February 10, 2019. Malcolm Miller is (finally) a Raptor. Again.
Though not a big name, there was some question as to what happened to the Raptors’ one-time wing. I thought this signing would have happened this summer. Heck, I thought Miller deserved his two-way contract be converted last season. While Lorenzo Brown played extremely well in the G League, Miller showcased a much better skill-set at the NBA level. In short, he looked like a player the Raptors could use.
But let’s temper the expectations here. While I am hyped over Miller’s return, I would be the first one to tell you: Miller will not come in and single-handedly change the Raptors (or their past playoff disappointments). Nevertheless, I do expect to see Miller get some random non-garbage time minutes though. When coupled with Kawhi Leonard’s load management, Norman Powell’s shaky play, or some possible rest days for stalwart Danny Green every now and then, some minutes could and should open up.
I won’t be re-hashing how Miller performed last year, as I already covered this in his 2017-18 Season Player Review last summer. He’s appeared in just a handful of games since injuring his shoulder at the Las Vegas Summer League and boxscore surfing his G League stats suggests he doesn’t stand out that much. I mean, he’s not dropping 30 points on a high usage rate under coach Jama Mahlalela.
Still, the Raptors kept Miller around, and after he’d returned from injury, Toronto re-signed him and brought him back to the main team. Now, as many have asked me: what can Malcolm Miller do?
Outside of Danny Green, Miller has to be the best at catch-and-shoot Raptor around the perimeter. Miller can get his catch-and-shoot opportunities from the following scenarios:
- Stationary/Spot-up (Excellent);
- Finding and moving to an open spot (Good); and
- Running/Sprinting into the spot via set play (OK).
Former Raptors 905 coach Jerry Stackhouse did not run that many plays for Miller last year, so a a majority of his perimeter shots came from kick-outs by their guards (i.e. Lorenzo Brown). Similar to my lament with Malachi Richardson, it would have been nice if Miller got some of those set plays used to free up the likes of C.J. Miles and Kyle Lowry behind the arc.
Miller’s size, quick release, and set point make his three-point shot harder to block. His shot is very economical, with no wasted movement. There’s almost no ball dip, so Miller basically catches the ball, holds it up to his set point, and shoots. It looks exactly the same, every single time. Quite similar to Danny Green (maybe even less so), he doesn’t use a lot of leg power on his shots.
Miller does not have that “jab step+step back combo” that Richardson likes to use to create his own perimeter shot, but he’ll size his man up and he’ll hoist it up if he can see some daylight.
The majority of readers here have probably seen Miller’s highlights from last season — specifically the games against Indiana Pacers and Houston Rockets. He looked good defending Victor Oladipo, didn’t he?
Well, Miller is not, say, Kawhi. He can’t effectively stop anyone, he’s not a shot blocker, nor someone that often plays the passing lanes for a steal. However, Miller is a fundamentally sound, well-rounded defender.
While Miller would have a hard time against physical players that would plough through him (i.e. the Kawhis, LeBrons, etc. of the NBA), he makes up on all the other things that he can do defensively, such as:
- Staying in front of his man. Miller does not have the high-end speed plus quickness combination, and similar to our guy Bruno Caboclo, he uses his size and length to allow himself to recover on defense. The main difference between him and Bruno is that Bruno acts on pure instinct, while Miller reads what his mark is trying to do;
- Ability to contest and deflect. Miller uses length to put a hand up on most shots and to create deflections. Whoever Miller is guarding, they have to blow by him otherwise it will be a tough shot as he almost always manages to have his hand up in the face of his opponent;
- Defensive IQ. Similar to Green, Miller reads what his man is trying to do, and makes the necessary adjustments — whether it’s going over or under screens to stay in front of his man, switching, or leading his man to the team’s shot blocker;
- Grit. Miller found himself playing at of positions at times with the Raptors 905 due to the team lacking in big men and also the switching nature of their defensive scheme. However, Miller consistently fights for positioning; and
- Defensive versatility. Miller should be able to defend most SG/SF/PF positions. In the G League, he’s demonstrated that he can even guard perimeter-based stretch 5s.
