Miles Plumlee joined the Charlotte Hornets when the team was desperate to save their season. Having failed to acquire Lou Williams, the team turned their attention to upgrading the back up center spot, and the day before the trade deadline, Plumlee was acquired without having to sacrifice an asset. Plumlee replaced two rather ineffective centers, but wasn’t exactly a significant upgrade himself, and at 28 years old, couldn’t be sold as one for the future. He was meant to move the needle just the slightest bit in the right direction, but an injury forced him out of action for much of the remainder of the season, and moved the needle further the opposite way. Now, having missed the playoffs, Plumlee’s arrival didn’t help things short-term, and may have cost the team financially in the long run.
All that said, the trade made some sense from a basketball standpoint (and still does). The team lacked a true backup center — Roy Hibbert wasn’t healthy enough to be effective, and Spencer Hawes, for all his attempts to make the Hornets great again, was inconsistent, particularly on the defensive end. More importantly, neither were as athletic as Cody Zeller, and neither were as effective as him as the roll man in the offense. Charlotte needed someone who was athletic, could set screens, and score off the ball, and Plumlee checked these boxes, to some extent at least.
Additionally, Charlotte likely looked at the list of upcoming free agent centers, and viewed Plumlee as better than the ones they could realistically get.
Like Zeller, Plumlee gets a lot of his scoring by positioning himself in the right areas. He’s benefits most when teammates attack the hoop, and often scored easy baskets after players dump the ball off to him.
Here, Briante Weber draws three(!!!) defenders to him as he attacks the hoop, including Plumlee’s man. Plumlee sits tight, and Weber finds him for the open shot.
This time, Plumlee is positioned on the weak side of the post, and as Batum drives to hoop, finds himself open after his brother Marshall slides over to help.
Both came midway or late in the shot clock, after the Hornets had run their set. Plumlee isn’t the first option in either, but scored because the offense had broken down the defense, leaving him open.
Plumlee can’t create for himself, and doesn’t look to score outside the paint, as all but five of his shots came from within 10 feet this season. However, when the Hornets can effectively run their offense, he’s a good option to find off drive and kicks because he’s a strong finisher around the rim.
Along with positioning himself well, Plumlee is effective at setting screens. I understand that selling Plumlee on his “effective screen setting” is the equivalent of being told your blind date’s best attribute is that they are nice, but don’t bail on this yet.
Plumlee makes this play possible by screening for Marco Belinelli, who curls off the screen and faces the hoop. Plumlee’s screen knocks Marco’s man out of the play, forcing Plumlee’s man to close out on Belinelli. This frees up Plumlee for the open reverse layup.
Plumlee doesn’t hold the screen here, and instead quickly rolls to the hoop. Mirza Teletovic and Greg Monroe have a defensive breakdown, as neither roll with Plumlee, and Frank Kaminsky is able to lob it to him for the alley-oop.
These clips indicate that Plumlee has the court awareness and athleticism to work as as a pick and roll man, and a reliable option in drive-and-kick situations. The problem is, he didn’t score nearly enough for it to make a difference.
Plumlee’s numbers with Charlotte were underwhelming — playing in just 13 games, he averaged 2.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, shooting 58.3 percent from the field in 13.4 minutes per game. Attempting just 1.8 shots a game, and just 0.3 free throws, he was barely part of the offense, at least not as a scoring option. His work as a screener both on and away from the ball is another story, but for what it’s worth, the team’s offensive rating was slightly higher when he was off the court (109.7) than when he was on (108.3).
Defensively, Plumlee’s numbers are inconclusive. He had the third lowest defensive rating at 107, but allowed opponents to shoot 61.2 percent against him from six feet or less. Given how little he played though, its hard to draw conclusions. He’s never been considered a rim protector, but his athleticism should allow him to help in screen and roll situations.
But like his defensive stats, pretty much all of Plumlee’s numbers are inconclusive. He simply didn’t get enough games for an extended look. The injury not only limited his time, but likely hindered his ability to adapt to his teammates and the system. A full offseason should help him adapt to both, but that doesn’t mean his numbers will suddenly increase. Plumlee has never put up eye popping numbers, and that’s not going to suddenly change at 28 years old. His value is in his athleticism, and his effectiveness at screening and moving off the ball.
Plumlee was an upgrade over Hibbert and Hawes, but never really got a chance to show it. This wouldn’t have mattered as much had he been on an expiring contract, or even one that expired next season. But neither is the case, and instead, the Hornets will have Plumlee under contract for another three seasons. Plumlee’s contract is no where near the worst at his position in terms of salary per season, but the length is a bit alarming given that he’ll be 31 when the contract expires. While there’s a case to wait and see how next season goes before giving a final verdict, the trade certainly doesn’t look good right now.