What Charlotte Hornets See In Miles Plumlee

The Milwaukee Bucks have dealt Miles Plumlee to the Charlotte Hornets for Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes. What does Plumlee bring to the table in Charlotte?

With the Charlotte Hornets in desperate need of frontcourt contribution thanks to Cody Zeller‘s quadricep injury and regression to the mean by many others, the Milwaukee Bucks were happy to oblige in exchange for two veteran bigs on Charlotte’s roster.

The Hornets’ slide has been well documented, as they’ve lost their last six games and finished with a 4-11 record in January.

Many of Charlotte’s players who experienced career years last year, Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams namely, have returned to earth after signing long-term deals over the summer.

The story was first reported by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein, and was made official later in the evening. The Bucks get two battle-tested 7-footers, with Hawes more of a stretch 5 and Hibbert a declining rim protector.

The Hornets receive Plumlee, who has struggled to find his niche in Milwaukee. Amid a crowded frontcourt, Plumlee is averaging the fewest minutes per night since his rookie season.

Despite being chided by many on Twitter and elsewhere, Stein indicated that Charlotte has had their eyes on Plumlee for a while.

Still, it’s hard to rationalize the thought process of trading two expiring contracts for a big man averaging under 10 minutes per game that is locked in at four years and $50 million, signed through the 2019-20 season.

Our own Gerald Bourguet did point out that this deal puts Charlotte over the cap but under the tax apron, giving them the maximum mid-level exception this offseason. But this was not a cap move. Quite the opposite, actually, as they must believe that Plumlee can truly help them.

Oddly enough, I can see why. Plumlee’s best season was his second year in the league, the 2013-14 season with the Phoenix Suns. He averaged 8.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 0.6 steals and 0.5 blocks in 24.6 minutes per game.

This was the Suns team that was the feel-good story of that year, Jeff Hornacek‘s first season in which they finished 48-34 in which most picked them to finish among the lottery.

That team was fueled by Goran Dragic‘s All-NBA performance, P.J. Tucker, a reinvigorated Gerald Green, Channing Frye doing Channing Frye things, Plumlee, Marcus Morris and some Leandro Barbosa sprinkled in.

Eric Bledsoe only played 43 games that year, but it seemed to not matter, as the entire roster thrived in Hornacek’s equal opportunity offense.

OK, now to draw the parallel that helps Plumlee.

Charlotte runs a similar offensive scheme, as Kemba Walker replaces Dragic in the scenario as quarterback and the Hornets bomb away from deep at a similar top-10 rate the way those Suns did, opening up the lane for Plumlee to use his best skill, rim rolling.

As Zach Lowe of ESPN mentioned on his podcast “The Lowe Post” with FiveThirtyEight’s Chris Herring, Charlotte only finishes 3.7 percent of its possessions this season with an isolation according to NBA Stats, far and away the lowest number this season for any team.

This bodes well for Plumlee as the ball doesn’t stick and though the stats don’t date back to 2013-14 on NBA.com, I would bet that Phoenix had one of the lowest percentages of isolations that season as well.

I’m of the opinion Cody Zeller would not start for most teams around the league, as his best skills include screening, moving hard and being in sound position defensively.

For Charlotte, he’s instrumental as he plays lead singer in their scheme that is reliant on positioning, verticality, hustle and rotating early.

Narrative and perception are powerful things and Zeller has become an accepted core piece for Charlotte after being maligned previously as a 2013 lottery pick wasted. These are Plumlee’s 2013-14 numbers versus Zeller’s numbers last season.

Plumlee 2013-14 vs. Zeller 2015-16
Miles Plumlee 2013-14 80 24.6 3.6 6.9 .517 0.0 0.0 .517 0.9 1.7 .561 7.8 0.5 0.6 1.1 1.4 2.3 8.1
Cody Zeller 2015-16 73 24.3 3.2 6.0 .529 0.0 0.1 .100 .530 2.4 3.2 .754 6.2 1.0 0.8 0.9 0.9 2.8 8.7
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/3/2017.

It’s almost a certainty that Milwaukee (and Charlotte) had this Plumlee in mind when they acquired him. Milwaukee simply didn’t have the spacing to allow a player like Plumlee to thrive, depsite having two outstanding individual players in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker.

Plumlee is also a better rebounder than Zeller, Hawes and a depleted Hibbert. Charlotte bigs aren’t asked to rebound as much, their scheme calls for boxing out opposing frontcourt players to let their wings like Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist grab the ball off the rim and go.

Plumlee has a high motor and head voach Steve Clifford will love his ability to go get boards.

Diving into the film, Plumlee actually has an impressive record of contesting shots at the rim well and being aware off the ball to help weak side in small samples this season. Excluding this season, he’s averaged around two blocks per 36 minutes for his career.

As previously stated, Plumlee’s record as a rim runner is good when he has the required room. It’s amazing as a big what you can get night to night in the regular season when you move hard and have your hands ready.

He and Matthew Dellavedova developed a nice chemistry on Milwaukee’s second unit as the season went on.

He’s another solid screener and his eyes are always focused on the ballhandler, ready to pounce on lobs or dishes thrown his way.

With all of this being said, the overarching question remains, is Mason Plumlee the answer to the Hornets’ problems and the solution to vault them out of this slide?

The answer is probably not, and certainly not at that price. Even with Kemba Walker locked in at a criminal rate of $12 million per year through 2018-19 (lower than Plumlee, ha!), the Hornets are right at the expected salary cap number through next season with guaranteed contracts.

Paying a combined $94 million to Cody Zeller and Miles Plumlee over the next four years makes me nauseous.

But, Plumlee is another piece to the puzzle. And at 28 with limited play in the last couple seasons could still improve, especially with the Hornets.

If he were to thrive anywhere in the league, Charlotte may be the best fit. General manager Rich Cho and Clifford have a sterling record of renewing careers these last few seasons.

There’s no doubt with a top-15 player in Kemba Walker and nucleus firmly locked in around him, the Hornets are in win-now mode. Whether Miles Plumlee plays a vital role in that goal will be determined, but his appeal to the Charlotte front office makes sense.

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