01-20-2004, 11:14 AM
Very complimentary to Brad and explains well how's come he's playing so well now.
01-20-2004, 11:40 AM
Kingly appearance: Miller is thriving in Sacramento
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Sean Deveney /
Posted: 9 hours ago
In Brad Miller's nightmare, he is back in the land of cramped condos and never-ending traffic jams. It's cold and windy. There's no space, no fresh air and certainly no place where a self-respecting, country music-loving Indiana boy can pack a chunk of Skoal into his lower lip without drawing gasps and frowns from the genteel locals. In this nightmare, his teammates are young and clueless, his uniform is red and his coach is -- gasp -- Tim Floyd. He's back in Chicago. Sweet mother of mercy, not Chicago!
There, there, Brad. It's only a dream.
"That was the nightmare I had the other night, that I got traded back to Chicago," Miller says. "I could not sleep at all. I was sweating. Thank goodness I woke up."
When he's coherent, Miller and his lipful of shredded tobacco seem to be in a happy place, among the hills, greenery and pick-up trucks of northern California. His tumultuous days in Chicago -- where the Bulls were 27-107 over a season and a half -- still keep him up occasionally, but mostly, they are a distant memory. These days, Miller is employed by the NBA's best team, the Kings, who were 28-9 entering the week and held a 2 1/2-game advantage over the Timberwolves as the top team in the West. He has filled in for injured star Chris Webber at power forward, and he has been playing like a star himself. He's averaging 14.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists. He is shooting 51.3 percent from the field, and he's had two triple-doubles.
"We expected him to be good," says Kings coach Rick Adelman, whose club gave Miller a seven-year, $68 million deal this summer. "But not this good."
Miller is 27, and though he was an All-Star with the Pacers last year, he is playing his best basketball now, in his sixth season. That's not a big surprise to Miller, who says he hails from a long line of late bloomers back in Kendallville, Ind. His performance is a surprise around the league, however. Miller was respected for his toughness, rebounding and mid-range shooting but never for the finesse and deft passing he has shown this season.
Former teammate Jermaine O'Neal of the Pacers vouches for Miller's status as one of the league's best-passing big men, but in Indiana, all Miller was asked to do was pass from the high post to O'Neal down low, so Miller's skill had gone unnoticed.
In fact, Miller has been underestimated throughout his career, a function of being "a slow, 7-foot white guy from the Midwest," he says. He spent four pretty good years at Purdue but watched the entire 1998 NBA draft without hearing his name called. Then the NBA's lockout struck and Miller shuffled off for a six-month stay in Europe, where barbeque joints and Subway sandwiches are difficult to find ("It was rough living," Miller recalls). Miller played well, though, first for Team USA in the World Championship, then for Bini Viaggi in Italy. When the lockout ended, the Hornets signed him to a two-year contract. It wasn't a traditional path to the league, but, in hindsight, that has been key to Miller's success.
"He had to grow up a little bit when he came out of Purdue," says Miller's agent, Mark Bartelstein. "He did not have the work ethic. He had to understand there are a lot of big guys in the league. But not getting drafted, going to Europe -- those things opened his eyes to what he needed to get done."
What he has done so far is land himself in a perfect spot for his ability, on a team brimming with championship possibility in an offensive system that relies on its big guys. Miller was a free agent last offseason, and though the Kings contacted him early in the summer, it did not appear Sacramento would have payroll space to sign him. Miller was choosing between rebuilding projects -- in Denver and Utah -- in late July when Kings president Geoff Petrie engineered a three-way trade that sent away bit players Scot Pollard (to Indiana) and Hedo Turkoglu (to San Antonio) in exchange for a long-term commitment to Miller. The chance to play with the Kings was irresistible; just as irresistible was the chance for the Kings to land him.
"It's nice to be in a place that plays through the big guys," Miller says. "You get the opportunity to pass and handle the ball. This is fun. Not a lot of teams let 7-footers go out and handle the ball, but with us, it works."
The reason it works is because Sacramento is stacked with talent and uses an offensive system that best exploits that talent. Miller has played like a star at times, but he is a cog in an offense deep with star players. The Kings' top seven -- including Webber -- are intelligent offensive players, excellent shooters, reliable ballhandlers and, especially, terrific passers. The Kings like to set up Miller and center Vlade Divac on opposite sides of the free throw line, put shooting guard Doug Christie and small forward Peja Stojakovic in the corners and let point guard Mike Bibby initiate the offense from there. Everyone is a threat. Defense? Good luck.
"They are a tough team to zone," said Orlando coach Johnny Davis, after he tried it (and lost by 30) in November. "But they are a tough team to play man-to-man against."
