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Role Player of the Week: C.J. Miles

Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports

We know everything Stephen Curry and LeBron James do. We sound the alarm over every Anthony Davis block and dunk.

That’s all fair, but it makes it easy for role players to not get properly recognized. In the ebb and flow of the season, several role players go through hot streaks that go under the radar.

We’ll try to rectify this issue by awarding a Role Player of the Week Award. This is to highlight a superb week by a player who may not get a ton of coverage. The Week 5 winner is C.J. Miles.

Miles had one of his worst games of the year against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday and had just an average game on Friday. But his performance on Tuesday was enough to propel him to this award by itself.

While Paul George’s monster 40-point game was the headline, Miles was almost as impressive, as he had 32 points and connected on eight of his nine triples. George and Miles teamed up to hit 15 threes, and the Pacers hit a team-record 19.

The unbelievable shooting continued Miles’s hot start to the season from deep. In his 11th season, Miles has career best totals in points per game and three-point attempts and percentage. He’s never shot over 40 percent on threes for an entire season, and he’s currently sitting at 45.1 percent.

While that may signal some regression, there are reasons to believe that Miles can continue to have more success than he’s had in years past. And the biggest of those reasons is that Miles has been the biggest offensive beneficiary of Indiana’s small ball look.

Opposing teams that play two traditional big men aren’t going to ask a big to guard Paul George, so Miles is the obvious choice. But big men have found guarding him to be extremely difficult.

Guards and wings aren’t just better three-point shooters than big men most of the time, but they’re quicker too. Miles in particular has a very quick release that most big men aren’t used to guarding.

Watch Kris Humphries on this play. Humphries is used to helping on the drive as a big man, but in this case helped way too far off a good shooter. John Wall and Marcin Gortat had George guarded pretty well, but Humphries’s instincts as a big told him to contain the drive. George got Miles the ball with no hesitation, and the swingman let a three fly:

If that’s a big man, Humphries’s closeout would probably have been quick enough. But Miles got rid of the ball too quickly to be given that much space.

A huge portion of Miles’s success has been from knowing exactly what he is on offense. He knows he’s effective as a shooter, and when big men are guarding him, he looks to bring them out into territory they aren’t comfortable in and attack.

55.9 percent of shot attempts by Miles this season have been above the break threes, per NBAsavant.com. He’s continued to settle in those areas and wait for one of the Pacers’ playmakers to find him.

Miles has had some difficulties on the defensive end guarding power forwards. George is better equipped for that duty, but is also the best perimeter defender on the team. That leaves Miles, who’s 6’6, giving lots of height to most of the men he guards.

Nikola Mirotic abused Miles inside for most of Indiana’s victory against Chicago. With the rest of the team struggling mightily offensively, Mirotic continued to post up Miles with success.

But Miles has been willing to sacrifice his body from day 1 this year, and he often makes it just hard enough for the opposing big to be effective. Even if he’s giving up a lot of buckets, he’s been getting more back on the other end recently.

Indiana has stuck with small ball despite some mixed early results. The team has been much better for most of the year with two big men in its lineup, but lately, small ball has been a deadly weapon. Every one of the starters in Indiana’s small ball lineup averaged a +13 or better in the Pacers’ wins against Washington and Chicago, per NBA.com.

The success of Indiana’s small ball lineup was thought to be dependent on how well George adjusted to it. And while George is putting himself in the MVP conversation (non-Stephen Curry division), Miles has been a huge factor in the new strategy for Indiana as well. And if opposing teams continue to guard him with big men, it’s likely he’ll continue to punish them from downtown.

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