2015-16 Season, Roster Review

Roster Review: Professor Andre Miller

Andre Miller

Andre Miller is a fascinating NBA player. He’s the oldest person on an NBA roster. He’s a guard, and of the 23 players in NBA history who have played into their 40’s, only six of those guys are guards. Miller joins Jason Kidd, Michael Jordan, Steve Nash, Bob Cousy, and John Stockton as the oldest guards to ever play in the NBA. Depending on how deep of a run the San Antonio Spurs make in the playoffs, he has a chance to be the 18th oldest player (currently 22nd) in NBA history to play in an NBA game.

He started out the season as a mentor type of role for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Flip Saunders brought him aboard to help guys like Zach LaVine and Tyus Jones with the finer details of point guard play. For Jones, it’s to help him develop the pace and control needed in a second unit point guard. For LaVine, it was to make the potentially dynamic wing more comfortable in playmaking no matter what position he was playing. Perhaps, smoothing out some things for Ricky Rubio as a pass-first point guard was also in mind when Flip brought Miller aboard.

The idea was to mix the veterans with the youth and see what came out of the competitive balance. Then the season was tossed into an impossible start following the tragic passing of Flip, and I’m not sure the plan going into training camp was the same as the plan going into those 82 games. The organization’s leader wasn’t there anymore, so the scramble to develop the youth and see what was left from Flip’s vision became the mandate. And unfortunately for Miller, that ended up meaning his minutes were sporadic and his role on the court was undefined.

He was a teacher without many proper applications of those lessons, and the lead by example became murky waters. Eventually, he was bought out and had some harsh but mostly fair words about the Wolves once he ended up in San Antonio to mentor Tim Duncan. From the Star Tribune:

“They’re so talented and they work so hard, and it’s like they’re getting a bad deal because you throw five 19- to 22-year-olds out there to play against men and try to compete for a playoff spot,” Miller said on the podcast. “And you want to teach them the right way, but then you throw them out there and they just get ate up. It’s not fair to them because they’re working hard in practice and then you throw them out there and let them learn like some lost puppies.

“If you don’t have a parent or somebody to teach these guys on the job … you’ve got to mix them in with the veterans and let them learn together instead of throwing them out there by themselves and allowing them to develop a losing mentality.”

“There was no way I was going to stay in Minnesota on a team that never had any goals, from what I thought,” he said. “I didn’t want to sit there and let this be my last year. There were no expectations in Minnesota with that team and which way they wanted to go. It wasn’t communicated, so I was like, ‘If this is my last year, I can’t go out like this.’

Some fans and employees of the organization didn’t take kindly to the words of Miller. I understand where that frustration and anger comes from, but those feelings can also stem from believing young players on a team like this should just get as many minutes as possible to get experience. We view experience as this grand currency and playing time is the only way to manufacture it. However, it’s not the only way to develop and grow as a young player.

There are situations in which competition with veterans for playing time brings out a true competitive nature for the young player. You’re forced to learn schemes and learn game plans. You’re forced to learn how to leverage energy from one taxing day to the next. You’re forced to just flat-out learn. Some players benefit from that environment. Some players benefit from the gobs of experience and playing time thrown their way. For a veteran like Miller, who is in the final year of his career, he wanted to teach with words and actions. He felt the action wasn’t there in proper disbursement.

Maybe Kevin Garnett, Tayshaun Prince, and Andre Miller are no longer the caliber of player to help wean those young guys from practice time into playing time. But that was the design and it’s hard to know what the plan of development would’ve been had chaos and tragedy not befallen the franchise. Miller signed on for something and ended up in a situation he couldn’t have anticipated. Foolishly or ambitiously, people around the team felt they could challenge for a playoff spot going into training camp. That optimism looked prescient after the 8-8 start. By the time Miller was bought out, the Wolves were 18-40.

I can’t speak to the level of communication with roles and direction. I know what I’ve heard but I don’t know enough to be able to judge those comments one way or another. I know Miller is a basketball junkie. He’ll be playing at the YMCA for the next 30 years. He loves just dribbling a basketball back and forth along the baseline 75 minutes before the game. He could be spotted on the pick-up court of Lifetime Fitness when the team was at home. Miller lives to hoop and he didn’t want that final year of his competitive life spent watching young guys get minutes.

