After 13 years of NBA service, it’s fair to say Andre Miller has been one of the more overlooked and undervalued point guards of his generation. His ability to produce well into his thirties places him in the rarified company of Steve Nash, Chauncey Billups, and Jason Kidd yet his lack of playoff success and individual accolades exclude him from being held in the same regard.
Playing with that chip on his shoulder has made Miller the successful, highly motivated player he is today. Unfortunately, it’s also put Andre at the center of another point guard controversy in Denver after candidly telling Chris Tomasson he’s unhappy with a backup role and prefers to go elsewhere in free agency next season.
While it’s important not to overreact to the wording of Miller’s statement, there should be no misunderstanding about his intentions – Andre is not done as a starter in this league and he’ll seek to lead his own team in free agency next season. Despite Benjamin Hochman’s claim that Miller’s representatives say there is no problem, his own words can’t and shouldn’t be disregarded as some sort of passing joke.
On the surface, it seems like Andre Miller is squabbling about semantics. Despite coming off the bench, he averages a healthy 29 minutes a game against his career average of 34.3 – not to mention he’s 35 years old. Still, that doesn’t change the fact Miller’s bench role is different than what he’s been accustomed to for over a decade. Not only is he playing for his next contract, Miller is also valiantly fighting off the typical decline a 35-year old inevitably suffers as he enters the twilight of his career. To Miller’s credit, he hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down at all.
Last year with Portland, Andre averaged at or near his career averages in most every category with the same efficiency he’s maintained throughout his career. When adjusted for minutes, the 34 year-old Miller actually produced at virtually the same level he did as a 27 year-old in his first stint with the Nuggets. The fact Denver traded Miller nearly 5 years ago and essentially got the same player back is incredible.
It’s too early to write Miller off while he adjusts to becoming a bench player with the Nuggets, but in terms of production he’s primed for his worst season since his rookie campaign. His efficiency hasn’t trailed off dramatically, but it’s worse and despite nearly matching his career averages per 36 minutes, the consistent playing time just isn’t there even with Karl playing him as much as the rotation allows.
One area where Miller has to adjust is not having consistent starting-quality big men to play off of. Miller is often first off the bench, but Nene soon goes out and he’ll play with an inconsistent rotation of Chris Andersen, Al Harrington, and Danilo Gallinari as the main bigs on the floor. The result is less pick and roll action, much smaller lineups and a situation where Miller will look for his own offense more often due to limited options.
Andre is also sharing the court with Ty Lawson, not to mention Rudy Fernandez and Gallo who can all bring the ball up the floor to start a possession. Miller still has the ball in his hands plenty, but his assists mostly come in transition off leak-outs and steals as his role is to get Denver’s aggressive transition game going as quickly as possible.
Miller plays almost exclusively in a small lineup, and along with the rest of the team it has been inconsistent, especially on the defensive end. We have seen size stifle the Nuggets ability to run and in turn the half-court offense come to a grinding halt. The fact Denver has such a deep roster is going to limit Andre’s impact in certain games, simply because situations will call for more size, longer defenders or shooters to space the floor and Andre doesn’t provide the correct mix of versatility for all situations. Regardless of Karl’s desire to play Andre as much as he can off the bench, Miller’s point guard duties and need for the ball often overlap with the other players on the floor.
When a more conventional lineup is called for, Ty Lawson is the first choice to handle the point guard duties and Miller is asked to step out of his element as a shooting guard who doesn’t excel at shooting. Early results are Andre shooting over double the amount of three pointers he normally attempts (1.5 versus 0.7) where he is only makes a career 20%. Again it’s early, but Miller is also averaging a whole 2 fewer free-throws than he normally attempts (2.5 versus 4.5). It’s not really Andre’s fault, that’s just the role he is stepping into on a deep team like the Nuggets.
The season is young and of course there are plenty of good reasons to have Andre on the court where he is a fantastic fit. The most obvious of course being the luxury of having a quality distributor who can seamlessly step into a starter’s role when Lawson is injured. Miller also does a good job taking care of the ball and is a crafty finisher who can post up opposing guards when needed. Miller can be a solid mentor to the younger players on the team, although he told Tomasson he prefers to be playing and thinks Ty has already completed his tutelage under Chauncey Billups.
Ty Lawson is the point guard of the future, who not only needs room to grow but a reliable long-term backup who can spell him when needed and embrace that role. Andre Miller is not that guy. He is a fine player and a great short-term asset for the remaining 50-odd games of the season. However, to Andre’s credit the numbers suggest he is more than capable of managing the freedom and the opportunities afforded to a starting point guard in the NBA. Miller is more than adequate in an extended bench role with a timeshare at the point guard position, but that’s not what he wants and I honestly do not blame him. Miller should explore his free agency options and seek a team willing to start him if we can take him at his word.
Andre Miller is a solid player and the Nuggets should not be in a rush to trade him for the sake of allowing him to become to a starter. The Nuggets still face the likely scenario that the best outcome for both sides is to eventually part ways regardless of what happens this season. With Rudy Fernandez, Julyan Stone, and no shortage of athletic wings on the roster, Denver is not hurting for guards to play off the bench. Assuming Andre Miller can bring back anything of moderate value for the future, the Nuggets should make the difficult but necessary long-term move and grant him a trade.
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