One of the most intriguing storylines in the 2016 NBA draft class is likely one you haven’t heard about yet.
Tanner Plomb, a 6’7 swingman who spent the past four years at West Point playing for the Army, entered the NBA draft after a strong senior season and hoped to hear his named called in the second round on Thursday night. However, he went undrafted and is now hoping to make the league via a strong Summer League showing. If his professional basketball career doesn’t take off, he will fulfill his commitment to the Army.
“I’m very determined,” Plomb said. “Playing in the NBA is pretty much every basketball player’s dream, but it’s been mine for my entire life. I want to make it more than ever because I know that I won’t have as many opportunities as some of these other players. I know that I have to push for this, otherwise I’ll start my career with the Army. If my basketball career doesn’t work out, then I will be going to Fort Sill in Oklahoma for Field Artillery Training for four and a half months. After that, I’d go to Fort Benning in Georgia for Airborne School for three weeks and then be stationed in Grafenwoehr, Germany for three years with a field artillery unit. At any point while I’m stationed in Germany, the army could deploy me and my unit to many different parts of the world to fight against the enemies of our country.
“If that happens, I’m ready for that too. Everything we have done has really prepared us, and I still have some training left to do. When you graduate from West Point, there’s so much emotion built up and so much time that has been put into training and you feel like you’re finally ready. You accept that it’s going to happen and look forward to your future, and especially the people who you’ll be with. There’s more of a readiness to move on rather than any [hesitancy].”
Plomb is a very good athlete with a three-point shot that improved every year he was in college, to the point that he was hitting nearly three shots from long range per game as a senior. This past year, he averaged 19.8 points and 5.8 rebounds with a 21.4 efficiency rating and 110.2 offensive rating. He was selected to the All-Patriot League First Team for his efforts.
He worked out for the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz among others and did well. He compares working out in front of well-known GMs and coaches to the presentations he had to give in front of higher-up generals at West Point. He added that with everything he’s been through and what may be ahead, an NBA workout or Summer League invite isn’t nerve-racking.
Plomb didn’t consider a career in the military until their coaching staff reached out to him in order to express their interest. It was only then that he decided to join the Army.
“I’ve been in love with basketball my whole life, back to the Little Tikes hoop days,” Plomb said. “I always had a hoop – in the basement, on a door somewhere – and I was always playing. Then, I saved up enough money where my dad allowed me to put half a court and hoop in the back yard. My love for the game just kept growing through middle school to high school to college and still today. I hadn’t really considered joining the military at all until I received a call from the coaching staff. They were talking to me, asking me, ‘Do you have any interest?’ I was hesitant and unsure about it, just as any teenage kid who’s in love with the game would be. But they talked me into coming out for a visit, and I met the coaching staff, faculty, players and I saw the campus. It’s one of the most beautiful things ever and there’s so much history there. Everything about it is really special and you can just feel it when you’re there. It was too good of a thing for me to pass up, too good of an opportunity.”
Because he was at West Point, he had a very different college experience than every other player in this draft. He believes that his experiences and military background can really help him as he tries to achieve his NBA goal.
“I thought I experienced a huge growth while I was there,” Plomb said. “I ended up starting my first six games when I was there, but I didn’t have that much confidence in myself at that time. I was still trying to adjust to the college game and didn’t think I’d be able to impact the game that much right away. But as I progressed there and matured more – as a person and as a basketball player – I learned that I can give a lot back to this game and to my team. I think I was able to really contribute more as I progressed, with my scoring, leadership, defense, everything. I felt like I was adding more and more to our program as the years went on.
“My relationships with people have gotten stronger and stronger as time has gone on. I’m able to communicate better, know how to work with other people better and understand where other people are coming from. But other than that, I think it really matured me as a person and forced me to grow up a little earlier than some of these other people may have had to. I know that in a few years or a few months, depending on what happens with basketball, people’s lives may actually be in my hands. I understand that you have to be mature and responsible, not just for yourself but for the people around you. I feel like that’s one of the main things that the Army has taught me, worrying about more than just yourself.”
Plomb said that he believes he can be a productive 3-and-D role player in the NBA, and named Mike Miller as one of the players who he has modeled his game after.
“I feel like I can be a player that knocks down open shots and on the other end bust my butt defending whoever I need to, which should translate well to the NBA,” Plomb said. “That’s become more important and popular, the Three-and-D guy.
“I like watching superstars to see everything they bring to the game, but guys like Mike Miller and others like him are the guys [I study] because you see how hard they work, how bad they want to win and how they’ll do anything for their team. Whatever guys like that are asked to do, they’ll do, and they make the most of every situation they’re. I watch people like that and model my game after theirs.”
Zach Spiker, who was the head coach at Army before accepting the head coaching job at Drexel in March, had nothing but positive things to say about Plomb.
“Tanner is a terrific basketball player, but a better person,” Coach Spiker said. “Whenever he has gotten an opportunity, he has done nothing but excel. To me, it’s no surprise to see NBA teams show interest in him. He represents everything that is right about West Point and the Army. He has a service heart, puts other before him and is a professional.
