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Player Preview 2017-18: C.J. Miles’ shooting can unlock new potential for Raptors

The Raptors need shooting, and C.J. Miles can shoot. Here’s how Toronto’s newest veteran fits in to this season’s plans.

NBA: Toronto Raptors-Media Day John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

For many NBA teams, the addition of C.J Miles wouldn’t create much buzz, but for Raptor fans, it should.

The Raptors sported the NBA’s sixth most efficient offense a season ago, but despite this, were rather abysmal from beyond the three-point line, particularly in the playoffs where they converted at a clip of just 33 percent.

C.J. Miles is not the biggest, strongest or fastest player on the basketball court, but his elite ability to shoot the basketball and inject the team with energy and veteran experience, could go a long way for a Raptor’s team that has seemed somewhat stuck in the mud. In theory, losing the likes of Terrence Ross last season, and then Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph (who was traded for Miles) in the off season didn’t seem too problematic, and in the case of Carroll, was even rather relieving.

Here’s where it gets slightly uncomfortable.

The Raptors combined for 725 made three-pointers a season ago, a number that had them sitting 21st across the association in this department as it was. Of those 725 conversions, 346 of them were flicked from the wrists of Patterson, Carroll, Joseph and Ross — an incredible amount of shooting to try and renew, making the addition of Miles all the more significant to this Raptor team.

The combination of Miles ability, age and price tag (3 yrs/$25 million) makes him an optimal addition for Toronto heading into one of the most volatile seasons in NBA history. The 30-year-old is coming off one of his best seasons as a marksman in the NBA where he converted on a career high 169 three-point attempts at a mark of 41.3 percent — a better rate than any Raptor shot last season with a minimum 25 games played.

Don’t let the number 30 scare you, either. Miles is a proven veteran in the NBA and the Raptors, believe it or not, are one of the youngest teams in the Association. Like Lowry, Miles shooting has seemed to improve with age and should at least remain steady this season.

Anyways, talk is cheap, so let’s really delve into just how C.J Miles can work in fruition with the likes of Lowry, DeRozan and the rest of the team.

Multi-dimensional Scoring Ability

At 6’6’’ inches, Miles provides size and length at both ends of the court and offers positional malleability. Of course, Miles can strike with efficiency from beyond the arc, but his noted size and scoring ability also creates a world of possibilities in the paint for the Dallas native. Miles is particularly comfortable facing up defenders while attacking the paint. He may not have the footwork of DeRozan or the quickness of Lowry when getting inside, but his size and tenacity allow him to take advantage there when need be.

Watch here as Miles is able to come off a series of off-ball pin down screens in an effort to escape to the paint for an open look.

Small Ball

Miles size and skill set will allow the Raptors to slot him in anywhere from the two to the four spot. Last season, the Raps were hopeful that the acquisition of Serge Ibaka would unlock a type of small ball that they had been unable to run out under previously constituted rosters. Ibaka offered a little bit from three-point range, but not quite what Raptor faithful were hoping for.

A large part of deploying a successful small-ball lineup is the ability of front-court players to hit threes, particularly from the corners. Having a big man step out to the corner and pose a real threat if left unattended forces defending big men east and west, rather than north and south, which better clears the lane for your ball handlers to get to work.

Much of why the Raptor’s small ball approach fell short of expectations, was due to Ibaka’s inability to become a genuine threat from the corner’s — something that C.J. Miles should be able to fix almost immediately.

Take a look at last year’s shot chart’s for Miles and Ibaka respectively and note their efficiency (or lack there of) from the corners.

For whatever reason, Ibaka is much more efficient from above the break, a more difficult shot on average to hit. Miles on the other hand was second in the Association when it comes to corner-three efficiency, shooting 50 percent or better from either side — a lethal weapon that now lay in the Raptors toolbox.

Working a lineup with Miles at the four and Ibaka at the five, would be an interesting small-ball experiment that may allow for a great deal of switch-ability with the potential to scramble opposing defenders. With Ibaka threatening from above the break and Miles in the corners, driving lanes will open up for the ball handler and teams will be forced to make quick decisions defensively — often an Achilles heel for any defensive unit.

Enhancing and Defusing Iso-ball

After being embarrassed by the Cleveland Cavaliers in round two of last year’s post-season, Masai Ujiri told the masses that a serious “culture change” would be coming on the hardwood in Toronto. If you are still clinging onto this notion, I will proceed to burst your bubble — it ain’t happening. At least, not yet.

If the Raptors want to stray away from iso-heavy basketball, they need to unlock the prospect of perimeter play and build a core of reliable shooters. Miles is a step in the right direction.

On the flip side, a player like Miles can actually work to enhance an iso-ball approach. If Miles can prove to be a threat from outside early in the season (which he should be), all of the sudden, help defenders will have to think twice before attempting to trap or hedge out a Lowry or DeRozan on the move.

Miles also proved to be one of the deadliest catch-and-shooters a season ago, scoring an average of 6.5 points per-game in just 23 minutes (12th in the NBA) at a clip of 42.2 percent. This adds another weapon to the Raptors arsenal as Miles himself can be included in high pick-and-roll action, forcing the defender to respect his shooting ability and choose between allowing the open shot at the expense of an easy lane for the ball-handler.

Watch here as Miles presence on the perimeter forces defender Wayne Ellington (#21) into a difficult decision.

With a less competent shooter in that spot, such as Ibaka, the defender may choose to completely disregard the shooter and go full tilt to help on the attacking player. Here, Ellington is caught in the middle and ultimately, is caught in no-mans land due to the indecision created by Miles ability to hit the shot. Any screen action with DeRozan or Lowry as the ball-handler, just got a lot more difficult to defend with Miles on the floor.

The Raptors will need to iron out the kinks in the first month or so, but the continuity of their core group of players should allow them to get a head start in terms of building chemistry. Miles cannot bump this team up a tier by himself, but his style of play in combination with that of Lowry and DeRozan will be helpful, and adding more players like him could help manifest quite the basketball juggernaut in Toronto.