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Reggie Miller, the NBA's all-time career leader in 3-point shots made and attempted, is also one of the league's all-time best foul shooters as well as the Indiana Pacers' career scoring leader.
For a player who has built a career on shooting to suddenly rank among the league leaders in a passing category is a bit strange.
But the Pacers' 17th-year shooting guard has reinvented himself this season. He ranks third in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio, typically a point guard-dominated category that measures efficiency and decision-making.
Miller, in fact, led the category heading into Monday's games, but has since slipped behind a couple of backup point guards, Milwaukee's Damon Jones (4.17) and Seattle's Antonio Daniels (4.15).
Miller averages 3.3 assists per game and has committed just 36 turnovers in 43 games, which works out to an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4-to-1. That's a threshold of excellence for the category, similar to a shooter hitting 50 percent of his attempts or a rebounder averaging 10 per game.
Past Pacers point guards lend perspective. Vern Fleming, the franchise's all-time assists leader, never had a ratio better than 3.2-to-1. Mark Jackson, who ranks second on the NBA's all-time assists list, peaked at 4.1 as a Pacer. Don Buse's best was 4.3.
Miller is unique in that he's always had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. Previous score-oriented Pacers such as George McGinnis, Billy Knight and Chuck Person can't make the same claim. But Miller's career ratio before this season was a mere 1.65-to-1.
So what got into Miller all of a sudden?
"I think Reggie's gotten to be a better passer as his career has gone on," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "Unselfishness and efficiency are a lot of what this year's been about for him."
Carlisle's offensive system caters to Miller's style of play, but Miller's willingness, at 38, to adapt to the changes in his body and his teammates is a factor as well.
Miller is the third scoring option among the starters, behind Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest. Most of his assists come on simple post feeds to one of them, or on pick-and-rolls with Jeff Foster on the wing.
His ratio also reflects the respect opposing defenses continue to give him, whether he's shooting well, as he's done lately, or not shooting at all. The more tightly they guard him, the more opportunities that creates for him to pass to an open teammate.
"Coach Carlisle has put me in a great position to have the ball in my hands, I guess because of the bond he and I had when he was an assistant coach here," Miller said.
"Even at the age I'm at, teams still play me the same way. They're not going to leave me, so that creates an advantage when I have the ball."
Miller has always kept his turnovers to a minimum because of his conservative approach to the game, a necessity given his relative lack of athleticism. Unable to drive by or jump over most defenders, he doesn't take many risks. He compares himself in that regard to former quarterback Joe Montana, who chopped up defenses with mid-range passes rather than go for dramatic long throws.
"I try not to put myself in a bad position," he said. "I don't create tough angles or shots. I don't like to jump in the air and pass like a lot of guards do. I try to keep my feet on the ground.
"I don't need to do behind-my-backs or between-my-legs. I want to make an honest and crisp pass to the big guys."
Miller also does his homework. Although he doesn't spend as much time as he once did before games in front of a video monitor watching that night's opponent, he's still the team's most diligent student. As a result, he encounters few surprises that could cause an error.
"He seems to know what's going to happen before it happens," O'Neal said. "Sometimes he'll talk to me about a play he thinks the other team is going to run, and then they come out and run it. And he'll talk to me about a play we're going to run and what should be open, and every single time it's open."
Miller's court recognition and efficiency will make him the franchise's all-time assists leader if he plays the rest of this season and next without major injuries. He enters Friday's game with Houston just 148 behind Fleming.
That's an unusual position for a shooting guard, but Miller waves off the achievement. After all, he already leads the franchise in turnovers and steals.
"I've just been here longer than anyone else," he said.
NBA leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio, through Tuesday's games:
Rank Player, team AST/TO
1 Damon Jones, Milwaukee 4.17
2 Antonio Daniels, Seattle 4.15
3 Reggie Miller, Indiana 4.00
4 Jason Williams, Memphis 3.80
5 Gary Payton, L.A. Lakers 3.41
Pacers' all-time assist leaders:
Rank Player AST
1 Vern Fleming 4,038
2 Reggie Miller 3,890
3 Mark Jackson 3,294
4 Don Buse 2,737
5 Freddie Lewis 2,279
Reggie Returning to Role of Prime-Time Player
By John Clayton
Indianapolis, Jan. 21, 2004
At age 38, years removed from his last All-Star appearance, it's understood he can never again be the old Reggie Miller. That doesn't mean he has to accept being an old Reggie Miller.
When Miller scored 31 points in New York on Nov. 15, it appeared, at the time, to be an aberration. It turned out to be a harbinger of things to come.
To that point in the season, the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-point baskets was averaging 8.9 points per game and was, depending on who else was on the floor, the third or fourth scoring option in the Pacers’ offense. To save wear and tear on Miller’s 38-year-old body and surgically-repaired right ankle, Coach Rick Carlisle routinely limited Miller’s minutes to no more than 30 per game.
