“And with the 26th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Indiana Pacers select Miles Plumlee, Duke University.”
That short proclamation by NBA commissioner David Stern came as a surprise to many Pacers fans who had been holding out hope of reeling in Baylor’s Perry Jones as he slid down the draft board (No. 28 – Oklahoma City), Michigan State standout Draymond Green (No. 35 – Golden State), or Indianapolis native Marquis Teague (No. 29 – Chicago Bulls).
Instead, Pacers fans watched as their team, fresh off an appearance in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, selected a Warsaw, Ind. native who many analysts projected as a mid-to-late second round pick.
On the surface, it appeared like a stretch to select Plumlee at No. 26; however, Larry Bird is renowned for placing very little value on projections. Bird, who recently stepped down as Pacers president of basketball operations, was participating in his final NBA draft.
According to Indiana head coach Frank Vogel, Bird and the front office staff had been targeting Plumlee for quite some time.
“Trust Larry Bird’s draft record, first of all,” Vogel said to media members following the pick. “Second of all, you’re losing a player like Jeff Foster and you’re getting a player the whole front office believes can fit that mold and bridge the gap with what we lost with Foster. I think it will be a very short time until [Plumlee] is a crowd favorite around here.”
Plumlee’s rise from second round prospect to first round pick marked one of the fastest ascensions of an NBA draft prospect in recent memory. However, when giving the four-year college player a closer look, it is easy to see what caught the Pacers eye.
For a 7-foot, 252-pound center, Plumlee is surprisingly athletic, possessing a higher no-step vertical leap (34”) and max vertical leap (40.5”) than any other center taken in the first round.
Fans might be alarmed by his senior-year averages of 6.6 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game, but Plumlee accumulated those stats in just 20.5 minutes per game. When expanded to the equivalent of a forty-minute game, Plumlee’s marks would have registered at 12.9 ppg and 13.9 rpg, with the latter placing him near averages accrued by the nation’s ten best rebounders.
In addition to that, the Duke graduate showed tremendous progress in each of his four seasons in Durham, increasing his shooting percentage each year (.610 FG% as a senior) and decreasing his foul rate each year.
In a recent mock draft, Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports called Plumlee a “legit backup center,” and a player who could be, “a serviceable 10-year player in the NBA.”
For a team looking to replace the energy and rebounding lost from the recent retirement of 13-year veteran Jeff Foster, Indiana hopes to have found a player who can be a contributing member of the frontcourt for years to come.
In addition to selecting Plumlee, the Pacers traded cash considerations in exchange for the 36th pick, choosing Orlando Johnson of California-Santa Barbara. Johnson, a 6’5” combo guard enjoyed tremendous success as a three-year starter at UCSB after transferring from Loyola Marymount.
While at UCSB, Johnson scored in double figures in 91 of 93 games, averaging 20 ppg, 6 rpg, 3 apg and a steal, while shooting 47% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc. The Seaside, Calif. native led the Gauchos to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in school history in 2010 and 2011.
Johnson, who ranked 21st in scoring his senior season (19.7 ppg), possesses the longest wingspan of any player under 6’5” in the draft (6’11”) and the sixth highest vertical leap of all prospects (39.5”).
The last UCSB player to be selected in the NBA draft was Brian Shaw in 1988. Shaw is now the lead assistant coach for the Pacers.
“We wanted to get good kids who could come in here and help us right away,” Bird said following the draft. “We did that tonight.”