Oliver Miller: Little Things Come In Big Packages

Oliver Miller does the little things that help produce wins.

by Jeff Benyon

Dissecting the Timberwolves' success reveals a statistic that won't show up in any boxscore. A key to Minnesota being one of the elite teams in this NBA season is the fact that they are doing the little things necessary to win.

Timberwolves center Oliver Miller might not qualify as "little," but he is one of the players contributing a lot of those little things that are producing wins for the Wolves. When you look at Miller — or "Big O," as he is affectionately known — you see a wide body that takes up a lot of space. That usually equates to a player who dishes out fouls, grabs some boards, blocks some shots and occasionally contributes a basket here or there.

These are definitely things "Big O" brings, but he gives so much more than you might expect from a player his size. You would never think it by looking at him, but Miller possesses a degree of finesse smaller players only wish they had.

The next time you see No. 3 check into the game, forget about the other players on the floor for a few minutes and just watch Miller. Chances are, he'll make a touch pass or tip in a missed shot or do something — a little thing — that keeps the ball alive or leads to a score for his team.

"He loves to pass," Kevin Garnett says. "Probably one of the best-passing big men I've seen."

Fellow Wolves big man Mark Madsen agrees. He had heard about Miller's upside. Being a talented center with a good shooting touch and excellent passing skills is why Miller was a first-round draft pick of the Phoenix Suns in 1992. "I was surprised, I really was," Madsen said of Miller's skills. "People talk about Oliver as being a great passer, but until you play with him and until he creates three or four easy buckets for you, it's then that you realize how great of a passer he really is.

"Oliver has meant so much to this team," added Madsen. "He has the ability to pass the ball as well, or better, than any big man I've ever played with. Oliver has the ability to put the ball in your hands, in a position where you can do something simple and create a score."

Miller can not only giveth, but occasionally he will taketh away. In a mid-January game against the New Orleans Hornets, Miller stole the ball not once but twice from Hornets All-Star guard Baron Davis.

"His skills are very unusual for his size," Madsen said. "He can go out on the perimeter and guard guards. I mean, Baron is one of the best guards in this league, and he got him — twice. Oliver has great hands, soft hands, and he's a good shooter."

When recalling some of the players he idolized growing up, Miller lists big men like Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing. But he also mentions Magic Johnson, which may be why he sometimes shows off his guard-like attributes. "When I was younger I always played with guys three or four years older than me, so I learned a lot playing with older guys and guys that were better than me," he said. "Then of course I would watch guys like Magic and Larry Bird and try to take my game to their level."

One of the biggest concerns surrounding Miller's career has been his weight. He has always possessed great basketball skills, but his excess weight ultimately put his NBA career on hiatus in 2000. At his biggest, "Big O" tipped the scales at 375 pounds, making him an easy target for hecklers in every arena he played.

He says the laughs at his expense never affected him when he was playing, but that doesn't mean the comments didn't hurt. "I tried to let it roll off my back," Miller said. "But there were times when I called my fiancee late at night, my mother late at night, my agent late at night. Lot of late nights crying."

After being let go by Phoenix in 2000, Miller bounced around basketball obscurity from the Harlem Globetrotters, to the CBA, to the ABA and USBL. Often discouraged, he wondered if he was ever going to make it back to the NBA. "Two years ago, I made a decision," Miller said. "I just got tired of hearing people talk about the weight. It was always about my weight, my weight. I knew I had to change myself. I had to show people I'm for real. They weren't going to take me serious if I was putting up 20 points, getting 20 rebounds, but I had an extra 30 pounds on my back."

Even in the CBA, Miller said, teams questioned him because of his weight. "It was, 'We wanted you but we heard you couldn't run up and down the floor. We heard you were 500 pounds,' " Miller said. "Well, don't believe everything you hear. Put me out on the floor and then make a judgment."

Before joining the Timberwolves on Dec. 13, Miller's most recent stop was in Bismarck, N.D., with the CBA's Dakota Wizards. In 11 games, Miller averaged 16.2 points and 8.7 rebounds while also dishing out 39 assists, grabbing 15 steals and blocking 21 shots. During the 2002-03 season, Miller was a CBA All-Star selection and was named to the all-league second team after averaging 15.7 points and 12.1 rebounds. While with the USBL's Dodge City Legend in 2002, he ranked second on the team in assists with 72, while playing in only 15 games.

"I've been working for three years now," Miller said. "They said I'm not committed to losing weight. Since this summer, I've been focused on that. Got to the CBA, lost 30 pounds so far, and I'm still losing."

Miller says changing his diet has been the key to shedding the weight. "Eating right — I eat less carbs now and drink a lot more water," he said. "That's really been it. It really hasn't been any special conditioning program or anything like that, just watching what I eat."

His self-motivation and dedication to get back to the NBA is what makes "Big O" one of the crowd favorites at Target Center. A hard-working big guy doing the little things gets big roars from the crowd every time. "I'm glad that they accept me," Miller smiled. "I just have to go out every night and do what I have to do. I don't want to go out there and be a disappointment."

Related Links
Oliver Miller photo gallery
Miller's NBA.com playerfile
Dec. 13: Wolves sign free agent Oliver Miller
2003-04 Timberwolves feature stories