Brad Miller, the Little Center Who Could


Mar 5

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We all are told that it’s the little things that are most important, like watching a sunset, your child’s first steps, Spud Webb. And, oh yeah, Brad Miller on the pick and roll.

“I’ve been around 11 years (in the NBA), so I’ve had the opportunities to figure out how to play,” Miller—from Ft. Wayne, Indiana and Purdue University—was telling me late after the Bulls win over the Warriors Wednesday. “You come from Indiana, you pride yourself on that. Hoosiers is your favorite movie. It’s definitely my favorite movie. What it proves if you are smart and you play, you can win at anything.”

Good life lessons, for sure, and for the Bulls they have and can win some basketball games.

There will be an intriguing one Friday in the United Center when the Bulls host the Milwaukee Bucks with the Bulls in a virtual tie with Milwaukee for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. With the Bulls having won two of three against the Bucks this season, it’s also a potential tiebreaker if the teams finish tied at the end of the season.

And with Miller coming on for the Bulls (averaging 13 points and 7.3 rebounds on 63 percent shooting the last four games) and Plymouth, Indiana’s Scott Skiles coaching the Bucks, it’s something of a beat the Hoosier night as well. Thinking of Miller and Skiles and recalling a former No. 1 overall pick like Kent Benson from New Castle, Ind., I’d wonder if anyone who came out of Indiana could dunk. Though I know Oscar Robertson is from Indianapolis, which shoots any theory about Hoosiers not being great athletes and elite stars.

Still, one of my guilty pleasures of late is watching Brad Miller.

I know, I know, I’ve got to reorganize my life priorities.

But it’s a subtle joy to watch Miller, if only setting a screen.

It was especially on display to open the fourth quarter in the pulling away win over Golden State Wednesday.

The Bulls led 75-62 going into the fourth quarter, and the Warriors didn’t seem much interested in playing the game, anyway.

Miller is slow. We’ve made our share of jokes about that already. Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro came up with a great comparison after the game Wednesday, pointing to one time Warriors star Chris Mullin, who also seemed to get to the basket without explanation.

Miller first made a move to the basket and was fouled early in that fourth quarter, his speed somewhat like a wound down windup toy.

“When you’re not the fastest you’ve got to be able to pass the ball, set picks for guys,” says Miller. “That’s what makes a team.”

Shortly thereafter Miller was in a pick and roll with Kirk Hinrich. Miller set the screen, and then seeing his defender fade back to cut off the drive, Miller backed up for a smooth 18 footer. It’s what the Bulls were missing with Joakim Noah earlier this season setting most of the high screens. The defense knew he wouldn’t shoot, so the defense backed off and it wasn’t exactly the most effective offense.

Also, and little noticed, is how good Miller’s hands are. Miller doesn’t exactly get too high for those rebounds like Tyrus Thomas or even Noah. But when he gets one he doesn’t lose it, as often happens with Noah and Luol Deng. There was one classic sequence Wednesday when Noah grabbed two offense rebounds and had them stripped, and Miller grabbed the next like a claw and no one was getting that one.

Anyway, back to that fourth quarter. Miller next made a bit of an upfake from the left corner, and though doesn’t move very quickly, leaned into the defender and got a pair of free throws.

Later, after Ben Gordon added a three, Miller dove at the defense and got a pair of free throws and the next time rolled off a Hinrich pass and got a layup for a 20-point Bulls lead.

“I’m not going to blow anybody away in a foot race,” understated Miller. “But you’ve got to be smarter and I can shoot the ball and that opens up those drives.”

It really is a pleasure to watch the subtleties with Miller, though if you don’t watch carefully it is a bit like watching paint dry.

Basketball is a game of geometry and angles, and as a coach Skiles was one of the best at that.

You confuse the offense with help, but coming from different directions, blocking a passing lane or coming off different players.

I particularly enjoy watching Miller in the screen and roll.

We all know he can pop out and hit the shot, one of his specialties. But he’ll also shade to give his teammate a better passing angle or to nudge the defender off line and thus a step late for his teammate getting to the basket or open for a shot. He’s clever at sealing his defender on his back, and his aggressive fronting defense against Yao Ming last Saturday in the Bulls win was a thing of beauty and perhaps the best individual defensive efforts we’ve seen from a Bulls big man since Bill Cartwright.

Yes, there is someone who boxes out. They don’t show Miller on the highlights, so if you watch ESPN you wouldn’t know he’s in the NBA. But if you watch the game, you can’t help but appreciate that he is.

“They don’t cheer for my power layup,” says Miller. “Or when I got up with two hands (to dunk just barely).”

But he is something to see.

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