That allows Adelman to give freedom to his players, leaving the offense to rest on feel, familiarity and basketball IQ rather than constant sideline play-calling. That's the reason for Miller's surprise success -- in the past, he had been used merely as a big body under the basket who could step out and hit jumpers. In Sacramento, he has been able to use his head and his hands.
"Brad Miller, my gosh, he is so good," Heat coach Stan Van Gundy says. "But I would say Rick has done a great job. He has built a tremendous offensive system around the talents of his guys.
"It's a very unique system. You couldn't run it with everyone, but at the same time, not many coaches are able to give guys that much freedom to play and still have them be so solid fundamentally with their spacing and stuff. I don't want to take away anything from any of them, but they all benefit from playing with so many other good players."
The results are impressive. The Kings lead the league in scoring (105.1 points), field-goal shooting (47.5 percent) and 3-point shooting (39.6 percent). They lead the league in assists, too, at 26.9 per game -- nearly 2.5 more than the second-best team, the Lakers. Stojakovic is averaging 25.1 points, third in the NBA, yet rarely draws double-teams from opposing defenses.
"If you double-team one of them," says Bulls guard Kendall Gill, "someone else will hit a 3 on you." Or, they'll simply pass. Van Gundy says the Kings are the best passing team he ever has seen. Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy agrees. "They've assembled maybe the finest group of guys in (the passing) department that I've seen in my 30 years in the league," he says.
Kings supporters are quick to point out that all this is taking place without Webber, an All-NBA second-teamer. But anti-Kings cynics abound -- with meritorious arguments. After all, coaches have been gushing over Sacramento's offense for five years now, but the Kings have not had much luck beyond the regular season. If the Kings hold their pace, this will be the fourth straight season in which they have been among the top three teams in scoring and overall record. Yet Sacramento has only two second-round defeats and a conference finals loss to the rival Lakers to show for all its regular-season success.
Their potent offense aside, the Kings are not a good rebounding team. And, perhaps because of Miller's presence, their defense has slipped. With Webber on the floor, the team can afford to have a slow center, but with the lead-footed combination of Divac and Miller, defensive rotations are late and the paint is vulnerable. Sacramento's defense has been underrated over the past two years -- the Kings allow a lot of points, but only because they play at a faster pace than most teams.
The team guards the perimeter well and limits opponents' open looks (the Kings led the league in field-goal percentage allowed last season). This season, however, the defense has slipped. The Kings are allowing 44.9 percent shooting, up from 42.0 percent. "They're not Dallas defensively," Lakers coach Phil Jackson says. "But they're not as good as they were."
The Kings also seem to have developed a Laker-ish case of midseason boredom. Too often, they dash to big early leads, then let up on the throttle and allow opponents back into the game. It happened in a win over the Heat last week -- the Kings were up by 15 in the first quarter but allowed the Heat to move within a basket in the fourth. "I don't know if I would say we get bored out there," Bibby says. "I would say, sometimes our mind wanders."
"We still get to the point where we play a lot of 1-on-1 or 2-on-2," Miller says. "So we can still improve."
There also have been some eyebrows raised about the convenience of Sacramento's early schedule -- the Kings played 23 home games and just 14 road games to open the season. Sacramento did not meet the Lakers until last Friday (L.A. wound up being a shell of the superstar team featuring Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton because Payton was the only one of the four who was healthy). The Kings have split two overtime games against Minnesota. They have faced Dallas only once and lost at home. They have not faced San Antonio.
But that is changing. The Kings are in the midst of playing seven out of eight games on the road, including an upcoming trip through the dreaded Texas Triangle: Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. And then there are the Lakers. The Kings play Los Angeles three more times -- the next meeting is February 26, and the Lakers expect to have everyone healthy by then.
Miller has grasped that, as well as he has played, his main purpose in Sacramento is to win in the playoffs, and, specifically, to beat the Lakers. "The impression I get around here," Miller says, "is that we're really looking forward to getting into the playoffs and changing things. And it seems like what everybody wants is to beat the Lakers four times in the regular season and four times in the playoffs."
If he can help make it happen, maybe Miller, and his new hometown, finally will be able to sleep easy.
Sean Deveney is a staff writer for Sporting News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
01-20-2004, 12:27 PM
:soapbox: :censor: :banghead: :pissed: :argue: :annoyed: :disappointed: :shout: :soundoff:
01-20-2004, 12:48 PM
:soapbox: :censor: :banghead: :pissed: :argue: :annoyed: :disappointed: :shout: :soundoff:
Hmmmm... why don't you tell us how you really feel. ;)
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