Given the pending departures of Tyler Hansbrough and possibly Jeff Pendergraph and the presence of a number of big men in the team’s rookie and free agent camp this week, I asked Burke if the Pacers were specifically looking for help up front from the group gathered for two-a-day practices at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“It’s like a left-handed pitcher: you’re always looking,” Burke said. “You see big guys, you’re looking, and maybe you find the right one. I don’t think you ever stop the search on bigs.”
That could help explain why the Pacers used the No. 26 pick in the 2012 draft on Miles Plumlee: when in doubt, go big. But what was a crowded frontcourt in 2012-13 offered no room for the 6-10, 245-pound rookie from Duke, who also did little to force his way into the rotation.
Things may change but, at the moment, there is no shortage of opportunity up front, which makes this a particularly important summer for Plumlee.
“It’s huge,” he said. “This is where you really improve your game and it’s a chance to prove what you’ve worked on throughout the year.”Plumlee made just 14 appearances last season, totaling 13 points and 22 rebounds in 55 minutes. He was the only player on the team not to make an appearance during the 19-game, three-series postseason.
On the list of things to do for Plumlee this summer, the first – and perhaps biggest – is to get him on the court.
“Miles is in a predicament where we hardly saw him play, so just to see him play,” Burke said. “I think he looks a little confident in how he’s playing, how smooth he’s playing, he’s playing slower because he’s thinking the game. He’s more efficient with his actions.
“I just want to see him finish around the rim, run the court, show us the ability to block shots – not like Roy (Hibbert), Roy does it straight-up. Miles has the athleticism to just go chase the ball and block it. And I want to see a little more physicality from him, too. I don’t ask for much.”
Plumlee’s only highlights last season came in Fort Wayne. He averaged 11.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots in 15 D-League games that offered him opportunity to get in some good run but ultimately proved inconclusive in terms of his development.
“It (was) frustrating at times but I had to realize I’m playing on one of the best teams in the league behind some of the best players in the league,” Plumlee said. “I learned a lot, I didn’t get too down on myself, I just took it as an opportunity to learn and grow as a player. …
“It’s tough but it’d be tougher if we were losing and I was sitting on the end and watching. But we’re so good, I’ve learned a lot. That’s the best feeling, knowing you’re getting better as a player.”
More than a year after drafting him, the Pacers still aren’t sure what Plumlee ultimately can be. On draft night, he was most frequently compared to Jeff Foster, but that seems errant as Foster was a prolific rebounder and defender with a relentless motor, traits Plumlee has yet to exhibit.
His skills translate best to the center position, but his build is more suited to power forward. Does that make him versatile, or a tweener?
The Pacers hope to make it around that learning curve this summer. Starting center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West will return, as will backup center Ian Mahinmi. Exactly who will back up West remains to be seen. Pendergraph could be brought back, or the team could delve into the marketplace.
Among the 19 players in rookie camp are former NBA center Jerome Jordan, a physical 7-footer in Chris Daniels and bullish power forward Julian Mavunga of Brownsburg.
While Plumlee’s contract is guaranteed, his role is not.
“The summer league is a good chance for these guys to prove a little bit of their worth but with Miles and O.J. (2012 second-round pick Orlando Johnson) specifically it’s that they get a chance to play,” Burke said. “And right now, we’re just going to play, play hard. Don’t come in here thinking, ‘I was in the NBA last year, I’m going to come in here and average 20.’ It’s the summer league. Just come in, play the game and we’ll design the system around you.
“Be a leader. Miles and O.J., it’s not just working on your basketball game, work on your leadership skills. Be a Pacer out here. Be the first one in drills. Go the hardest of anybody. You’re not entitled to anything.”
Plumlee learned that the hard way last season.
>> PACERS SIGN HILL, SLOAN
First-round pick Solomon Hill is expected to join the rest of the rookies and free agents on court today after signing his NBA Rookie Scale contract on Wednesday. The scale calls for the No. 23 pick to earn $2,124,600 guaranteed in his first two seasons, with a team option for a third season at an additional $1,132,400. Teams can sign players for between 80 and 120 percent of the assigned first-year salary.
Free agent guard Donald Sloan was signed to a two-year minimum contract. For a player with two seasons of experience, that calls for $1,669,536 in guaranteed salary. Sloan has played 56 NBA games with the Hawks, Hornets and Cavs over the past two seasons, averaging 4.7 points and 2.6 assists in 16.6 minutes with shooting percentages of .384 overall and .205 from the 3-point line. He is expected to compete with C.J. Watson for the backup point guard minutes.