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The Subtle Impact of Mike Miller

With under a minute left in the third quarter in Game 6 against the Indiana Pacers, the Miami HEAT find themselves up four and on defense. Mike Miller steps into the lane at the last second on a Darren Collison drive and forces a turnover. LeBron James leads the fastbreak, and hits Miller, who was trailing the play, with a pass about three feet behind the three-point line with 20 seconds left on the shot clock. Miller lets it fly.

When Mike Miller joined the HEAT in the summer of 2010, it was assumed he would be the team’s resident sharpshooter. In his nine NBA seasons, Miller had shot 40.5 percent from deep, the perfect complement for HEAT slashers. However, for various reasons, Miller’s shooting last season wasn’t up to his career norms. In the absence of lights-out shooting, Miller’s other contributions started to show. His work on the glass and on the defensive end provided the HEAT with a unique perimeter player who helped the team significantly while on the floor.

This season, Miller’s impact has been even more pronounced. The HEAT outscored opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions, the third best mark in the league, but with Miller on the floor, the differential leaped to 11.8 points per 100 possessions, the highest mark of any HEAT player. The HEAT’s offense alone is 5.7 points per 100 possessions better with Miller on the floor. Some of this offensive boost can be attributed to the attention Miller draws as a shooter, which opens up the floor for other HEAT players.

“Offensively, just make people be accountable for you,” Miller said, “As a shooter, as long as you’re making them be accountable for you and having them guard you, it makes the job easier for everyone else.”

Miller’s presence in the corner on a pick-and-roll or on the wing in a simple post up puts defenders in a bind.

“They have to make the decision at that point. Do you go down there and try to double LeBron? And if they do, it’s your job to make shots. Hopefully you make them at a high enough percentage so they don’t want to try to leave you as much,” Miller said.

Miller shot 45.3 percent on three-point shots this season, fourth best in the NBA, a percentage high enough to make defenders not want to leave him. In Games 4 and 6 of the Pacers series, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade went for 40 and 41 points respectively. On many of their forays to the basket, Miller’s defender refused to help off of Miller, and the result was a layup. When the defender did commit to helping and the ball was swung to the outside, Miller buried the jumper. Miller continued his aggressive shooting in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He knocked down both of his three-point attempts off of quick catch and shoot opportunities.

“Great shooters are the great equalizers because they help a lot of things out of your offensive game that might not be immediately obvious,” Erik Spoelstra said. “But spacing becomes better. The attention that player becomes more heightened and it just opens up a lot of things for your offensive game.”

Miller opens up easy baskets for other teammates with the space he creates, but he also creates second chance opportunities for the HEAT offense.

Of all shooting guards, the position Miller played most frequently this season, who played over 30 games and 10 minutes a game, Miller finished the season with the third best total rebound percentage and the sixth best offensive rebounding percentage. When Miller was on the floor during the regular season, the HEAT grabbed 29.4 percent of available offensive rebounds, a significant leap from their average of 26.6 percent.

The trend has continued in the playoffs with the HEAT securing 32.5 percent of available offensive rebounds with Miller on the floor, and just 23.1 percent when he’s off the floor. Just like how his shooting draws extra attention, Miller’s effort on the boards makes opponents adjust and react.

“If I crash, maybe one of their bigs has to come over and hit me,” Miller said, “and when he does that it opens up an opportunity for the other bigs to get rebounds.”

Miller’s rebounding efforts create extra possessions for the HEAT and his shooting presence allows the team to use possessions more efficiently. It’s a deadly combination, which is reflected on the scoreboard.

Defensively, the HEAT didn’t suffer any drop off when Miller was on the floor during the regular season. Miller’s length and intelligence provide him with tools to be disruptive, and the HEAT’s system appears to be a real fit.

“Just trying to cause havoc,” Miller said. “If it’s defensively, team defense, this system really works for me as well.”

“He’s smart,” Spoelstra said. “Once he learned our system, he found out where he can start to direct the ball to give him that added step that he might not have physically.”

When looking at Miller’s points and rebounds per game numbers, it’s easy to understate his impact on the HEAT as a whole. Miller gives other HEAT players space to operate with his sharp-shooting, creates second chance opportunities with his offensive rebounding and plays strong team defense. The HEAT’s own Shane Battier was once dubbed the “No-Stats All-Star” and it looks like he may have some company.

Statistical support for this article provided by NBA.com and Synergy Sports.