is an 8th grade school dance, and the chick from Earth Science that you’ve been staring at all semester is standing alone next to the punch bowl. “No Diggity” by Black Street is blaring over the speakers, and you really don’t want to fast dance in front of people, but if you wait until “Champagne Supernova” comes on, that asshole Donnie Barton will be sweating all over her in the middle of the dance floor, while you sullenly go home to hump the hell out of your couch. Bird and Pritchard didn’t want to hump the couch, so they took Plumlee when they had the chance, mockery be damned. And now they’re making out in the parking lot … with Miles Plumlee … okay that analogy fell apart, but I think you get the point.
“Trust Larry Bird’s track record”
-Frank Vogel, Indiana Pacers head coach
Make no mistake about it – Miles Plumlee was Bird’s selection, his final act before (temporarily?) stepping away from the Pacers. His comments on the selection were typically understated:
“We feel like he’s going to be a Jeff Foster type player, and that’s good enough for us.”
Great. But what does that mean, exactly? Who was Jeff Foster? Well, in his prime he was a guy who could play between 20 – 25 minutes a game, mostly as a reserve, and average around six points and nine rebounds. He was one of the most effective offensive rebounders of his generation, and was an excellent defender. He couldn’t shoot outside of four feet, and made just 61-percent of the free throws he attempted over his career, but that didn’t prevent Foster from being an asset on offense. Basketball-reference.com has a stat, Win Shares per 48 Minutes (WS/48), which attempts to estimate the number of wins a player contributed to his team per 48 minutes of action. As a reference point, league average hovers around 1.00. Foster’s career mark was 1.45, and when he was at his best, he was consistently putting up a WS/48 over .160. Danny Granger led the Pacers last year with a .155, and Lou Amundson, the man who replaced Foster, had a 0.62.
Curious, I compared the college stats of Foster and Plumlee (on a per 40 minute basis), and they graded out very favorably (and keep in mind, Foster was playing for the Southwest Texas State Bobcats in the Southland Conference, while Plumlee was playing in the ACC at Duke).
Okay, so we’ve established who Foster was – a highly efficient player with a limited scoring capacity who could defend and rebound at a high level. And we’ve established that Miles Plumlee shares A LOT of the same traits. We’ve also established that Larry Bird – the man most recently voted the best executive in pro basketball, a guy who has done nothing but win at every level, in every role the sport has to offer – identified the backup center position as a major need and hand-picked Plumlee to fill it. Which leads me to the obvious question, why the criticism?
“It always amuses me that people judge the draft the next day. They’ve not seen the guy play, they’ve not seen him play within the team. I’ve always thought, well, let’s wait ’til next year, and see how this all turns out, see if he’s a good player, if he fits in, if he’s everything we’re looking for.’ I don’t really take much from what the immediate reaction is.”
-Donnie Walsh, Indiana Pacers President
What Walsh really meant (I’m assuming), but had the tact not to say, was: “It always amuses me that people who have no practical experience or insider knowledge think they know more than us.” And if he was in the comfort of his office, drinking scotch with Slick Leonard, the quote might have sounded something like: “The fans are ignorant and impatient. I don’t give a you-know-what what they think.” At least that’s what I hope he’d be saying, because it’s the truth.
This is hardly a new phenomenon – the Impatient, Uninformed Voice of the Fan – and it’s certainly not confined to Pacers fans (or the draft for that matter). It’s a sporting-world epidemic of global proportions, and I’m just as guilty as the next fan when it comes to making immediate judgments based on rumors and half-truths, most of which are filtered through the media by manipulative player agents and front office personnel. Speaking of the media, in many instances their job title (i.e., local sports columnist, internet draft expert, etc.) insinuates a knowledge or expertise that, in some cases, isn’t there. That can mislead fans into thinking they’ve gained insider knowledge by reading an “experts” opinion, creating a bubbling cauldron of ignorance that then boils over into negativity when something like Miles Plumlee with the 26th pick happens.
Again, this isn’t a 21st century issue, but because of the proliferation of social media, talk radio, and message board blog communities, the uninformed masses now have a chance to quickly react in a very public way, without the benefit of additional research, thought, or sobriety. One negative comment spurs someone else’s, and before you know it, #MilesPlumleeSucks is trending on Twitter, and everyone hates the kid before he’s even stepped on the court. Patience, once considered a virtue representing moral excellence, is now just the name of some stripper working at a truck stop in Omaha.
Luckily for Plumlee (and, oddly, Pacers fans), fans of the team have a reputation for being way off-base when it comes to immediately reacting to a draft selection – in ’87 they booed the hell out of future Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, and in ’01 they raucously cheered for future felon Jamaal Tinsley. So based on last week’s full-scale freak-out, the odds are pretty decent that Plumlee becomes the “big time fan favorite” Frank Vogel promised he’d be during his post draft interview.
We’ll know more after summer league play – he had 9 points and 10 rebounds in his debut – and a little more after training camp. By mid-season we’ll have a pretty good idea of what Plumlee is and/or will be, and come the 2013 NBA Draft, we’ll know for certain. At that point, if it’s warranted, we can rant and rave and cuss Larry Bird and Kevin Pritchard all we want. In the meantime, Pacers fans need to chill out and savor the moment. The new regime did what Larry would have done and signed George Hill and Roy Hibbert, ensuring the return of last year’s starting rotation, and there’s still money in the coffer to add a piece or two. Plus, it’s been nearly six years since an Indiana Pacer last discharged a gun in the parking lot of a strip club. It is, in other words, a great time to be a pro basketball fan in Indiana – even if that means watching a white guy from Duke set picks and block people out for 15 minutes every game.