One of the NBA’s oldest axioms is that a player does most of his improvement not during the season, but over the summer.
Anyone who’s watched Cavaliers swingman CJ Miles through the first few weeks of the 2013-14 campaign can tell that he’s had a productive offseason. He’s been one of the Wine and Gold’s most consistent performers – not to mention one of the best bench players in the league.
When he first arrived in Cleveland after inking a free agent deal last July, Miles struggled getting out of the gate early last season. But in his second campaign with the Cavs, the eight-year vet has re-established his role with the squad – and he’s been one of the second unit’s true difference-makers.
“Every summer, I work on a lot of things but now, after being here last year, (I’m) in a consistent role and knowing exactly what I’m going to be doing – the shots I’m going to get, the plays that I was going to be able to make,” said Miles as the Cavs prepare to face Minnesota on Wednesday night.
Miles’ second season with the Cavs also marks his second coaching staff in as many years. But instead of confusion over his role heading into this year, his role was even more defined – thanks to a short but productive meeting with his new head coach at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.
“(Coach Brown) was flying to California and he purposely made a lay-over in Dallas so I could meet him at the airport and have a conversation,” recalled the native Texan. “It wasn’t long – half-an-hour, 45 minutes. And we just talked about last year, things he wanted me to be able to do better and things that he felt would be an asset to the team as far as shooting the basketball, being able to spread the floor, using my athleticism, and doing a better job of mixing it up.”
Miles has been extremely effective shooting the ball thus far, notching double-figures in five of the Cavs first eight games. On the season, he is averaging 12.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.0 steal in 20.3 minutes per contest. Miles dropped a season-high 22 points on Charlotte on November 1 – (including a massive left-handed jam in transition) – and led the Cavs with 19 points in a November 4 win over Minnesota at The Q.
Miles leads a second unit that’s outscored the opponent’s bench in seven of Cleveland’s first eight games. He ranks fourth among all Eastern Conference bench scorers and is 10th among all NBA reserves.
Much of his success stems from a summer of hard work.
“I worked on becoming a better catch-and-shoot guy, extending my range even more to space the floor even more, quicken up my release, working on just being disciplined as a shooter, shooting it the same way every time – whether you made the last three or missed the last three,” says the former Skyline H.S. standout.
Miles got off to a slow start in Cleveland last year, but he began turning his season around with back-to-back 28-point outings against the Lakers and Pacers. He went off two weeks later in Brooklyn, going 8-for-10 from three-point range as part of a 33-point performance against the Nets.
“I had some stuff that happened right before the season that kind of knocked me off track,” Miles recalls. “It was just a crazy time and I just wasn’t ready, mentally, more so than physically at the beginning of the season. Coach Scott came up to me and said, ‘I’m going to sit you and let you get your mind back.’ I was doing two-a-days that whole time to get ready, and the second I got a chance to play, I was like, ‘I’m ready now’ and I was just able to pick it up. This year, I was able to hit the ground running.”
This year, Miles knows his role within the team’s framework.
“I think (knowing your role) means a lot for any basketball player – coming into the gym knowing that what’s expected of you,” said Miles “It definitely helps your confidence even more. And when your coach tells you, ‘I’m going to do this for you, I’m going to run this play for you in this situation’ and if you miss one, your coach tells you to shoot it again.”
Miles hasn’t missed much this season. He’s shooting 48 percent from the floor, including 39 percent from beyond the arc. Only L.A.’s Jamal Crawford has hit more three-pointers off the bench than Miles.
“A big part of shooting the basketball – I mean obviously there’s some technique things – but a big part of shooting the basketball is confidence,” observed Miles. “Tristan (Thompson) shoots better from the free throw line. He changed his technique, but he feels confident shooting from the line now. He doesn’t get to the line and think, ‘Man, how am I going to get this to go in?’ He thinks, ‘I got it.’ And when he misses, you don’t see him get mad. He’s more like, ‘I’m gonna make the next one.’”
Miles also dropped some weight in the offseason, and the change has helped him both ends of the floor.
“Physically, I worked with a trainer in Texas, a guy I used to work with in Salt Lake before I left the team,” said Miles, “And we just broke down my body, basically, and tried to build it up to be even more athletic and more explosive.”
As good as Miles has been offensively this year, he’s been just as good on the other end.
“Being in shape has made me better defensively. Being stronger, being more athletic allows me to make the plays I’ve been able to make on the floor this year.”
Miles, also the team’s music man who – between workouts --- released his own album (“No Camping”) this past summer is a more comfortable and confident player and he’s been the impetus behind Cleveland’s strong second unit.
“Games like the Milwaukee game, I missed the previous three shots before I made the shot that put us up. Last year I wouldn’t have even taken that shot,” explained the 26-year-old vet. “It’s just about believing in what you’re doing. And then, the confidence from seeing that progress is the biggest thing – being confident in what you’re doing, because there’s no reason not to be confident. I shot almost a thousand shots every day (this summer) and the soft days were 500 shots.
“And if I’m putting that much work in, I have no reason not to believe that every shot’s going to go in.”