During the offseason, Larry Bird and the rest of the Indiana Pacers talked a lot about Paul George playing power forward. Bird first suggested it at the end-of-season press conference, George soon responded with some hesitation, then the two of them, along with coach Frank Vogel, proceeded to go back and forth about it in public for the rest of the summer.
The move was obviously a point of contention, but during the preseason, the experiment worked swimmingly. A dozen games into the regular season, though, and George has effectively played zero power forward. Instead, that dirty work has gone to C.J. Miles.
Things wound up this way for the 6-foot-6 Miles because no matter how the lineups are listed, opposing teams typically throw their best perimeter player on George and leave their power forward to chase Miles around instead. Part of the aim of getting George time at that position was to create mismatches against big men, but that simply hasn’t happened, since no one is foolish enough to try to deal with George like that. Opponents would rather take their chances with Miles, which is certainly the lesser of two evils in that situation.
The 10-year veteran has been game for the challenge, however, and has uttered nothing negative whatsoever about his new responsibilities. It’s still not an ideal matchup, but with Chase Budinger and Glenn Robinson III as the only other players on the roster with the size and shooting to play an effective stretch 4, Miles is clearly the Pacers’ best option to proceed with their new spread style.
Really, at this point in time, Miles is the strategic fulcrum, the only guy on the roster who even allows Indiana to truly play small ball. So far, that matchup has paid off both ways.
Miles has missed three games with a foot injury, so the Pacers have been slow integrating him into their new offense, especially in the half court. Not to mention, the team is also trying to navigate Monta Ellis’s involvement, which is a more difficult proposition with his ball dominance.
As long as he stays healthy, Miles should become the weapon Indiana is hoping for on offense. While he’s not an elite shooter or athlete, he’ll have no problem creating space for his quick release and current 41 percent three-point clip against opposing bigs. There’s even a little bit of off-the-bounce verve to his game –– a nice wrinkle for oversized defenders with overzealous closeouts.
Despite waiting his turn as the fourth option, Miles has still managed to be a productive scorer for Indiana so far, averaging 13.4 points and 2.6 threes per game. Most of that has come on drive-and-kicks from George and Ellis, who have assisted on 18 of his 40 field goals, as well as in transition, where Miles has scored 25 percent of his points. That’s part of the beauty of the Pacers’ new style: Miles doesn’t require a refined role to be able to make an impact. His ability to space and run the floor stretches out defenses and creates confusion, which is why he’s been so effective in transition particularly.
As ideal as Miles has been on offense for this team, he’s been giving it back some on the defensive end of the floor. Miles would normally play small forward or shooting guard, and he’s actually built strongly for those positions. But he doesn’t have exceptional length, and he’s listed at 6-6 and 230 pounds. Predictably, opposing power forwards have been killing him on the glass.
Indiana’s team rebounding percentage this season has been 49.1 overall. With Miles on the court, that number falls to 44.1 percent, and with him off the court, it rises to 52.5, well above the team average. That’s not good, but it’s not surprising given how overmatched he is physically at that position. Miles works hard on the boards, and he can only do so much. The Pacers need to improve overall at gang rebounding as a team, and that’s going to be true in the case of any future with a spread offense.
That transition is a work in progress, and nowhere is it clearer than in the lineup numbers for the team’s starting five of Hill, Ellis, George, Miles and Ian Mahinmi. That group has been Indiana’s most-played lineup to date this season, and their net rating has been a disappointing -14.9, with an 87.5-102.5 offensive-defensive split. Rebounding has definitely been at the heart of that group’s issues: they grab just 37.2 percent of available rebounds while opponents are scoring 5.3 second-chance points per game and snagging 34 percent of their misses against that five-man crew. Again, that’s not something Miles can fix on his own.
At the same time, those rates aren’t sustainable for a team’s most-used lineup, and something will have to change if that continues, ideally team rebounding if you’re the Pacers. Really, the team could use another big wing to man the 3 and 4 spots, but that seems unlikely given Indiana’s lack of assets.
For right now, they’ll continue to run Miles out there, and he’ll continue to do a damn admirable job in that role. However, if that lineup hopes to eventually find success –– given its length and scoring talent, it has a legitimate chance –– it’s going to have to match Miles’s model effort and give him some help on the glass.