“He graduated as one of our best three-point shooters and was one of the most explosive athletes in the Patriot League. He improved every year that he was there. He was a candidate for Player of the Year in League play from sophomore year on. He has shown that he makes the most of every opportunity he’s given. If he has the time to focus on one thing, I think he’ll excel and continue to make huge strides.”
Plomb and everyone close to him (such as his agent Russell Slayton and mentor Pete Strobl from The Scoring Factory, a training facility in Pittsburgh) hope he can make it in the NBA, not only so he can accomplish his life-long dream but because he can use his platform to make a big impact as well.
“Basketball players have a great influence on our society,” Slayton said. “People line up for days to spend their last dime on their favorite player’s sneaker. If Tanner makes it to the NBA, he can be a positive role model for our country. I want our culture to be influenced by people like him.”
Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal
Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.
Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.
So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.
You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.
With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.
He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.
But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.
Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.
Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.
These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.
Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.
The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.
Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.
The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.
NBA Daily: Zach LaVine Has Solid Debut With Bulls
Zach LaVine put together a solid performance for the Bulls in his first game back from injury.
The Chicago Bulls are turning a corner this season. Zach LaVine is healthy after completing a year of rehabilitation from an ACL injury. LaVine’s return comes at a critical moment. The team is 13-7 over the last twenty games. Many of the wins in this stretch are over current competitors for a potential spot in the playoffs. This includes wins against the Charlotte Hornets (in overtime), the Philadelphia 76ers and three wins (one in overtime) against the New York Knicks. The stretch of winning ties into the return of forwards Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic. Having these key players back and winning this many games recently has changed the dynamics of what had been shaping up to be a losing season.
LaVine played in his first game of the season on Saturday and hit three of four three-point baskets while scoring 14 points in 19 minutes played. LaVine described how he felt physically and about the team’s recent run.
“I thought I did pretty good. I was tired as hell at first. But, we got the win,” LaVine said. “We’re going to keep this thing going.”
The team went into this season having parted ways with their franchise player, Jimmy Butler, in a trade that was derided by many for being lopsided. The trade netted the Bulls LaVine, point guard Kris Dunn and the sixth pick in the 2017 draft in exchange for Butler and the number 16 pick. The trade also allowed Butler to be reunited with coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota. For the Bulls, Dunn has greatly improved from the poor play of his rookie season in Minnesota. In addition, the Bulls selected Lauri Markkanen, whom has already displayed some serious talent and potential. Now with LaVine in the lineup, the Bulls can see the total value of the trade on the court.
So, where do the Bulls now stand? According to FiveThirtyEight, as of January 14, the Bulls are projected as having a three percent chance of making the playoffs with a projected record of 32-50. This is a jump from less than one percent (essentially zero percent) back on December 11, 2017. Still, three percent is not the most reassuring projection.
In addition, the recent shift to winning basketball also puts Chicago’s 2018 draft pick in a more precarious position. On December 6, 2017, the Bulls were 3-20 and were on pace to have one of the worst records in the league, if not the worst. Now every win moves the pick further away from a likely top three or even a potential number one pick and moves it closer to a top-10 selection or even middle of the first-round pick.
At the moment, the team is 16-27, good enough for 12th place in the Eastern Conference behind the Hornets, Knicks, 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs. Being 6.5 games back and having seven more losses than the Bucks means the Bulls will need to continue winning at a high rate to make up the difference in the time left in the season.
LaVine didn’t hold back when it came to expressing his optimism regarding the team’s potential.
“I think we can make a push for this thing,” LaVine said. “That’s our job to do. That’s our job to do that,”
LaVine isn’t paying much attention to skeptics who still don’t believe the Bulls have much change to win anything meaningful this season.
“You know, we can’t control outside thoughts or anything,” LaVine said. “We’re ball players, we go out there and try to win every competition. You know, I think we’re good. I think we’re going to be good.”
In LaVine’s absence, Mirotic and Portis (despite their offseason scuffle) have emerged as two of the team’s best players. In addition, center Robin Lopez has done an admirable job keeping up his effort all season long while fulfilling his role as a veteran leader for the team. Lopez described the atmosphere on the team as positive recently in an interview with Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders.
Despite the reason for optimism, it must be noted that the franchise might make another big trade that would diminish the team’s ability to be competitive this season. Despite his recent on-court success, reports are that Mirotic would like to be traded and that the Bulls asking price is a first-round pick.
Until such a move occurs, the Bulls appear poised to maintain their recent rate of success. Every win could cost the Bulls what could be a top overall pick in 2018. Regardless, the Bulls are surely feeling better about the results of the Butler trade, especially after LaVine’s impressive Chicago debut.
NBA Daily: Lopez’s Enjoys “Old Guy” Role on Young Team
Robin Lopez is the old man on a very young Chicago Bulls team, but he says the camaraderie is a big reason why he’s happy there, and why the team is overachieving so much this year.
When the Chicago Bulls started the season 3-20, nobody was surprised that they stunk. Everything was fine. They were supposed to stink. That was the entire reason they traded away Jimmy Butler for younger players in the first place. They wanted got their rebuild underway in earnest. (more…)