When you gaze into the Plumlee the Plumlee also gazes into you

There are as many types of Duke fans as autumnal fall colors in the greater Burlington, North Carolina region—which is to say about 3-5. There is, “Holy crap everything is awful! I’m going to set myself aflame in my Duke Snapback!” guy; “Never speak ill of Coach K or I will slit your throat while you take out the recyclables” guy; there is a perennial favorite: guy who wants K fired after Duke looks sluggish against Clemson for 8 minutes in the first half; and guy who yells at Carolina fan not once but twice at Sidewalk Art Festival (that’s me).

And then there are the Duke fans who cringe (or barf Biscuitville) when the Plumlees get mentioned. For nobody embodies the high expectations each Duke season brings, with its tantalizing flashes of brilliance (usually in November) and ultimate letdown (you know, except for those 4 titles) than the brothers Miles, Mason and Marshall.

I’m not one of those fans. I still remember where I was when I heard that Miles had decided to come to Duke instead of Stanford; I hope Mason shatters the Serge Zwikker-esque career trajectory he’s been on with a dominating senior season; I’m irrationally freaked out that Marshall Plumlee already has a foot injury. I might even have looked at pictures of Miles Plumlee’s girlfriend on Facebook because I know the sister of a Facebook friend’s Facebook friend and only felt quasi-dirty about it. (It should also be noted that my wife refers to Miles Plumlee as “the hot Plumlee.”)

But I bring sobering news, based on studious research, about the eldest Plumlee, now a rookie on the Indiana Pacers. News that Duke fans need to digest, news we cannot ignore and pretend doesn’t exist.

Miles Plumlee, of Duke, has the worst college stats of any first round NBA pick…EVER, OF ALL-TIME since before James Naismith hung up the peach baskets EVER. Please gaze into the distance for a few minutes as you ponder that.

Now a few notes on methodology that produced this conclusion:

• Only drafts since 1976 are included, this being the year of the NBA-ABA merger. Also the NBA of popular memory: Bird, Magic, Jordan, Dream Team is of post-76 vintage. Unlike Major League Baseball, the popularity of the NBA is a recent phenomenon. Another reason I only used 1976 – I have a job! And a family! And HBO! Sorry, but the depths of my research are not limitless. (This decision is not without controversy, as it eliminates a product of the 1973 NBA draft: the legendary Swen Nater—who did have worse stats than Plumlee. But this comes with an important caveat: Nater backed up Bill Walton. Brian Zoubek, I love you bro, and we’ll always have 2010, but Bill Walton didn’t open a cream puff store upon leaving UCLA.)

• I’m not one of those people who hates complicated statistics in sports. In fact, Duke fans should be forever grateful that advanced methodologies in basketball are 100% responsible for validating the pro career of Shane Battier. But I have no idea what most advanced statistics mean. There is an old saying in the stat community: “If you barely passed every single one of your high school math classes and then took ‘Nature of Math’ in college, you stand no chance of truly grasping win shares.” I used old-fashioned points, rebounds and assists in my research. If you’re reading this and screaming that your flux capacitor shows that Miles Plumlee was the most valuable collegian of the 2012 draft, that’s great, congrats, man, you cracked the code, but don’t email me. Instead, take your 1.21 gigawatts and start applying for NBA front office openings.

• My research largely entailed going player by player through every draft from 1976 to the present on basketball-reference.com. I didn’t comb over microfiche, old news clippings or speak to long-lost assistant coaches in diners off I-40. Why not? Again: job, family, the Walking Dead actually being good now. (Sidebar for UNC fans: the Pete Chilcutt basketball-reference page can be sponsored for a mere $20. Your contribution can give Pete the best gift of all. Please call basketball-reference now.)

• Players exclusively from foreign leagues, straight from High School or Community College were not counted. If you played any college basketball at the NCAA level, you were included. Note however that Miles Plumlee was the increasingly rare college senior first-round NBA pick. Admittedly, Daniel Orton has Plumlee-esque stats, but that was based on one year at Kentucky. There can be little doubt that by his senior season Orton would have turned into a player capable of scoring much more than 6.6 points per game.

• I might have missed somebody. Again, congrats, that’s some DaVinci Code puzzle solving. Now leave me alone.

Miles Plumlee averaged 4.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in his Duke career. His most productive season was his senior year, in which he averaged 6.6 and 7.1. There have been a number of first-round picks since 1976 that came close to these numbers (Greg Kite, Bill Wennington, George Zidek, Curtis Borchardt, Travis Knight, Felton Spencer, Chris Welp, Duane Causwell, Joe Wolf, Bill Hanzlik, Cedric Simmons, Roy Tolbert, Mamadou N’Diaye, Herb Williams, Jerome Williams, Sean Williams, Elliot Williams, Dudley Bradley, Luther Wright, Greg Ostertag) but none that surpassed. I have no idea who John Thomas is, but his Minnesota career was almost, but not quite, Miles Plumlee-esque. Elmore Spencer, the fourth option on his UNLV teams: better than Miles. Mark Madsen much much better! Geert Hammick of LSU was going full Plumlee his first 3 years, but a big senior season put him over the top.

The closest was Hilton Armstrong, who has worse career stats than Plumlee. But Armstrong had a better senior season and was named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year. If you want to consider this to be a “worse” career than Miles Plumlee go for it but I would trade Hilton Armstrong’s senior season for the entire Miles Plumlee oeuvre immediately. Also Hilton Armstrong currently plays in Europe after averaging 3.1 ppg in his NBA career – hardly numbers that scream future Plumlee NBA dominance or justification of a first-round selection.

