#NuggetsRank No. 6: Andre Miller

Landing at the No. 6 spot in our #NuggetsRank series is point guard Andre Miller, consummate professional, tireless workhorse, and by many accounts George Karl’s favorite player on the team. Last season Miller, along with Al Harrington, assumed a role of veteran leadership to help guide Denver’s young roster to a .576 record and sixth seed in the Western Conference. Playing all 66 games in the lockout-shortened season, he continued to lead the league in fewest missed games among players with 10+ seasons with an amazingly low six DNPs in 13 years in the NBA.

As everybody not living under a rock knows by now, Karl has fully exploited having the luxury of two starting caliber point guards on his squad, frequently deploying both at once in small ball lineups aimed at maximizing offensive efficiency by having a multitude of playmakers on the floor. In addition to Karl, Harrington and Miller received a hefty amount of criticism from fans dubious of this approach, as they played big minutes in closing stretches of games, sometimes to a net positive winning result, but often with the negative side effect of struggles on the defensive end.

There is some evidence lending credibility to the critique that Miller was overplayed. Last season, the Nuggets were the definition of average in games in which Miller played 30 minutes or more, going 11-11 (.500), while in contrast performing at a much higher level in games where he played fewer than 30 minutes, going 27-17 (.614). (Subtracting the games that Lawson missed, these records change to 9-9 and 27-16, respectively – not a significant difference, percentage-wise).

It is also true that Dre’s performance is slipping at this point in his career. His PER has steadily declined each year since the 2008-09 season, taking its biggest drop from 17.8 to 14.8 last season with Denver. Granted, the fact that he played five fewer minutes per game than the previous season and came off the bench accelerated the slippage, but the trajectory is clear: Miller’s game is on the wane.

Despite all this, at least for now Andre Miller rightly deserves his rank as the best Nuggets player outside the five who debuted the skyline alternates. Lawson may be the high-horsepower engine that drives Denver’s offense, but Miller has been a steady hand to right the course when the ship has gone astray.

A fair rebuttal to the critique above is that it’s really not Miller’s fault if Karl overplays him. He doesn’t dictate the rotations, he just does his job when called upon. But beyond that, there were a good number of games last season when the team as a whole was just not playing very well and he assumed the initiative to take control and start making some plays to get the Nuggets back into the game. On a roster of so many developing, inexperienced players, his knowledge, knack and feel for the game is a valuable asset.

When it comes to creating his own offense, Miller may be a mediocre shooter, but he is arguably the best post player Denver has, and one of the best post-up guards in the league. His veteran craftiness probably exceeds his actual skill set, but he knows how to execute down low, and put himself in a great position to draw fouls and get to the free throw line, or dish off to cutters or perimeter shooters.

And of course passing is where he excels the most. One of the league’s better distributors, his 36.5 assist rate was Denver’s highest, and despite Lawson averaging over seven minutes more per game, Miller slightly exceeded him in assists. More than any other Nugget, he has demonstrated the ability to make the players around him better. (JaVale McGee’s improvement after being traded to the Nuggets is at least in part a testament to this).

Dre’s defense remains a liability, especially in the two PG lineups. Given the declining trajectory he’s on, and the addition of his former Philadelphia 76ers teammate Andre Iguodala – a great passer in his own right, and by far the superior defender – it will be interesting to see whether George Karl continues this season to give him big minutes off the bench. Especially in fourth quarter situations, Karl will have to come to a reckoning between two philosophies: 1) His belief that the best way to win in the clutch is making stops and letting defense create the offense; and 2) His desire to field his veteran playmaker, who he trusts to make the right basketball decisions. Most likely, he won’t be able to have his cake and eat it, too.

But for now, this is a favorable “problem” for a coach to have, and the Nuggets are fortunate to have a player of Miller’s quality at a backup position.

Follow me on Twitter

  • CJP32

    Nice read Joel, we are lucky to have a player of Millers calibre on our team. He’s a workhorse and a warrior and does what it takes to lead this team when his number is called. I see him being more of a leader than what Ty is, and we will need him to steady the ship this season over 82 games.