Role on the Raptors
Let’s review Miller’s role in the Raptors’ playbook now. I’m including a few plays here that @coopNBA documented on his YouTube channel. From here, I outlined a few sample plays on how Miller can be deployed.
Play Call: Snap 3
Miller would be an ideal screen setter for Kawhi to initiate the Snap 3 play. His gravity as a 3-point shooter would prevent his man from loading up on Kawhi on the post. And if they do, Miller’s IQ, length, and athleticism would get him open for an easy layup or a lob pass from the point guard since Miller is a good cutter from the weakside.
Play Call: 4/1 Pick and Roll
Pascal Siakam in the post against a point guard, with the defense threatening to collapse on him. First, Miller’s defender would be too wary to totally leave him, and as Pascal dances around his defender and the defense’s attention focus even more on him, Miller can find an open spot around the perimeter for a kick out if needed.
Play Call: 5 Weak Bench Flow/Bench Flow Baseline Stagger
I don’t know if Miller is capable of executing this as he’s a much better spot-up shooter than catch-and-shoot on the move. This is a play that was run for C.J. Miles or Terrence Ross in the past to move them around to their sweet spots around the perimeter. That said, this is a play I would like to see the Raptors run for Miller.
Bench Mob Fit
As of late, the Raptors’ bench hasn’t looked as strong as it did last year — despite some of the names coming off it. Right now, it makes me cringe to see a lineup of Norman Powell-Jeremy Lin-Patrick McCaw. None of those players can truly space the floor, and they often look uncomfortable getting the kick-out around the perimeter. Their instinct once they get the kick-out for a wide-open perimeter shot is to drive to the basket — which hasn’t worked as well as it should. Sure, Powell can get streaky from the perimeter at best, but Lin and McCaw can’t be expected to hit wide open perimeter shots on a consistent basis.
If used properly, Miller can provide that spacing, which would open up the paint for either Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka — or even Powell, who likes to drive to the basket. He’ll be ready for the kick-out, and as long as he’s playing with either Gasol or Lowry, they should be able to find him around the perimeter.
Now, I don’t know who’ll get the short end of the stick if Miller ends up getting some rotation minutes off the bench. McCaw’s minutes could be had, but he’s playing great defensively. It would hurt Powell’s psyche if he sees a DNP, and I’m pretty sure that Nurse’s plan is to empower Powell throughout the rest of the season. Maybe the Lowry+Lin minutes could go? While Lowry is starting to peak, you don’t want to see Lowry overdo it down the stretch.
As much as I am hyping Miller, he doesn’t come without flaws.
- Physicality. Miller is best suited defending face-up players, and he’s struggled defending bigger and stronger guys, especially around the paint;
- At the mercy of his ball-handlers. Miller relies a lot on his ball-handler’s kick-out or set up, otherwise it will be hard to get Miller his touches. If he is playing alongside shoot-first guards, he can go several possessions without a field goal attempt; and
- Shot creation. Miller doesn’t have the handle to create his own shot from the perimeter, nor on drives to the basket.
With Miller, the Raptors are not getting a superstar. Instead, they are getting one who could potentially be ready for some plug-and-play action. Miller is a low-maintenance role player. He does not need the ball on his hands often or for too long to make an impact. If given the opportunity, he can be a good system guy — he’ll shoot open threes, cut to the basket, provide some floor spacing, and defend. That’s the modern 3+D and that’s what he can be.
Could we be looking at a potential Danny Green understudy? Miller surely fits the mould of a 3+D wing that can defend multiple positions. He’s got the length and basketball IQ. Is he ready for spot rotation minutes? I think so, or at least, the garbage time eye-test suggests he is. When Miller was thrown into the starting spot last year, he looked pretty good.
With 14 games to go, I think it’s time for Miller to get an extended look. While he may not be a priority for the Raptors, he may help Toronto more than they think.