The rise of Miles up the draft board combined the two parts of the draft process I loathe. The first being the workout wonder: Miles, by all accounts, killed it at pre-draft workouts. In seemingly every draft, some mediocre collegian climbs the NFL or NBA draft boards by running a 3.9 4.0, or jumping over a flaming Honda Fit filled with kittens, or going Raylan Givens on the local townsfolk when the draft combine lets out for the evening. All of these feats are incredibly valuable skills if you want to break out the Nintendo Power Pad or Wii Sports Resort, but they put a lie to everything the fan values. Shouldn’t, you know, games matter? Doesn’t the fact (well documented, since about every game was televised) that Miles Plumlee failed to distinguish himself during four years at Duke hold more currency than an afternoon of weightlifting and jumping? If competition itself doesn’t show who is good and who is bad than what’s the point of it all?

The second disturbing trend is Duke guys being overrated. Mike Dunleavy, Gerald Henderson, William Avery, Corey Magette, Shaun Livingston, Josh McRoberts, Austin Rivers are all players who were likely led into the NBA draft early by promises of a guaranteed high selection. And this guarantee was probably based on the fact that Duke players, by sheer dint of the program and its exposure, are overrated by the media and NBA front offices. This isn’t to say Duke players are flops in the NBA; in fact, somebody making that tired point immediately dates themselves more than if they were logging onto the internet using an AOL disk. If anything, a player-by-player survey of recent NBA drafts shows a landscape littered with Carolina busts. If you disagree, please provide America with the whereabouts of Brandan Wright and then get back to me.

Why do I hate Duke players going higher than they should in the NBA draft? Because it screws Duke! Some of these players would have stayed another year, or two, if the sheer Duke brand wasn’t assuring that they would be drafted 10-15 spots higher than they should. Extra years of NBA talent produces more wins for the Blue Devils.

Of course, there is another current here, something Duke fans might be afraid to admit: Dear shit what if Miles Plumlee is in fact actually good? He did, after all, score 9 points in his second NBA exhibition game (which would rank pretty high amongst his best Duke games ever). Can a Duke fan be happy if Miles Plumlee goes for 33 and 20 and does a 720 dunk from the free throw line over Dwight Howard this season or becomes a serviceable NBA player? Wouldn’t we feel a little cheated? Where was this NBA first-round performance against say, I don’t know, LEHIGH. This year he’ll be battling the NBA’s best, yet last spring he went for 4 and 6 against a Patriot League team in the biggest game of his life.

College sport fans are pricks. It can’t really be helped. We want college athletics to be essentially the opposite of what college itself is for: we want the best years of your profession while in college, and when you graduate you can take all your knowledge and experience and spectacularly flameout for all we care. We don’t root for college players to turn into great professionals; we want college players to be great college players. So seeing Miles Plumlee succeed in the NBA will feel a little bit like a letdown. Rabid college basketball fans are asses—granted we’re not racist Italian soccer fan asses— but we’re still pretty bad compared to the rest of the American sports landscape. And ultimately what’s so disturbing about Plumlee being drafted in the first round is not what it says about NBA talent evaluation, Duke’s use of big men, or the Plumlees themselves, but what it says about us: we want total and complete dominance from players on our schedule, and then we really don’t care what you do. Play in Spain, begin a career in investment banking, commit insurance fraud—all options are fine by us, as long as you maxed out your athletic potential in college! The bizarre first round selection of Miles Plumlee has once again drive home a disturbing truth: being a total and complete irrational, greedy lout is pretty much the essence of being a college sports fan and it feels so so SO good.

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6 Responses to When you gaze into the Plumlee the Plumlee also gazes into you

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  1. Tommy Wiseau says:

    Good story Ben!

  2. How about Daniel Orton, 2010 29th overall pick by Orlando from Coach Calimari’s army of evil? Played 1 season at Kentucky, averaged about 13 minutes a game, 3.4 pts/game and 3.3 rbs/game.

  3. Ben Lyon says:

    Hi Adam – I discuss Orton. He only played one season so the comparison isn’t entirely apt – but I think there isn’t much doubt he would have contributed more as a senior than Miles did. Regardless Orton is pretty much a NBA bust, so far, which doesn’t justify a first round pick of Plumlee.

  4. Some people get drafted because they have an incredible set of skills that make them uniquely suited to play basketball. Others get drafted because they have a set of skills which happen to make them valuable basketball players. I agree with you that there was nothing mind-blowing about Miles’ college career, but he’s almost 7 feet tall and can jump out of the gym. He’s a natural athlete that plays basketball because he’s 7 feet tall, that’s what makes him a valuable commodity. I said in February of Miles’ senior season that he would be taken in the first round, because there’s always going to be a team that sees value in that kind of genetic blessing. All this to say, I think he was deserving of being taken in the 1st. You just don’t see that combination of size and athleticism often, and at the bottom of the 1st round, you’re not looking for a star, you’re looking for a contributor.

    Also, a gigantic pet peeve of mine – Shaun Livingston did not go to Duke. Point taken that being a Duke signee could have helped his draft stock, but you lumped him in with a bunch of guys who played on ESPN wearing a Duke jersey for an entire season. Livingston was a top 5 recruit before he signed with Duke.

  5. All this because your wife refers to Miles as the “hot Plumlee”?

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