We’ve brought back the Role Player of the Week Award for a second season!
Since stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry get most of the highlights, this weekly article will highlight more under-the-radar players who excelled in their roles for a given week. It could be a young player coming into his own, or a veteran succeeding in a smaller role. Our winner for this week is Indiana Pacers bench wing, C.J. Miles.
Much has been made about the Pacers wanting to play at a faster pace this season under new head coach Nate McMillan. But the team already played fairly quickly last year, ranking 10th in the league in pace going into Monday night, per ESPN. And the team’s pace is slightly up this year, but the difference is negligible.
Miles has thrived when the team has played quicker both years, as he’s a shooter that knows how to fill the lane in transition and semi-transition. He’s also benefited from the thing the Pacers have actually done much better early this year, and that’s sharing the basketball.
Both of these threes demonstrate what makes Miles so effective. It’s not just the fact that he’s a lethal shooter with a quick release. What separates Miles from other players in the league is his ability to make himself available to driving teammates.
It’s easy to miss while watching the ball, but the subtle movements by Miles are the reason he’s able to score. In the first play, he moves just one step over to give Monta Ellis a better lane to pass the ball. Even when Ellis’s pass is offline, Miles’s movement allows him to catch-and-shoot before the defense can recover.
In the second play, Lavoy Allen gets a home run pass after beating Nikola Mirotic down the floor, but it’s too far ahead for him to have a layup. If Miles doesn’t make himself available for a pass, it’s likely a turnover. But because he slid into possession, Allen has an outlet, and Miles uses the pump fake to get by a recovering Doug McDermott before burying the triple.
Indiana has several players capable of scoring off the dribble, but Miles is the best catch-and-shoot player on the roster, and he rounds out almost lineup well. And when the team is moving the ball well, Miles will get his points. So far this season, that has been the case.
The assist rate for the Pacers last year was 16.2, which was just 22nd in the league. The offense would often stagnate for several possessions at a time, which would nullify the skills of Miles.
This year, the team’s assist rate was up to 19.1 entering Monday, good for fourth in the league. The ball has stuck less, and teammates have found a way to keep the deadly shooter involved.
Miles had an up-and-down season last year, but his early returns have been consistently good in 2016-17. He’s shot 50 percent or better and hit multiple threes in six of Indiana’s first seven games while averaging a career-high 14.5 points. Miles dropped over 20 points for his third straight game Monday night against the Hornets. It’s a small sample size, but, if the Pacers continue to share the ball well and look for Miles in transition and on the weak side in the halfcourt, his excellent season should continue.