Larry Bird has never been fearful of making an unpopular selection on NBA Draft day, he's only been afraid of making the wrong selection. In his final days of serving as the team president with the Indiana Pacers, Bird stuck to his philosophy and found a player in the first round whom he believes “will play right away,” regardless of it being lambasted by the critics.
Indiana selected Warsaw's Miles Plumlee with the 26th pick.
“We think that he is very athletic,” Bird told Pacers.com. “He'll be able to get up and down the court and defend the pick and roll.”
Plumlee was born in Fort Wayne and raised in Warsaw, where his family still resides. He attended Christ School in North Carolina for high school and spent the past four seasons at Duke University.
The 6-foot-10, 245-pound center wasn't overly productive with the Blue Devils, but did display skill and athleticism.
“I think that it is a home run,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said following the selection. “He's clearly the best dirty-work player in the draft. He falls right into this team's identity. We built this team around defense and rebounding and that is this kid's specialty.”
Indeed, Plumlee, whose younger brother, Mason, also plays at Duke, has demonstrated incredible athleticism for a man his size during pre-draft workouts. Plumlee has a 38-inch vertical jump and registered 39 dunks in limited playing time during his first two seasons at Duke.
“He'll be able to play for us right away,” Bird said. “That is what we were trying to do with the pick is find somebody that could step in and play right away.”
Plumlee averaged just more than six points and seven rebounds per game as a senior this past season, but was part of an incredibly successful program. He helped the Blue Devils to 115 victories in his four seasons, including the 2010 national championship.
Despite Bird's confidence, Plumlee's meager statistics seemed to cause concern among Pacer fans as they took to Twitter after the selection, and it was essentially a thumbs-down on the selection.
“He's a personal favorite of Larry's,” Vogel said. “He came into workouts here and really blew us all away. We are thrilled to get a player of his caliber at 26 (pick).”
Though he isn't apparently going to be welcomed with open arms, Plumlee told reporters following a recent workout at Bankers Life Fieldhouse that he'd always been a fan of the Pacers.
“I grew up (in Indiana) and always liked the Pacers,” Plumlee said. “I'm really impressed with how they are doing now.”
Earlier this spring some analysts did not have Plumlee projected to be drafted at all. However, he surprised scouts in his pre-draft workouts and he certainly developed a healthy dose of self-confidence leading up to Thursday's surprise selection.
“The main thing is my athleticism,” Plumlee said. “I don't feel like there is a guy like me in the draft with my height, my strength, and my athleticism.”
Depth on the frontcourt is needed by the Pacers, who lost veteran Jeff Foster to retirement midway through this past season, while forward Louis Amundson's contract expired. Also, starting center Roy Hibbert is a restricted free agent and players such as Tyler Hansbrough, David West and Jeff Pendergraph are more suited to play the forward spot than center.
“Right now we don't have no centers,” Bird said. “We feel like (Plumlee) will be a Jeff Foster-type player and that is good enough for us.”
The Pacers later traded for 36th overall selection (second round) Orlando Johnson out of UC-Santa Barbara.
The 6-foot-5 small forward is a deep shooter who led the Big West in scoring for three consecutive seasons.
Indiana traded cash considerations to Sacramento for Johnson.