Andre Miller has always been polarizing in his own unique way, he’s dichotomy personified. His favorable perception around the league, fed by a grouchy likability, stood in stark contrast to Nuggets fans constant exasperation with the veteran. To the layman, Miller is a fun, lob-throwing anecdote. To the basketball junkie he’s the embodiment of “old man” game, lauded for an evergreen post game imbued with doctoral ingenuity and a grumpy personality that old age tends to make endearing. But to the Nuggets fan, Dre was the point guard who perpetually took the ball out of Ty Lawson’s hands, never gave a damn on defense, and highjacked the offense for possessions on end whenever he felt like it. It didn’t help that the amount of slack on George Karl’s leash around him could’ve tied a bow around the globe.
There were legitimate reasons why so many find Miller’s game so enthralling, his approach to playing point guard is so unique. He’s incredibly beguiling on offense when he wants to be, launching half court lobs that come only at the most inopportune times for the defense. He alone seemed to be able to salvage JaVale McGee’s career, weaponizing his freakish athleticism with alley-oops in a way no other player or coach could replicate. He could probe the paint off a pick with all the speed and grace of an upended tortoise and yet, no matter who was standing in his way, he’d would always find a path to the rim.
Miller’s style of play lends itself to the “crafty veteran” label that fits in well with many of his incumbent talents, but also assigns him qualities that don’t always apply to him. His leadership style, in the rare case it would make an appearance, would often replace soothing platitudes with jarring pragmatism. In the midsts of Denver’s historic (for the franchise) run last regular season, Miller couldn’t help but put a wet blanket on the idea that the Nuggets were a dark horse contender. In typical Andre Miller fashion the prediction was unwanted, some might even say unwarranted, but eventual turned out to be right.
His defense, termed as middling by most (and, going off the way he sometimes subbed him in on defensive possessions, elite by George Karl), tended to be significantly worse than what was typically purported. He was lazy on the ball and didn’t really seem to exist in our plane of existence off it. Offensively, he’d tend to use his “veteran savvy” to reign in a team born to run so he could dribble out the shot clock in a leisurely manner. He’d “craftily” sulk when the ball wasn’t in his hands and stand in a corner no one bothered to guard.
But it was those imperfections, the ones that so infuriated Denver’s fan base, that made Miller so likable to those without that much at stake. In a game that rewarded demigod-level athleticism and strength, Miller succeeded – and failed- so humanly. His 52-point performance against Dallas may as well been the culminating achievement of mankind.
While we as of yet lack the specific details behind Miller’s fight with Shaw, it’s not hard to deconstruct what went down. Miller abhors mediocrity almost as much as he dislikes having his control usurped and both came to a head after an unceremonious benching in the midsts of a horrendous loss to the awful Sixers. Shaw’s yearning to implement a certain amount of control over the team is typical of first-time head coaches, but it remains an approach that seemed inevitably destined to clash with a deep-rooted veteran like Andre. Why would Miller cling to what he always viewed as a sinking ship when he could no longer even respect its captain?
Ultimately that’s what I’ll remember from Andre Miller’s time in Denver, his impertinence towards everything: towards his coach, towards his predefined role as “veteran leader”, towards the guy who thinks he has a chance to guard him in the post, towards hitting a game winner in the playoffs, towards playing second fiddle to anyone, towards a singular defining narrative, towards age itself. Miller was so polarizing because, while his game was so eminently relatable, he himself was not. Just like his ability to conjure up layups off of two dribbles and a creaky spin-move, Miller has always been a mystery. And now he’s someone else’s enigma to solve.