    He makes our 2nd Unit so dangerous because he knows exactly where each player wants the ball and knows when to take over the offense. I just hope that his minutes are managed well and that he isn’t overplayed early in the season, there is no reason why he should be playing 24+ minutes per night.

  • Ban Johnson

    Nuggets have a lot of high-energy chaos guys — it’s the identity of the team. Karl doesn’t even want all that much control from guys like Lawson, Iguodala, Chandler, Brewer, Faried, Koufos, and McGee; he basically wants push, push, push from them, all the time. Run fast, constant penetration, don’t hold the ball, pound the boards. And with all the energy and talent, that approach should overwhelm much of the league, much of the time.

    Miller is the balance to all that, the consummate control guy. The professor. And on some nights, that will be just the ticket. (Gallo at times has some of that calming effect too. When in doubt where to go with the ball, just throw it to Gallo on the wing, and let him slowly initiate the offense.)

  • EWilson

    I think the addition of Iguodala will allow Karl to lighten the load on Miller a little, which could even increase the efficiency of the second unit as Miller gets more time to work solely with them. And, I see Iguodala picking up those minutes late in the 4th quarter of close games where he can provide both playmaking and defense. That will probably help keep Miller fresher for the playoff run, where his veteran savvy might require he play a few more minutes a game.

  • Thomas

    Miller was, is and will always be a defensive liability. No team has ever done much with Miller playing a significant role. Don’t expect that to change if GK continues on with his stubborn infatuation with playing Miller.

    • CJP32

      Hes not so much a defensive liability when hes teamed up with Brewer, Ty, McGee, Iggy, Faried etc. His role is to pass, but sure he’s slower than most PGs, but he’s also smarter.

      This 2nd Unit defensively just got better with the addition of Chandler, and if McGee also comes off the bench, it is able to score as well. Looks like C Brew has taken the role of scoring option more seriously and wants to lead in that category, whilst creating chaos still on the defensive end. If JHam finds his niche, he will have a place to.

      Andre Miller brings stability to the roster, and gets the 2nd Unit working well.

      • Thomas

        Smart player? Does he shoot 50%? Has he improved his defense every year? For a PG that can create his own shot inside, his field goal percentage is weak.

        On a limited role he can contribute. At 25+ minutes a game our hopes of becoming western conference champs fade.

        • BMW

          I’d like to see Andre’s FG% minus shotclock-desperation attempts. Fact of the matter is SOMEONE has to take those shots.

          Andre is very good for what he is. As long as Karl realizes that we have a top-30 player who plays the same position as Dre, we’re in good shape.

  • Jeff

    His game might be waning but I think Miller will have a better season than last year, and all the bigs coming off the bench like McGee and Randolph are going to get a lot of confidence off of Andre Miller lobs. With Harrington gone and Iguodala in, I think this should solidify Andre Miller as the bench leader, and I doubt he will play quite so many crunch time minutes.

  • Nugnugz

    Quincy Miller has a nice post game as well and I hope to see more of it.

  • Erlingur

    Say what you want about his defense, but he is a guy who’s not to be fucked with:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLAPJiETLCE

    • SmokinNugs

      This is so awesome!

  • KW

    Dre,

    We know you pretty well. You half assed your way thru the first half of the season last year hoping for a trade to a team that would make you a stater.
    After the deadline, you played ok. Your game in Philly showed you can put the team on your back when you want. You just don’t seem to want to very often.
    You get too (WAY TOO MANY) many minutes at the 2 and keep better players off the floor. GK loves you. I guess I think you’re all right, just over used.
    You suck on D.

  • Marcel

    I like his “badass” personna. He will pay you back if dissed, and there are plenty of yahoo pics of his dirty retributions. The team needs someone who won’t back down and cower to the bigger teams, and he really is one of the best at leading by example in this categroy