The Hawks acquired Miles Plumlee and Marco Belinelli via trade with Charlotte last summer. Plumlee had probably his worst season of his career in 2016-17, the first after he signed a $50 million deal. Then he lasted a few minutes in his first exhibition game with the Hawks before suffering a leg injury that kept him out more than a month.
None of that seemed to matter much because Plumlee projected as the fifth big; he was viewed as the piece GM Travis Schlenk had to take to get rid of Dwight Howard. But injuries and coach Mike Budenholzer’s preference for Plumlee in matchups with bulkier centers meant he ended up playing 861 minutes in non-garbage time per Cleaning the Glass.
The result was a bounce-back season for Plumlee. He returned to his pre-2016-17 form with high-efficiency scoring and solid defense while also providing surprising production in assists.
Nearly all Plumlee’s shots came from within 10 feet of the basket, and his 59 percent shooting ranked in the 70th percentile for NBA bigs, according to CTG. Plumlee is a good athlete who can finish at the rim — Budenholzer took advantage by occasionally running plays to get Plumlee lobs at the rim. Plumlee dunked on 35 percent of his total field goals.
However, Plumlee often fumbled away good shot opportunities near the basket. Poor hands, plus Plumlee’s tendency to fire wild cross-court passes, led to a career-worst turnover percentage (23.4). Too many giveaways marred Plumlee’s career-high 7.2 assist percentage, a very good mark for a big.
Plumlee had pretty good production in blocks, and CTG data shows that opponents had a much tougher time converting shots at the rim and collecting offensive rebounds when he was on the court. Opponents this season scored 1.4 points per possession less with Plumlee on the court vs. off, which is similar to the impact he had during his best seasons with the Suns and Bucks.
Plumlee is under contract for two more seasons and $25 million. His role for next season isn’t clear. Among the four main Hawks bigs this season, only John Collins seems certain to have a big role next season. Ersan Ilyasova is gone, and Dewayne Dedmon and Miles Plumlee have player options for 2018-19.
The Hawks could select bigs with one or more of the four draft picks they own and/or bring back Tyler Cavanaugh as a prospect. Plumlee may end up being the fifth Hawks big next season, but at least the Hawks have evidence that Plumlee’s 2016-17 season was an outlier and he can be a useful player if needed again.