C.J. Miles’s first year with the Indiana Pacers didn’t go as planned. Signed in tandem with Rodney Stuckey to help replace the shooting and slashing capabilities of the departed Lance Stephenson, it didn’t exactly happen that way for him, at least not right away.
Miles was among the Pacers whose role was most affected by Paul George’s unexpected, season-ending leg fracture during the Team USA camp in August, as he wound up starting at small forward in place of George on opening night instead of coming off the bench in his more comfortable role. He was also forced to shoulder a larger-than-anticipated share of the scoring load, since Indiana was also without both George Hill and David West at the time, each missing long periods due to injuries.
On top of his own knee and migraine issues, the sudden scope of big responsibility on a new team proved to be too much for Miles, and although he scored 12 points per game, he shot just 31 percent from three and 37 percent overall in 43 games of struggle prior to the All-Star break.
After the break, Miles, much like the rest of his team, turned things around completely and started lighting it up, posting a 43.8/39.7/82.3 shooting slash line and scoring 15.2 points in 28.2 minutes per game. The returns of Hill and West, as well as Stuckey’s big second half, allowed Miles to return to a more comfortable spot-up role off the ball where he thrived, as the leap in his numbers show.
Beyond the numbers, Miles looked more comfortable as well, showing the kind of quick decision-making for keeping the defense off-balance that’s important for role players. When the ball arrived, he was happy to pull the trigger, make the extra pass or even take defenders off the bounce, the latter an area where Miles proved to be a surprisingly effective attacker who could still throw it down. Between his range and ability to be an effective offensive cog, he became an indispensable wing for the 2014-15 Pacers:
With Indiana’s new transition to a smaller, faster style of play, Miles could be an even more vital part of the team’s formula this season. The key element of the team’s new attack will rely on George’s ability to play the power-forward position and become sort of a perfect playmaking 4. It’s designed to make things easier for George on offense and create mismatches on that end, but on defense, coach Frank Vogel has already expressed a desire to minimize the potential for bruising big-man contact with George.
So far during preseason, that’s where Miles has come in, taking the defensive responsibility from George on less-threatening offensive power forwards. While this wrinkle does increase Miles’s amount of physical strain and create a mismatch for offensive rebounds, it also allows George to guard the other team’s best perimeter player, one of his elite abilities that makes him a special player. That’s an important switch, and Miles has done an admirable and humble job holding up his end to this point. His ability to sustain this arrangement –– however situational it’ll be –– will be an important part of Indiana’s team defense, which could rely more on double-teams, swarming and switches than it has in recent years.
On offense, Miles’s value is obvious. The Pacers want to run the floor better and more often this season, play smaller and score more points. Those are all things Miles does well, and while he’s not very big at about 6-7, that’s big enough to make him a viable candidate to play some power forward on this team. George can’t play all the time, and in lineups where this team goes super-small, Miles represents the next-best choice to fill the decision-making role required of a stretch 4.
In most sets, though, he’ll share the responsibilities of the two forward spots with George, and he’ll probably mix in at shooting guard on certain nights, depending on the size and speed of the other team, or foul trouble, or any of the other various issues that pop up during the regular season. Miles’s ability to play three positions helps immensely in that regard, but the most important ability he brings to this team is his shooting range.
Other than George and Hill, Miles is the only player on the team with proven three-point range over a sustained number of years. New addition Monta Ellis has missed two-thirds of his career three-point attempts while Stuckey’s 39 percent clip from last season was a total anomaly compared to the rest of his career, and Chase Budinger hasn’t been a meaningful NBA contributor in years. When you want to spread the floor, you need more than that, especially since chances are strong that Hill or George might have the ball in their hands to start.
Miles gives the Pacers the off-ball threat they need on offense, the kind of Korver-esque, runaround gunslinger that teams covet and will have to be accounted for on the floor at all times –– at least, that’s the hope, depending on how this new experiment goes for Indiana. Even if it fails overall, Miles, a consummate professional entering his 11th season, looks like one part of the plan that Indiana can count on.
Underneath most of the talk about Miles’s importance to Indiana is this: outside of George, no one else on the Pacers gives the team what he does. He’s a great shooter, canny scorer and effective system player, as well as a competent individual defender with length and a willingness to buy in to team defense.
Additionally, only Budinger backs up Miles on the depth chart in terms of meaningful NBA resumés, and he’s been predictably unimpressive during the preseason as he attempts to come back from years of injuries. After Bud, it’s Solomon Hill or Glenn Robinson III, and while both have intrigued the Pacers at one time or another, neither looks apparently ready to play an important role in the rotation.
Things might not have started exactly right for C.J. Miles in Indiana, but a year later, his services are exactly what this team needs, and this time, the Pacers hope they won’t be asking for too much from him either. He’s a strong, system-dependent role player who will be at the middle of the team’s new playing style, and his success could become an effective barometer for how Indiana’s switchover goes overall.