Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Duke Guys Thomas, Plumlee Looking to Help Knicks’ Revamped Front Line
WEST POINT, N.Y. — Lance Thomas knows all about the Plumlee family, having played alongside Miles and Mason Plumlee on the 2009-10 Duke team that won an NCAA championship.
Now the youngest Plumlee, 7-foot Marshall, is Thomas’ teammate with the Knicks as both players look to fortify a revamped front line highlighted by the signing of free agent Joakim Noah.
“Yeah, I knew Marshall, I remember when Marshall was in high school,” the 6-8 Thomas told me Thursday at Knicks’ training camp at West Point. “He was coming to visit his brothers, who I played with, Miles and Mason. It’s very good to have him here.”
Thomas cares less that Plumlee is a fellow Dukie, and more about the fact that he’s a hard worker and a winner. Both players won national championships at Duke.
“It feels good to have someone here who I know brings it at every opportunity he gets and he’s also a winner,” Thomas said. “I had the opportunity to win a championship with his brothers and he eventually did it for himself.”
Yes, Plumlee was part of Duke’s 2015 NCAA championship team — the fifth for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski — that also featured fellow NBA players Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones.
He’s happy to be reunited with a former Duke product in Thomas.
“You hear about his legacy when you’re at Duke and you hear about all the great things he did and it was like, ‘Man, I would’ve loved to have played with that guy,’ and now I’m getting a chance to play with him,” Plumlee said.
Plumlee also finds himself playing alongside some huge NBA names like Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose and Noah.
“It’s really exciting and I’m just trying to be consistent every day with my energy and enthusiasm,” Plumlee said. “It’s easy to be enthusiastic when you’re playing with guys like Joakim and Lance Thomas, really setting the effort level high for the effort that should be brought every day.”
Plumlee has been playing with the second unit and is also getting tutelage from Knicks associate head coach Kurt Rambis.
“I’m getting to take lessons from Coach Rambis, from Coach [Jeff] Hornacek, you have Phil Jackson talking to you,” Plumlee said. “[Jackson] will let me know when I screw up or do something good. They’re a wealth of knowledge. It’s really cool to be in a program surrounded by those kind of greats.”
It’s early in training camp but Hornacek likes what he sees from Plumlee, who is in the mix for minutes at the backup center spot behind Noah. Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle O’Quinn will also play the five, and 6-11 rookie Willy Hernangomez is in the mix, too.
“Just power and energy, he’s loud with his talking,” Hornacek said of Plumlee. “You probably could hear it from over here. He’s strong, he’s kind of like a bull in there. He gets offensive rebounds, he gives great energy when he gets out there on the court.”
Plumlee has a three-year deal where he makes north of $500,000 this year, although Hornacek did point out that even those 15 players with guaranteed contracts aren’t necessarily safe.
“We have a lot of guys under contract,” Hornacek said. “And they’re all fighting for a place. No one’s guaranteed. The Knicks organization, I don’t think they’re afraid to cut a guy with a guaranteed contract if there’s another guy that’s better. So these guys are competing every day and there may be one or two of these guys that can make it, so you’ll never know.”
Back in July, Coach K told me that Plumlee would be the “perfect backup center for the Knicks.”
“First of all he’s older, he’s 23,” Coach K said. “He’s been a five-year player.
“He brings fundamentals and he’s a leader. He’s going to be an Army officer. He talks on defense. He’ll screen, he’ll play defense he’ll rebound. And he doesn’t need the ball. He just wants to make other people better. And they’ll never be a practice where he’s not enthusiastic. He’s a perfect backup.”
As for the Army connection, Plumlee is serving in the Reserves, so he feels right at home this week at West Point.
“It’s exciting for me and I know firsthand how much the Army has helped me grow and develop as a basketball player and as a leader so to be exposed to the training grounds where West Point is making our world’s best and brightest leaders,” Plumlee said. “There’s so much discipline and hard work going on here, I know it’s going to benefit our team. It benefited me. For us to be exposed to this I think was a great decision by our front office.”
As for Thomas, he signed a four-year, $27-million deal in early July to return to the Knicks. He emerged as a key cog under former coaches Derek Fisher and Rambis and averaged 8.2 points and 2.2 rebounds before suffering a non-contact knee injury in March.
Thomas returned to the Knicks because he wants a chance to win.
“I told him at the end of the season don’t leave us,” Porzingis said. “That’s the type of guy who you want [to win]. He’s not the guy that everybody adores but he’s the guy who is going to do the work every night. He’s a warrior.”
Said Thomas: “I already knew in my mind I wanted to be back. I want to win in New York. I think that was pretty obvious, even before I signed. I wanted to win here and the organization obviously wants to move with the moves that they made.”
With the additions of Rose, Noah, Courtney Lee, Brandon Jennings, and his fellow Dukie Plumlee, Thomas likes the Knicks’ chances to compete at a high level.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I really in my heart feel that way. I feel like we have guys who are really hungry to win. Everyboby on this team has pretty much proven themselves in the NBA, so it’s not a matter of trying to prove anything individually we’re this or that. I think collectively what we have together is we all want to win.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.