So the Celtics are considering using their mid-level exception to sign Brad Miller, a free agent who made $12.25 million (!) last season, according to ShamSports.
So: Should Boston go down this road?
As recently as two seasons ago, Brad Miller was probably a better player than most casual fans thought. In 2008, he was one of the league’s true plus/minus monsters. The Kings were 10.12 points per 100 possessions better with Miller on the floor versus with him on the bench, and most of that gain—about 7.0 points of it—came on the offensive end, where Miller’s combination of jump-shooting and passing was as valuable an offensive lubricant as any non-starter was providing. His adjusted plus/minus stats on Basketball Value—which seek to isolate a player’s individual contributions by adjusting for the quality of teammates—were among the very best in the entire league.
He had a similar effect on the Bulls after the Kings dealt him to Chicago in the Andres Nocioni/John Salmons trade in 2009. Chicago’s offense scored 6.3 more points per 100 possessions with Miller on the floor versus with him on the bench, and its defense improved as well, according to 82games.
His traditional stats weren’t as outstanding, but they still marked him as a productive player. His PER was regularly in the 15-18 range—above league average—and he’d reliably grab between 20 and 24 percent of available defensive rebounds, a decent number for a big guy.
You could count on Miller shooting about 48 percent from the floor and generally helping his team.
In 2010? Not so much.
Miller’s stats declined across the board last season, something that was not unexpected, given that he’s 34 and well into the “past his prime” stage of his career. Some examples:
• Miller shot 43 percent from the floor last season, a career low.
• Much of that is due to Miller’s migration to the three-point line. He attempted a career-high 132 threes last season and made just 37 of them (28 percent).
• He attempted just 2.8 shots per game from 10 feet and in last season, down from 4.5 per game in 2009, according to Hoopdata.
• His percentage on long two-pointers—Miller’s bread and butter—dropped to 38 percent in 2010, down from 43 percent in 2009 and 47 percent in both 2007 and 2008, per Hoopdata.
• He finished 58 percent of his shots at the rim; the league average for centers was around 64 percent, according to Hoopdata.
• Miller rebounded just 17.8 percent of opponent misses when he was on the floor last season, the lowest mark of his career, according to Basketball-Reference. Among 36 centers who logged at least 500 minutes last season, only eight had lower defensive rebounding rates, according to BR.
That could have to do with Joakim Noah’s maturation into a beastly rebounder, but it’s still something to note in evaluating Miller. He is, at best, an average offensive rebounder, so don’t expect him to shake up the C’s in that regard.
• Miller lost his status as one of the league’s Plus/Minus Gods last season. His adjusted plus/minus mark in Basketball Value’s formula dropped to -1.25. Unadjusted numbers show the Bulls scored and allowed almost the exact same number of points with Miller on the floor versus with him on the bench.
And while we can all argue about the value of plus/minus as an NBA stat—the jury most definitely remains out—the fact remains that outstanding plus/minus marks were the chief proof of Miller’s continuing value as he aged. In addition to the marks I’ve already mentioned, Wayne Winston, a stats expert and former consultant to the Mavs, told TrueHoop in the fall that his own secret plus/minus formula showed Miller was one of Chicago’s two best players in 2009. (The other was Ben Gordon).
• The only stat trending the right way for Miller: His direct counterparts (i.e. opposing centers) produced below their average levels while Miller was on the floor in 2010 after producing at above-average levels in 2009, according to Basketball Prospectus.
It’s hard to tell whether that has more to do with Miller or with Chicago’s jump from 18th in defensive efficiency in 2009 to 11th in 2010.
The upshot of all of this is that Boston needs to tread very carefully in using all or some of its mid-level exception to pursue Miller. Let’s amend that: Boston should not (and won’t) use its full mid-level exception on Miller.
A piece of the mid-level? Perhaps. Miller is still a decent player. He can space the floor, and he can pass—at least when he’s not trying too-fancy passes that result in turnovers, something Boston obviously doesn’t need. He’s smart, feisty, and strong, and he can shoot free throws, an under-rated end of game skill.
But evidence suggests the C’s would not be signing the Brad Miller who was so valuable for the Kings just two or three seasons ago.