Plumlee making case for heavy minutes with Suns

PHOENIX — The Suns have a new post player who played in the Atlantic Coast Conference, moves very well up and down the floor and has been something of a training-camp revelation.

Meet Miles Plumlee.

While first-round draft choice Alex Len still checks in as the franchise future at center, Plumlee — acquired along with Gerald Green and another coveted, first-round draft pick in a summer deal that sent Luis Scola to the Indiana Pacers — already is making a case for heavy rotation minutes.

Although many observers dismissed Plumlee as a transaction throw-in, Suns coach Jeff Hornacek had a different perspective.

“I think Ryan (general manager McDonough) and I thought we got a steal with him,” Hornacek said, “especially with the kind of game we play … pick and roll … he’s very athletic.

“That’s showed in the scrimmage and a lot of the practices.”

In last Saturday’s intrasquad battle, the 2013 first-round pick of the Pacers looked right at home with the Suns, producing 15 points and eight rebounds. In Monday’s exhibition clouting of Maccabi Haifa, Plumlee gave the Suns seven points (making all three of his shots from the field), five rebounds and one block in 14 minutes.

Playing behind Roy Hibbert and power forward David West at Indy, the 6-foot-11, 255-pound Plumlee worked only 55 minutes across 14 games in his first pro season after four years at Duke.

Widely considered little more than the second best of three basketball-playing Plumlee brothers (middle brother Mason was a first-round pick of the Brooklyn Nets in June) at the time of the trade, the athletic Miles has a shot at becoming a factor here.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” he said. “I love the program … I love everybody on the team … the coaching staff. I think it’s just a great place for me to grow as a player.”

The growth most evident in Phoenix over the last few weeks has been Plumlee’s ability to make a more reasonable number of shots away from the rim. Diversifying his on-court portfolio would make him much more valuable to the coaching for staff. For example, Len’s ability to make the face-up jumper and move around pretty well at 7-feet-1 established his value (fifth overall pick) in the last draft.

Plumlee, by far the most athletically gifted of the Suns’ post players, didn’t exactly show up here as a deadeye.

“The biggest surprise to us is that he’s shooting is coming along,” Hornacek said. “When he first got here, we were saying ‘Oh, Jeez.’ Outside of eight feet, he didn’t look great.

“But he’s worked on it — that’s a credit to him. I think it’s a great sign he can get better and he’s willing to work at it.”

The difference hasn’t been lost on the subject, either.

“Even in just the last month being here, I’ve gotten a lot better,” Plumlee said. “It’s putting in work every day, working on your game, solidifying your moves, and I think it’s given me more confidence on the court.”

And, like several Suns whose opinions of the new sideline regime are being solicited, Plumlee credits the coaching staff for generating confidence. Teaching through positive reinforcement seems to be working. So, in addition to becoming more of a threat away from the rim, Plumlee’s footwork on the post has become more fluid while under the instruction of assistant coaches Mark West and Kenny Gattison.

“I just feel like they really build you up in their approach,” he said of the coaching staff as a whole. “I learn a lot from them, I come to them a lot. They have a lot to share with us.”

With Marcin Gortat entering the season with an uncertain Suns future, Len working his way back into rhythm after surgery on both ankles and Channing Frye getting back into shape at power forward, Plumlee has an opportunity to make big contributions.

“I think you never know how some guys fit on certain teams,” Hornacek said. “At Indiana, the style was a slow-down style. They had Hibbert, West and those guys, so they didn’t need to throw Miles in there right away.

“He has a lot of energy, and when we run pick and roll and he rolls to the basket, he can really finish.”