It’s selfish and sometimes that’s acceptable. Overall, I thought he was a good influence on the young guys. He played well when he was inserted into the game. He’s a true point guard in both the strictest and loosest definitions of the term. He’s a baller and all he wanted to do was be apart of something special. That something special here needs time to develop. He gets to see if that something special in San Antonio can finally get him a ring. After 17 seasons in the NBA, I hope the professor gets a chance.

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9 thoughts on “Roster Review: Professor Andre Miller

  1. It was weird how his comments were initially portrayed as being so negative and out of line when they turned out to be accurate. I still don’t know how to view the role of on-court experience and success, though, considering how they finished the season without Miller and Martin around and with KG not playing. It’s an impossible question to answer quantitatively. For example, Muhammad missed 44 games during the ’14-’15 tank job while Dieng, LaVine, and Wiggins led the team in minutes; did those awful performances help them grow in a way that Muhammad didn’t, or did they also do the things outside of games to accelerate their improvement?

    1. Dieng and Wiggs played for their olympic teams for the qualifying rounds and LaVine worked on his shot. Wiggs also improved his handle a ton over the offseason. I do not remember reading much regarding Bazz.

      I definitely took Miller’s comments as a slam on the organization. But as you said he was actually right.

      Regarding LaVine and his playing time. I think it would be hard to argue it did not help grow his game considerably. He was one of the worst players in the league his rookie year. He finished this year as one of the young players to watch.

    2. This is the thing I run into as well and the more people I talk to around the league, the more confused I become with the subject. We look at LaVine getting all of that playing time at SG the rest of the season and think, “See? Now he gets time at the right position and see what he can do.” But what gets ignored is the circumstances before that decision by the coach. How do we know the players around him, the experience out of position, fighting for minutes, the coaching, the mentoring, and everything up to that decision isn’t the reason he looked so good on the court? It might be the lead-up. It might be the minutes finally given. It might be everything. Yet, we only credit one thing.

      It’s probably more of a case-by-case basis than some sweeping generalization across the board. Some people believe going through those trials and the struggles led to the breakthrough. Others believe it delayed the inevitable. It pretty much becomes for us whatever theory we believe in more.

      1. The idea of playing someone out of position for a long time for their improvement is ridiculous and not a generally accepted coaching tool for developing young talent. I’m sure LaVine benefited from some things he picked up from those long days as a point guard. The reason folks are critical of it is because not playing him at shooting guard keeps him from playing his actual position, no matter what he might be learning from playing point, and as stated above, it isn’t an accepted way good coaches develop young talent–playing first and second year guys purposefully out of position for long periods. This is particularly true of the point guard situation–the difference between point guard and shooting guard as far as skill set are bigger than say center versus power forward.

        1. I have two options here: 1) go with your opinion or 2) go with the numerous NBA coaches, assistants, scouts and development staffers I’ve talked to about this exact theory. It’s a tough decision. I’ll let you know when I make it.

  2. What stands out about Miller’s comments is what it says about the leadership, mostly the coaching staff and goals. That is really illuminating to me. You can also argue that the vets weren’t used in the right way to keep this team competitive and learning fast (which Miller does). Like gjk says, this is hard to answer quantitatively. I do think Miller was under used at various times. I respect Miller highly.

  3. To me, while Miller’s comments appaear to tme to be he point, it seems to me that the issue he raises is one which addresses the operation of a head coach and a general manager when implementing the vision for the growth and functioning of the team.
    The comments do not strike me as referring to things which an assistent coach or an assistent GM need to be neccessarily fully aware of. So the way to transfer the knowlegde from the elder statesmen to the younger upstarts may have been clear in the mind of Flip Saunders, but not conveyed in due time to Mitchell and/or Newton. This could be the point where Flip’s untimely and tragic demise might have the most visible impact on the teams’ evolution.

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