Play-by-play announcer Pete Pranica shouts with authority as the basketball glides off the fingertips of sharpshooter Mike Miller with textbook precision and in the blink of an eye sails elegantly through the twine. Rick Trotter’s roar of “Mike Miller for three!” resonates through the PA system of an electrified FedEx Forum. A cult-like flock of Grizzlies fans flood the Twitterverse with a harmonious chord of chirps bellowing “Let it Fly!”.
Three points adorn the scoreboard for the Memphis Grizzlies.
To borrow a phrase from Pranica’s playbook, Miller’s shooting proficiency has been a significant bellwether of the Grizzlies’ success as a team, this season. Since the December 18th turning point, the Grizz are 16-3 (.842) in games in which Miller sinks 2 or more from the land of plenty. Over the same span, the team is 24-14 (.632 – still very respectable), in games which he does not.
This trend has continued to manifest itself in this young playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, as Miller’s trio of triples proved to be an incredible asset for the Grizzlies in their 111-105 victory, last Monday night. In 25 minutes of play, Miller led the team in +/- differential with a +13 for the game. Miller’s 3-point sorcery was uncharacteristically absent from the attack last night. He even air-balled a typically automatic look from the wing, but one would have to expect this to correct itself in time for the next rodeo, tomorrow.
For a franchise as recently devoid of long range marksmanship as our Grizzlies, every time Miller strokes one from deep feels like the fan base has just won the lottery. Okay, well not exactly, but you see where I’m going with this.
In just 20.8 minutes per night, Miller managed to lead this Grizzlies team with 107 three pointers on the year, clocking in at over 25% of the team’s total output. Miller’s 107 long-balls rank as the highest volume of threes in a single season by a Grizzly since OJ Mayo’s 136 in the 2009-10 campaign.
Unlike some of his previous counterparts, Miller has not been firing aimlessly to pad that total, however. He ranks second in the NBA among all qualified players from beyond the arc on the season with a 45.9% conversion rate from downtown, behind only Kyle Korver of the Atlanta Hawks. To top it off, he’s gone 48.1% from the field in total. How do his detailed individual measurables shake out, you ask? With a shot chart that’s as green as Augusta National and a situational breakdown of a 46.8% efficiency on transition threes, to shooting a 48.9% clip when coming off screens, to a 47.1% rate in spot up situations – I’m inclined to say pretty spectacularly. But we all know he’s a stellar shooter, right?
For the sake of discussion, we’ll leave his defense off the table for another day, because that’s a) no fun to talk about, and b) not what he was brought to Memphis to do, but his offensive impact has been tremendous for the team at large.
His proficiency adds a dimension to the Grizzlies’ offense that has essentially been absent since he was shipped off to Minnesota as part of the Mayo trade in the summer of ’08. With a long history of masonry from the perimeter, teams must exhibit an undisputed respect for his presence on the court, wherever he may be and whichever direction he may be going. The ability to use Miller as a glorified decoy, a crutch for when the defense sags onto the bigs, or straight up call his number to ring up a quick few points has been an option this season that the Grizzlies have not truly had for some time.
However you want to slice it, it feels good for the Grizzlies to have him out there offensively, and the numbers agree. Over the “revised” season segment that I described above, the Grizz are just short of two points better off, offensively, per 100 possessions (105.8 on vs. 103.9 off) with Miller on the floor. Additionally, ESPN rolled out a new “Real Plus-Minus” stat (RPM) a few weeks ago, which has Miller recorded at a 1.84 offensive RPM — a number that would put his offensive impact in the top 10 among small forwards and ahead of household names such as Chandler Parsons (1.35), Rudy Gay (0.58), and Paul George (0.03). Ahem, remember: this is exclusively offensively speaking.
As these measures aim to illustrate, the difference Miller can make on the court is not limited to sinking treys on his own accord. Whether or not he’s out there taking care of business, the fear that he might go off keeps opposing teams on their toes, opening up the court for others. One of the major things that Coach Joerger talked about when he took the job was spreading out the floor to get some cleaner looks for the bigs at the rim. Remember that “Grizzlies are 16-3…” stat I talked about above? Well through that span, in games that Miller connects on two or more three-pointers, Zach Randolph is shooting 49.3% from the field — stronger than his 46.7% season average. Over the season as a whole, the space that Miller provides has given Randolph a tremendous degree of freedom to maneuver, evidenced by Zbo’s shooting 50% in the non-restricted painted area with Miller on the court, versus 41.4% from the zone with him off it.
Further, consider the lineup of Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Mike Miller, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol — the most frequently used unit featuring Miller in the 2013-14 season. This lineup shot 66% in the restricted area, which is more than 10 percentage points higher than the Grizzlies’ overall 55.1% restricted area field goal percentage. Even with the Grindfather sharing the floor, the extra spacing provided by a gunner like Miller allows the other guys the room they need to operate around the basket.
Of course, this is all in good fun and far from perfect science. Sample sizes are so minuscule at these levels of data to draw any truly concrete conclusions from, that all considerations and assertions must be taken with a few grains of salt and a heaping spoonful of caveats. Nonetheless, I stand steadfast behind the message at large: Miller is awesome, and I’m happy to have him firing away for the good guys again.
A three-point bucket off the hands of Miller may count as another three ticks on the scoreboard just the same as any other, but the grand value of these looks transcends far beyond.
So let it fly, Mike Miller. Let it fly forever.
*all data from media.nba.com/stats and espn.com