As we welcome Malcolm Miller to year three of his NBA career, this season’s training camp with the Raptors is his make-or-break opportunity. Currently, Miller is sitting on a partial guarantee — he’s in for $150k if the Raptors waive him by the first day of the regular season. As it is, Miller has the entire camp to prove once again that he’s made for a role on this team, and to be perhaps part of the Raptors’ future.
Miller’s combination of skill set as the prototypical 3-and-D wing with size (6’7”) still makes him an intriguing prospect. After showing us a glimpse of how he would look like playing alongside the starters (with OG Anunoby and Norman Powell both injured), everybody wanted to see more. But that was two years ago. Last year, an injury derailed his chances of making the team and he had to claw back from the G League to earn a roster spot right around the trade deadline.
Miller’s 2018-19 season was mostly spent playing with the Raptors 905, offering a third scoring option behind Chris Boucher and the now departed Jordan Loyd. Due to the 905’s lack in size on the frontcourt, Miller found himself playing a lot in the small-ball power forward position. It was a good look for Miller, as we saw his defensive versatility. He was often tasked with covering smaller guards all the way to the big men. And he held his own.
In the NBA, Miller’s minutes came too few and far between. I bet the last time you really saw him on the court was when he had to play centre against Boban Marjanovic in Game 6 against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Earlier this summer, Miller played on the Raptors Las Vegas Summer League team, and his performance was up and down, to say the least. Miller started the first two games cold, going 1-for-10 from the perimeter while offering little else offensively in his first two games. It’s also a bit disappointing to see that his defense was sub-par during that stretch; Miller had a hard time keeping up with Lonnie Walker IV, who dropped 32 points on the Raptors.
From what I’ve heard, there was some confusion as to whether Miller would be added to the Summer League team, given the turnaround time between the title run and the start of the Raptors' tournament camp. Miller learned he’d be part of the team days before the start of camp, and I guess the short turnaround time affected his legs and rhythm.
In contrast, Miller approached the back half of his Summer League stint with a good balance of urgency and composure, putting his potential on display — and then some. Against the Knicks and the Pacers, Miller was aggressive in looking for his shots, and not just around the perimeter. He showed a good counter when his outside jumper was taken away by driving hard to the basket, and sometimes taking the contact in the process. Miller’s defensive intensity and versatility guarding multiple positions were also on display.
While it’s hard to assess a player based on their Summer League play (can’t get too high or too low), it’s hard not to put Miller’s performance under the microscope. His two main skills — shooting and defense — were streaky at best, which is something of a concern going forward.
Role on the Team
For a “prospective” role player/specialist, it’s easy to say that it’s hard to “pop” as a role player in the Summer League because of subpar teammates, mediocre play, and limited playing time. However, Miller should be able to showcase that he can consistently hit his open shots and play passably on defence, regardless of the competition.
Fortunately for Miller, he now has the entire Raptors training camp to make a case for a roster spot, and he will get a chance to run with better players. With Miller’s skill-set, his play can be elevated if he’s running with actual NBA players, especially guys who can create shots for him.
The Raptors currently have 12 guaranteed contracts, and Miller is among the five partial/non-guaranteed contracts on the camp. While it’s tough to see the “Exhibit 10” players crack Toronto’s roster, Miller is facing a stiff competition from Chris Boucher (option needs to be picked up by Oct. 22, 2019) and the trio of partial guaranteed contracts of Dewan Hernandez, Isaiah Taylor, and Cameron Payne.
It’s a tall order for Miller, as the team is stacked at the 2/3/4-spots with the incumbent players on the team (OG Anunoby and Norman Powell) plus the recent signees (Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson). However, Miller is the only one on the team that can truly slide between those three positions and still provide solid 3-and-D capabilities. He’s also got a critical advantage that at least half of those aforementioned players lack: he can provide reliable perimeter shooting.
Still, aside from his defense, Miller needs to show an even more refined shooting touch — his spot-up looks will always be there, and his dribble hand-off (DHO) game is getting better. But he needs to improve his ability to read and react quickly on a given play as to how it’s unfolding. Miller won’t be tasked with doing much more than relocating himself around the perimeter for a kick-out pass, but that’s a valuable skill in and of itself.
This is basically the gap that Danny Green left, and just like Green, Miller doesn’t need to necessarily improve his handle to become a useful NBA player. (Danny can’t, and shouldn’t dribble for more than three bounces.) Miller once again just needs to be a reliable 3-and-D specialist. Will it be enough to keep him in Toronto? We’ll see.
If Miller can nail those three major perimeter aspects of his game (shooting, DHOs, read-and-react), it should make it difficult for the Raptors coaching staff to pass up on him — especially on a roster that’s starting to look like it’ll struggle shooting from the perimeter.