Basketball isn’t rocket science. The increased role of analytics by NBA teams may suggest otherwise, but Andre Miller would like a say.
“I think with everybody, you want to keep the game simple,” Miller told Cowbell Kingdom last week. “At some point, you get to a certain age, and the game does get a little bit easier, but at this point, you still have challenges that you have to deal with.”
At 38, Miller is the second-oldest active player in the league. To last that long, the point guard needed to outthink his opponents, especially as his athleticism began to slide. So like a good pupil, Miller took care of his homework.
In his 16 years as a pro, Miller was fortunate enough to work under head coaches John Lucas, Maurice Cheeks and Nate McMillan, all former NBA point guards. Add in Randy Wittman and George Karl, former guards who Miller has played for multiple times, and it’s a staff of collective minds that Harvard would envy (or at least their sports program).
It’s clear by watching Miller that he puts his archive of knowledge to use. When orchestrating an offense, the ball handler’s decisions with the rock appear second nature.
“He does a good job of changing pace, changing speed,” Ray McCallum told media members. “He sees the floor tremendously well. He’s really good with the kick head pass, and just always finding the open guy. Making tough passes, and he’s also really vocal, out there leading guys and getting guys in spots and just being a true point guard.”
In nine games with the Sacramento Kings, Miller has averaged 5.8 points and 5.6 assists in 23 minutes. Unable to rely on a first step anymore, the veteran likes to contort and back down to the basket, so he can wreak havoc in the paint.
“I used to watch Gary Payton,” Miller shared with Cowbell Kingdom. “He’ll go down there every now and then to get some leverage. Just to create opportunities for others. I’ve done that a little bit more and more as my career winds down.”
Miller’s on-ball defense remains effective, which is a sight to behold on a club that has struggled mightily defending the perimeter this season. His lateral speed all but a memory, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder has held his assignment to 4.8 percent below their seasonal field goal average since joining the Kings.
“It’s all positioning, it’s all positioning,” Miller enforced. “Just knowing who I’m playing against, and trying to keep them in front of me.”
Another reason why Karl and the Kings acquired Miller at the trade deadline was for his leadership skills. Commanding a huddle and earning the trust of his teammates came with practice, as well as the classes he studied while at the University of Utah.
“My sociology degree, it helped me a little bit,” Miller admitted. “I learned early how to communicate with people, through college.”
For all his preparation, Miller still attributes his longevity and effectiveness to a little luck. In 1,244 regular season appearances, the California native has missed only three games to injuries.
“I’m just blessed not to have been through major injuries, no major surgeries,” Miller added. “Knock on wood, I just try to do the best I can to take care of my body.”
By stabilizing the Kings second unit and serving as an “extended coach on the floor,” as McCallum says, Miller has proven once again that you can be never too cool for school. Knowledge is power, and power can equate to a 16-year NBA career.