Miles in Position to Succeed
When he signed his free agent contract with the Pacers on July 11, C.J. Miles seemed destined for the pleasant role of filling in scoring gaps within the Pacers' offense, probably off the bench. Optimism over re-signing Lance Stephenson was rampant at the time, and Paul George was healthy.
Things have changed dramatically since Stephenson signed with Charlotte and George crash-landed from a blocked shot attempt in a USA Basketball scrimmage in Las Vegas. Suddenly, Miles will be vitally needed to move some earth in the Pacers' offense, and lend a hand anywhere else he can manage as well.
Whether or not he can do it with any consistency will be one of the primary questions facing the Pacers this season, as they look to lubricate an offense that sometimes struggled to score even under the best of circumstances last season. Returning starters Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill will be called upon for more offense, and have shown they can do it when given the opportunity, but Miles likely will have to step in and step up if the Pacers are to reach the playoffs for a fifth straight season.
“I'm going to play with energy,” he said when introduced to the media in July.
“I'm going to play with passion. I can blend into the situation. Whatever I have to be is what I'm going to be.”
He couldn't have imagined then just how much would be expected of him. His nine-year NBA career, which began with Utah as an 18-year-old straight out of high school and took him to Cleveland for the past two seasons, indicates he can do it on occasion, and sometimes in spectacular fashion. But to this point he's been challenged to do it with regularity.
“There are times when C.J. will go out there and you think he's ready to take off, and he disappears for a moment,” said Mike Brown, who coached Miles in Cleveland last season. “Part of that will help with him getting consistent minutes and a consistent role. He hasn't had that since the run he had in Utah. He was so young and it was too much for him and he's bounced around since then.
“Now he's in Indiana with a lot of veteran players who know how to play, and it will be a good fit. If he gets in the right environment and has the right guys around him and someone pushes the appropriate buttons to get him going, he can be very productive in this league. He's more than capable with his length and size and ability to shoot.”
The 6-6 Miles has a career average of 8.9 points on 42 percent shooting. His scoring peaked at 12.8 points in 2010-11 with the Jazz, and his three-point shooting peaked last season with the Cavs at .393. The Pacers probably need him to scale both of those peaks next season, because his game isn't as well-rounded as those of George or Stephenson. He's averaged just 1.2 assists and 2.2 rebounds over his career.
Photos: C.J. Miles Career Gallery
His attitude and work ethic don't appear to be issues, however.
“He's a great young man,” former Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “To see his growth from the day he stepped onto the NBA floor to when he left Utah was great.
“He can handle the ball. He can create shots. He has a high basketball IQ. I always thought he was a pretty good player who could become a great player in this league.”
Miles has indeed flashed greatness at times, at least as a shooter. He hit seven three-pointers in a game against Portland in November of 2010, hit eight while scoring 33 points against Brooklyn in December of 2012 and then hit 10 (eight in the first half) in 14 attempts against Philadelphia this past January.
The Pacers will welcome that sort of display, but they'll need defense, too. He's not known for it, but regards himself as “solid,” at least.
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“When I was in Utah, I guarded the best wing player every night,” he said. “People say things because early in my career that was one of the things I had to learn. Every 18-year-old needs to learn defense. Coach (Jerry) Sloan doesn't put anybody on the best player on the team if they can't defend. It doesn't make sense. I can defend my position and I've shown it.”
Corbin agrees, and recalls a game in Los Angeles against the Lakers, early in Miles' career, as evidence.
“We had him play against Kobe (Bryant),” Corbin said. “A lot of young guys shy away from those kind of games. Kobe still had big numbers, but C.J. didn't back down from the challenge. That's one of the things that's kept him around this league.”
Added Brown: “I thought on the weakside he was very good and understood how to use his length. He got numerous deflections and steals and was always in the right position.”
Thanks to Stephenson and George, Miles has never been in a better position to advance his career.