Staking a Claim is a new column that will be taking a look at all things Nuggets through the eyes of an outsider. As those who follow me on Twitter know I am a Bucks fan, so it will give Nuggets fans an opportunity to see things through the eyes of someone who follows the team closely but isn’t necessarily a fan. Please leave any subjects that you would like to see addressed in the future in the comments below or send them to me on Twitter @Matt_Cianfrone.
In the past few weeks there has been a dominant discussion in the comments section of just about every game recap: The staff here at Roundball Mining Company has been too harsh to Andre Miller.
Many people see his offensive line and wonder how we could give Andre such a good grade because he “kept the Nuggets in the game,” others say docking him for his defense as much as we do is not fair because he is old, slow and generally nonathletic.
What we keep trying to get across though is that the grades aren’t because Miller is bad at defense, again we don’t expect him to shut down Tony Parker or Chris Paul, but the problem is just a lack of effort.
Thanks to help from Cole Patty from the Portland Roundball Society, I have five videos from the first three quarters of the recent game against the San Antonio Spurs; which I recapped and was criticized for my grade on Miller because of his defense, to show just exactly what I am seeing that makes me kill Miller’s grades so much.
The videos will start from the simplest problems, those that you can live with if they happen once and a while and gradually get worse and worse; unfortunately the final three are just head scratchers that should not be happening.
The first play I will show comes from the 1:50 mark of the first quarter.
Before I get into what Miller did wrong on this play let me preface this by saying out of all the plays I have to show this is one of the plays where if Miller could have made a difference is in doubt. There is a chance that even if Miller did everything right, Tim Duncan still scores but there is also a chance that Miller at the very least could have made Duncan earn his points from the line.
The play starts and Miller does a good job of rotating to Ginobili, but after that all the good stops.
Once Manu gave the ball up Miller should have rotated down to Boris Diaw to take away the potential pass from Duncan. Instead he stands still and when Duncan beats Wilson Chandler to the basket with a pump fake, Miller is not able to step in and create a bit of resistance like he would have if he had properly dropped down to Diaw. Once Duncan misses though, it really shows the impact of Miller’s lack of effort. If he had dropped down to Diaw, Miller is at least in position to box out Duncan on his original shot. At the very least Miller could have fouled him and make him earn the points from the line. Instead Miller never travels back into the paint and Duncan gets an easy two points.
The second play comes in the last ten seconds of the third quarter.
In this play Miller makes two really bad plays. First he is way too far off of a corner shooter as he starts the play for some random reason down at the block helping nobody. It would have been one thing if Miller jumped down to that spot mid-play to help on the pick-and-roll but no, he just never moved from that spot. Instead Miller takes great pick-and-roll coverage from JaVale McGee and turns it into three points.
As you can see in the play JaVale levels Ginobili off very well, cutting off his straight line to the basket and instead forcing him more towards the baseline. Unfortunately for the Nuggets that good job of defense ends up being a really bad play when meshed with Andre Miller’s defensive scheme.
What ends up happening is Manu drives right towards the baseline and in front of Miller before dishing the ball to Miller’s man in the corner, effectively screening Miller with both himself and McGee. Not that it matters though, because as you see, Miller couldn’t be bothered to take a step or two towards the corner after the pass anyway.
Does Miller block the shot if he runs out? No. But he may have caused Corey Joseph to rush it a bit by providing even token effort.
Those first two plays are both frustrating, but at least understandable if they only happen every once and a while (for Dre it is more common than that though), but the final three plays I have are almost inexcusable.
This play comes first of the three because it ended up hurting the Nuggets least, coming at the 1:30 mark of the first quarter.
Miller did everything right to start the play. He sprinted back in transition, got into position on the block and waited. Then the Andre Miller effort came into play.
Instead of trying to take a charge or force Kahwi Leonard to give up the ball, Andre decided to let him go right past him and executes a perfect ole move. Miller is literally right in the way of Leonard and the basket and just turns away from the whole play as Leonard goes by him. Luckily for Dre, the Nuggets have other players back to put pressure on the shot and it is missed, but the fact that Leonard was able to get a layup when Miller was in the perfect position to stop it is terrible.
The final two plays are two examples of why I typically downgrade Miller’s grades because of his defense as both of them happen multiple times a game.
The first is the breaking of one of the most basic defensive fundamentals out there, I know it is because I teach it to the high school and middle school teams I coach on day one of practice, and typically they don’t mess it up after that.
I actually mentioned this play in the comments to someone in the Spurs recap because it stood out so prominently to me.
Two of the most basic rules of man-to-man defense in basketball are never turn your back to your man, and never turn your back to the ball. Yet every game, three or four times Andre Miller turns his back to his man and completely loses track of him.
First Miller turns his back to his man as he crosses the top of the key and he never really finds him again, which is problematic in two ways. First Joseph went to the corner to spot up; only the most efficient three pointer in the game, and Miller never knew exactly where in the corner he was. If the Spurs wanted to they had a pretty easy corner three there since, as we saw earlier, Miller probably would not have attempted to close out to the shooter. But Andre compounds his mistake as Joseph takes the smart play and breaks right for the rim as the ball handler dribbles at him for a wide open layup, since Miller never moved from his spot on the hash mark.
As I said before the worst part of this play is that for Andre Miller it happens typically two or three times a game and is just basic fundamentals.
The final example I have is one that more clearly than any other shows the lack of effort Andre Miller puts forth at times on the defensive end of the floor.
Miller gets screen by Dejuan Blair early in the Spurs motion and decides that after that screen he will take the rest of the play off. Now Miller’s pointing as Parker brings the ball up seems to show he understands the screen is coming, (or it is random Andre Miller pointing which also happens and causes confusion) so why he decides to give up after he gets hit is strange.
He just takes a step back towards the three point line and watches instead of chasing Blair down to the paint to try and rebound when the corner three is taken. Instead by hanging out on around the three point line he makes the rest of his teammates have to work extra hard to cover for him in their rotations and leaves the team shorthanded in rebounding after the scramble. This was not the only time that Miller stopped playing after being hit with a screen in this game, but it was the most obvious so I choose it to show.
These videos explain why exactly myself at least, and I assume some of the other graders; give Miller such a hard time about his defense. It has nothing to do with not being able to do the job at a high level, that isn’t expected. It is about following basic principles and giving a real effort.
Until Dre starts to do that for a full game, I will continue to ding his grade for it.
Thanks again to Cole Patty for grabbing the videos for me. If interested please follow Cole on Twitter @ErickLampier and join us in the Daily Dime Live chats to talk basketball as it happens.