And Miller, himself, acquiesced to the younger talents around him, giving Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest and Al Harrington the focus that had revolved around Miller for more than a decade as a member of the Pacers. If this Pacers team was to be carried to victory, it would arrive on younger backs.
The spindly shadow of Miller loomed larger than the player, himself - at least until recently.
“Reggie has played brilliantly the last week,” said Carlisle. “Without him, I don’t know where we’d be in this stretch. He’s come up with either monster games or monster shots. So, there’s a little bit more of an effort on my part to get him involved. There’s a little bit more of an effort by our team to set screens and get him looks at the hoop. His aggressiveness level has picked up over the last 10 days – and it’s important that it has. For us to be as good as we can be, he’s got to be on the floor and he’s got to be doing what he does. He’s been doing just that.”
The Pacers have won 12 of their last 13 games, including their last five, which included victories over defending NBA Champion San Antonio, defending Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey, Central Division rival Detroit and a pair of hard-fought victories over Atlanta.
During that stretch, Miller has averaged 17 points per game, hitting 24 of 46 (52 percent) of his field goal attempts and 16 of 34 (47 percent) of his 3-point tries. He is also 21 of 22 (96 percent) from the foul line. It would be easy to say the performances were “vintage Reggie Miller,” but that would lessen their worth. They have been more vital than vintage.
In an 85-78 victory over Atlanta on Jan. 14, Miller scored all of his 13 points in the fourth quarter to rally the Pacers to a victory. He followed that game with a 28-point performance to lead Indiana past San Antonio and avenge an overtime loss to the Spurs a week earlier.
“Hopefully, I don’t need a game like this to let them know that I’m still a weapon,” Miller said of his scoring outburst against the Spurs. “I hope they’ll assume I’m still a weapon, but, obviously, we’ve got great offensive scorers in Jermaine and Ron and Al, but when things aren’t going well for them or the defense focuses so much on them, if I can sneak in a three here and there to keep them honest, I try and do that.”
Before that 89-79 home win over the Spurs on Jan. 16, Miller had scored 20 points or more in a game only once – against the Knicks – this season. With that game and a 22-point performance in just 30 minutes of Tuesday night’s 81-69 victory over Detroit, Miller has crossed the 20-point barrier twice in three games.
“I’m getting my legs back underneath me and the ankle is feeling much better and the confidence is there,” he said. “Rick is running more plays (for me). But let’s not jump the gun here, our offensive weapons are Al and Ron and Jermaine.”
But this stretch would suggest that Miller can no longer be discounted as an aging player whose days as the NBA’s pre-eminent 3-point threat are behind him. In January, he has scored in double figures in eight of 11 games and the Pacers have been winning. In the team’s middling month of December, Miller reached double figures just four times in 16 games. The Pacers went 9-7.
“I’m just getting some good looks,” Miller said. “I changed my mechanics at the beginning of the year. And at the first of the year, not knowing how the ankle was going to respond to the surgery in game action – it’s felt better and guys are setting better screens and I’m just trying to be a little bit more aggressive.”
Miller has worked with former teammate Chuck Person to rebuild his mechanics since offseason ankle surgery. The surgery repaired an injury suffered during the World Championships in 2002 and hampered Miller all of last season. Miller said he had to get his legs back into his shot more and begin to trust the wounded ankle again.
“He’s got his legs back up under him,” said Jermaine O’Neal. “Early, I think he was still trying to adjust to the surgery. I think for the most part, he’s still the best shooter in the league when he gets his feet down – and sometimes he doesn’t even need his feet down to get a good shot. Just getting him his proper rest and not having him really bang with guys and play big minutes is helping him.”
The fact that Miller usually plays fewer than 30 minutes per game is attributed to the Pacers’ depth as well as Carlisle’s desire to have Miller fresh for a postseason run.
“He needs to be as involved as we can get him,” Carlisle said. “What our guys have to understand is Reggie can draw so much attention at times, we have to be ready to shoot the ball.”
If not, Miller has spent the past week stating emphatically that he is again ready to shoot the ball, returning an aggression to his game some thought was long gone.
“Unfortunately, I think a lot of us take Reggie for granted because he’s done it so many times for so many years that you just expect the guy to do great things,” said Carlisle. “It’s a lot harder to be Reggie Miller than a lot of us could possibly imagine. To maintain his body and his mind to a state where he could still play at this level at 38 years of age is nothing less than remarkable.
“I’ve always had tremendous respect for him, even when he was a younger player because I knew he had such respect for the game and he really worked at it. But to see what he’s doing now in so many ways, it’s even more impressive.”