When the Nuggets made the draft day swap with the Portland Trail Blazers of 26 year-old point guard, Raymond Felton for 35 year-old point guard Andre Miller (plus the No. 26 pick - Jordan Hamilton) the Nuggets opted for an aging guard, but a guard who is still getting the job done. The addition of Miller insures that the Nuggets will still have one of the strongest back-courts in the NBA.
When teams go on to win the championship, other squads try to mirror that success any way they can. Well, the Nuggets now have the aging point guard - the Jason Kidd - and the Nuggets have the undersized speedster that can change the course of a game completely - the J.J. Barea.
Andre Miller and Ty Lawson, 23 years-old, give the Nuggets one of the best back-courts in the league. Miller is an incredibly durable player, shoots a high-percentage from the field and at the foul line, works in the post, knows how to get his teammates involved, and showed in Portland that he can lead his team. During his 12 year NBA career, Miller has never played in fewer than 80 regular season games. He will be joining his sixth NBA team (five franchises since the Nuggets count twice) and the well traveled guard can still do it all.
During his first go-round with the Nuggets, Miller was a reliable scorer for a team that needed to find a way to take the scoring pressure off of Carmelo Anthony. When Miller was around, the Nuggets seemed to have the alley-oop etched into the playbook with Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin being the main benefactors.
When Miller was traded, back in 2006, to the Philadelphia 76ers as the key part of the Allen Iverson trade - he continued to have success, but now with a young team trying to find ways to win. During the 2006-07 season the Sixers finished just 35-47. The up-and-down season of dealing with Iverson was a distraction for Philly and it showed. But with Miller on board for the next two seasons the upstart Sixers finished 40-42 ('07-'08) and 41-41 ('08-'09) and made the playoffs both years.
The veteran Miller, moved on from Philly and signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Blazers in the summer of 2009. The Portland franchise was decimated with injuries to their core players in Brandon Roy and Greg Oden. The Blazers brought in veterans Camby and Miller to try to plug some holes, but what they got from the two veterans was much more than stop-gap players. The Blazers finished the 2009-10 season with a 50-32 record, but were bounced from the first round of the playoffs. This past season the Blazers again reached the post-season after finishing with a 48-34 record and lost to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks in a hard-fought first round series. Miller played well in Portland and he helped LaMarcus Aldridge become a star in Portland.
This past season Miller was fourth on the team in scoring with 12.7 points per game, first on the team with 7.0 assists per game, second in steals with 1.41 per game, sixth in rebounding with 3.7 per game, second in field goal percentage with 49.3%, and third in free throw percentage - finishing 79% from the line.
'Dre, as he's known, is not much of a three-point shooter. When the Nuggets moved Miller for Iverson and eventually Iverson for Chauncey Billups - the Nuggets finally had that point guard who could really stretch the floor. Billups made the Nuggets a very dangerous long-range team and Miller, unlike Billups and Kidd, wont be able to help the Nuggets from deep, but his drive and dish game will certainly set up good looks for Arron Afflalo and other Denver shooters. And you can once again expect the alley-oop to become a staple of the Nuggets offense.
Chris Dempsey, of the Denver Post, had a couple of nice stories on Miller this week. In the first he discusses with Miller the starting role in Denver. And in the second he talks to Miller about how the player did not speak to Nuggets head coach George Karl until this past Sunday (since being traded in 2006 by Denver).
It will be very interesting to see what Karl does about the starting point guard job as both Lawson and Miller are NBA starters. I'm not sure the Nuggets can put Lawson back on the bench. Last season when Felton came over from the Knicks, Karl went ahead and anointed Lawson his starter. It is well known that Karl absolutely loves Miller's game, so it will be interesting to see how Karl utilizes the former University of Utah star. I think we will definitely see Miller and Lawson on the court at the same time as Miller's size can allow him to guard most shooting guards, but what happens to Afflalo in those lineups? It's always a risk to play with a smaller team, so if Lawson, Miller, and Afflalo are on the floor at the same time - the Nuggets might be in a tough spot defensively.
With Lawson, Miller, and Afflalo manning the back-court I don't see much room for another guard to really work their way into the lineup for substantial minutes. Those three players all can play 30+ minutes every night. Miller has averaged 34.4 minutes per game throughout his career and played 32.7 mpg last season with Portland.
To some it seems crazy that Denver elected to swap a 26 year-old guard for a 35 year-old one. It was obvious that Felton was not comfortable in a backup role during the prime of his career. It wasn't fair to Felton to keep him in Denver. The former Tar Heel is in the last year of his deal as well and will make $7.5 million next season, and Miller actually will make roughly $300,000 more with his $7.8 million figure. Money was clearly not the issue here, but rather finding the right combination of players. The Nuggets not only added a starting guard to the team, but they also gained a very exciting prospect in Jordan Hamilton in the draft night trade.
Miller told Denver Post reporter Chris Dempsey that he plans on playing another 3-5 years and that he'd like to finish his career in Denver. If Miller can remain productive for the twilight of his career and if Hamilton can show the promise the Nuggets hope he has, this will be yet another smart trade by the Nuggets. If you were ranking point guards right now, it would be hard to argue that Miller doesn't rank higher than Felton. Just look at their career stats:
|Min per game||FG%||3pt%||FT%||REB||AST||STL||Turnovers||Points|
There are certain trade-offs between the two, as Miller shoots a better percentage from the field, but Felton can stretch the floor a bit better from beyond the arc. Felton however is entering the prime of his career and will be a great addition to the Blazers.
Felton showed, in his short time in Denver, that he was a very different player than what his days in Charlotte highlighted. He was a good defender who never shied away from a challenge (guarding Kevin Durant in the post-season), a vocal leader that the Nuggets needed in a post-Billups world, an above average rebounder for a guard who went in among the trees to try to grab the ball, and he was never afraid to take difficult shots.
Miller and Felton are both guards who like to score and who are at their best when doing so. I can recall being frustrated with Miller in the past as he looked for his own shot in Denver a little too much. But I also remember the Nuggets not having a lot of options and Miller, being a reliable scorer, probably felt he needed to do a little more on the offensive end with the Nuggets.
This new Denver team, and new front office, should be a welcoming place for Miller. At the post-draft press conference, general manager Masai Ujiri talked about how excited Karl was to be getting Miller back. Ujiri even hinted that the Nuggets might have found their "Jason Kidd". The reporters in the room also noted how much Karl respected Miller's game. It seemed as though everyone in the room knew it was hard on Karl when he lost Miller in that Iverson trade.
Looking back it's hard to be upset with the Nuggets for dealing Miller for Iverson because, at the time, it was exciting to think what Iverson and 'Melo could do for the Nuggets. It's even harder to regret that trade after the Iverson experiment failed because the Nuggets were able to turn Iverson into Billups and that great Western Conference Finals run.
And finally, the re-acquiring of Miller means that we don't have to imagine the Nuggets dealing Felton for a big man and then being forced to ink a backup guard in the form of Carlos Arroyo or Anthony Carter.
The addition of Miller means the Nuggets still possess a very dangerous back-court.
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