When the Phoenix Suns shipped starting center Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards right before the season began, most fans and NBA experts assumed it was the team waving a white flag and positioning itself for a high pick in the 2014 draft.
However, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough had a trick up his sleeve when he pulled the trigger on the trade, but even he didn’t know exactly how effective the card he was holding would be.
That card was second-year center Miles Plumlee, who was acquired over the summer and impressed the team’s brass during training camp and preseason — and even before he joined the Suns.
“We liked what we thought we had in Miles and what we’ve seen out of Miles in limited glimpses,” McDonough said Tuesday on Arizona Sports 620’s Burns & Gambo show. “Going back to Summer League in the past two years, he played for the Indiana Pacers’ Summer League team in Orlando and played very well. I was down there with a few of our scouts, and when we walked out of the gym this year, we had him in our top five guys in the entire Summer League.
“Miles certainly stood out. You know I think his rebounding ability and his shot-blocking ability are pretty unique. Obviously the way he runs the floor and leaps for a big man is fairly unique as well.”
The 6-foot-11 center, who saw limited action in only 14 games with the Pacers in his rookie year, has averaged 9.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and two blocks while shooting 50 percent from the floor in 28 minutes per game. His stats won’t put him in the All-Star Game, but he’s provided the 14-9 Suns with some consistency in the middle that they weren’t sure they’d have when the season began.
McDonough admitted that he was a “little bit concerned” about his team down low after he traded an established center like Gortat.
“As I mentioned, though, we had high expectations for Miles. People, I think, kind of didn’t believe that at the time when we said it,” the general manager said. “But we had the benefit of having him here all summer and having him work with our coaches and watching him play in training camp and the preseason. I think we saw some glimpses of what he could become.”
McDonough said his confidence in his frontcourt players was also buoyed by the return of Channing Frye, who missed all of the 2012-13 season as he recovered from a heart defect.
“We’d hoped we have Channing Frye back,” the first-year GM said about why he traded Gortat. “We had some good information and were almost certain that he would be back at the time of the trade. As you guys know, we go small a decent amount, and Channing plays the five when Miles is off the floor.
“That was kind of the calculation. And we’re certainly happy with the results so far.”
McDonough didn’t stop there when talking about how Frye’s return has impacted the team.
“If our team’s the feel-good story of the year in the league, individually, I’d say Channing’s got to be the feel-good story of the year as a player and just what he’s done — what he’s gone through in the last year-plus and the way he’s been able to come back and contribute for us pretty much right away,” McDonough said.
Frye is averaging 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while shooting 47 percent from the floor, including 41.5 percent from behind the arc.
“We thought initially that it might take a while for him to get in shape and we might not get anything out of him in 2013 until he gets back in shape until January or so,” the GM continued. “And lo and behold, the guy’s shooting close to 50 percent (on 3-pointers) over the last 15 games, and he’s played a huge role for us on both ends of the floor.”