Since Klay Thompson’s absurd 60-point outing against the Indiana Pacers last Monday, Monta Ellis has recorded the same number of made field goals as turnovers (6). Over that same span of time, the starting lineup has been outscored by an increasingly hard-to-ignore 25.2 points per 100 possessions. Ellis has been the worst individual offender of that five-man unit, posting a net differential of minus-19.3.
Needless to say, it’s been rough.
However, given that he exited Saturday’s game with a groin injury, it’s possible that his long-standing propensity to play through pain while racking up the furthest distance traveled (51.6 miles) of anyone on the team since the start of the season may have contributed, at least in part, to his recent lack of shot quantity and quality.
Regardless of the cause of his struggles, the inconsistent results produced by the roster’s awkward fit support calls for change. But, fixing what ails the Pacers isn’t as simple as just swapping Monta Ellis with C.J. Miles.
The bench is finally humming with Glenn Robinson III and C.J. Miles being utilized as interchangeable forwards. Plus, playing Ellis as the reserve unit’s primary ball-handler next to Rodney Stuckey is a dicey proposition if Lavoy Allen is congesting the paint.
Therefore, because it is impossible for C.J. Miles to be in two places at once, here’s four charts illustrating how indispensable the sharpshooter has been for the Indiana Pacers.
He’s gotten better with age:
In the midst of his twelfth season, C.J. Miles is posting career high marks from the field (48.1%), three (45.3%), and the free throw line (92.0%). All three conversion rates place the 29-year-old in a class of his own. Minimum 150 field-goal attempts, no one else in the entire league is shooting at least 48 percent from the field, 45 percent from three, and 90 percent from the free throw line.
If Miles makes his next six shot attempts, he would be putting forth a 50-40-90 effort. Reggie Miller is the only player in Pacers franchise history to accomplish that feat over a full season (1993-94).
He did his homework:
Per the Indy Star’s Nate Taylor, Miles made use of an opposing scouting report provided to him by an anonymous scout to guide his offseason training regimen. Among the weaknesses listed on the gameplan versus the sharpshooter was to “crowd” him at the three-point line and “force him to dribble”.
While a year-over-year comparison of his player tracking splits reveals that his distribution of shots off various increments of dribbles has remained relatively the same, his efficiency on those shots has improved almost unilaterally.
“Just using some of the abilities that I have that I haven’t really used,” Miles told Taylor. “You can be aggressive from the 3-point line, but I wanted to make sure I get myself to the (free-throw) line and get more, easier shots. As we all know, two 3s can turn into seven 3s for me quick. I can make the game easier on myself, not coming into the game and my first shot has to be a 3 at the end of the shot clock.”
With more than half of his total shots coming from three-point territory, it’s evident that spotting up behind the arc is still very much Miles’ calling card. However, given his improvement off the dribble and his accuracy rate in the restricted area (74.1%), labeling him as a specialist is no longer accurate.
He’s making the most of the least:
No one on Indiana’s roster is making more efficient use of his touches than C.J. Miles.
Granted, the lefty is more of an offensive finisher than initiator. He only creates 1.6 points off assists per game and averages less than one dribble per touch, which accounts for his minuscule time of possession (0.7). Still, on a roster chock-full of drive-heavy combo guards, the sharpshooter’s ability to make an impact on the perimeter without dominating the ball is unparalleled.
Since Miles returned from a knee injury against the Los Angeles Clippers, using him as a reserve stretch-four seems to have resolved some of the bench’s fit issues. Through Indiana’s first 19 games, the team’s aggregate bench net rating (minus-11.8) ranked 29th in the NBA. Over the last five games, that number has jumped to plus-9.3, good for sixth over that same span of time.
The combination of Miles and Robinson III is better suited to open driving lanes for Rodney Stuckey while simultaneously taking advantage of Jefferson’s gravitational pull. It’s also easier to compensate for a drop-off in rebounding rate with multiple three-point shooting threats on the floor.
There’s no doubt that having a lengthier lights-out shooter, who could make an impact with fewer touches, would be a better fit next to Jeff Teague (see: Kyle Korver) and Paul George on both ends of the floor. The problem is that there is currently no one on the roster capable of replicating what C.J. Miles is doing as a stretch-four beside Glenn Robinson III off the bench, if either player were to be promoted to starting shooting guard.
Reliant upon winning the turnover battle to compensate for their erratic defense and sometimes stagnant half-court offense, herein lies the struggle for the 2016-17 Indiana Pacers. Barring a trade for a versatile three-point shooting threat, C.J. Miles can’t be duplicated, which means fixing one rotation problem will likely beget another.