As the Denver Nuggets begin preparations for the 2022 NBA Draft, they are rarely surprised by new information. The Nuggets are notorious for doing elite scouting and prep work for each draft cycle, and it’s why they often hone in on players that are younger, less scouted, and off the beaten track. Sometimes, a gem drops into their lap with somebody like Jamal Murray or Michael Porter Jr., players they expected to be picked higher but had a surprising fall. Sometimes, they target a guy that others see as a bit of a reach like Nikola Jokić at 41, Monte Morris at 51, and Bones Hyland at 26, only for those players to immediately exceed expectations upon arrival.
For Leonard Miller of Fort Erie Prep in Ontario, Canada, the Nuggets would be identifying someone in the latter category. At just 18 years old and coming out of high school, Miller is currently in the midst of a decision between three options: go to college at a school like Kentucky (sort of following in the footsteps of Murray actually), go to the G League Ignite or Overtime Elite and prepare for a professional career in a professional setting, or skip that process entirely and declare for the NBA Draft. Miller played at the Nike Hoops Summit in April of this year and performed reasonably well against players mostly in the 2023 class, and according to Jonathan Givony, he was the best player most days for Team World for the entire week of practices.
Leonard Miller looked like the best prospect on the Nike Hoop Summit World Team all week in practice, and may still factor into the 2022 NBA draft conversation. Measured 6-11 in shoes with a 7-2 wingspan and 9-foot standing reach in Portland. More on ESPN: https://t.co/xTPUG9KtiD pic.twitter.com/D5tIpscvfm— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) April 22, 2022
The question with Miller is going to be readiness. There were times against elevated competition where he looked frazzled. There were also times where his elite tools and playmaking chops at 6’11” were on full display for the world to see. He’s a potential home run prospect in the eyes of many, but the keyword here is potential, as he hasn’t quite put things together at even the college level to be seen as a can’t miss first round prospect.
As the Nuggets look to improve on their way to what is hopefully a championship run in the 2022-23 season, they will most likely use their draft pick on a player that’s ready to compete sooner rather than later. That’s not Miller; however, if the Nuggets determine it could be Miller in the not-too-distant future, his intriguing skill set certainly makes for a fun conversation for a lot of teams around draft time. The Nuggets love having those conversations given Tim Connelly’s scouting background, and perhaps their experience with Jamal Murray gives them pause before writing off an interesting prospect.
Leonard Miller, forward, Fort Erie International Academy
Age: 18 (11/26/2003)
Miller’s per game stats for his senior season of high school (2021-22)
According to the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association page for Miller, he played nine games, averaging an absurd 31.0 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. He also averaged 2.8 assists compared to 3.8 turnovers per game, and despite being 6’11”, he ran point for several possessions, and his exceptional season earned him MVP of the OBSA this past season. He’s played in FIBA events and also played in the Nike Hoops Summit and had 11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals against elevated competition.
Length and Athleticism
As previously mentioned, Miller is young and still has extensive room for growth. One area where he’s already project-able for the NBA is his size and frame. At 6’11” with a 7’2” wingspan, Miller utilized his advantages at the high school level and showcased how a wing/forward can develop massive advantages at lower levels by simply shooting over the top of the competition. He used his height reasonably well when taking “in-between” shots and should continue to do so at an NBA level when he gets switches.
Miller is still learning how best to use his size though. It wasn’t as much of an advantage as it probably could have been at a lower level. Miller is still gangly and has to get used to his 6’11” height and how best to apply that. He probably will through simply maturity and strength/conditioning/professional player development though, and that’s where the size becomes even more enticing.
Before he was taller than everybody else, Miller grew up as a ball handler and playmaker, or at least learning the ropes. He experienced a late growth spurt in high school and went from 6’4” to 6’11” fairly quickly, and his film makes it clear that he retained some of those ball handling and playmaking instincts.
Ball handling and playmaking might actually be Miller’s most project-able skill. Much like any high schooler, he wasn’t perfect, and there are still some schematic areas he can improve that could with experience and opportunity. Still, the foundation is there for Miller to become a high level playmaker for others with the ball in his hands. He sees the court well, especially in the high pick and roll, and makes passes over the top of the defense to open rollers when they double him at the top. On secondary drives to the basket, Miller often finds the dump-off pass to teammates circling around the basket from the dunker spot or the dotted circle. He’s good at getting an advantage on drives against his own man and then forcing the second defender to commit to him.
Don’t let the 2.8 assists per game in his high school senior year fool you. MIller has passing chops, keeping his head up while weaving through traffic and navigating tough situations as well as can be expected. As he continues to grow and develop, it’s possible that he models his game after playmaking forwards rather than scoring forwards, making him a fairly unique prospect.
Open Court skill set
Combining the two previous skills together often yields a player that thrives in the open court. Miller isn’t LeBron James or Ben Simmons or Pascal Siakam or anything like that, but he operates in much of the same mold, either rebounding and getting out in transition or receiving an outlet pass to get ahead of the defense. His dribbling and playmaking skills make him a consistent threat to go coast-to-coast, and defenses at the high school level at very few answers for Miller.
Here’s a good article on Miller to read a little bit more about journey, but the examples in here of his open court ability are pretty interesting and enticing.
For as talented as Miller clearly is, he’s far away from being a valuable NBA contributor. As often as he sees the floor and makes a high level decision, he can make poor decisions with the basketball just as frequently, if not more so. He has a tendency to dribble into traffic and get out of control, and that often leads to turnovers, missed layups at the rim, or simply taking himself out of the play. On the defensive end, this manifests itself into losing track of the scheme and what the opposing offense is trying to do, thus allowing some easy shots, offensive rebounds, and passes to occur because he’s simply behind the play.
Now, being 18 years old and having not played college basketball yet is a fairly strong excuse, but it means talent evaluators have to use a lot of projection to see if he’s a player that can truly realize his potential. Situation and time pressure can make that easier though, and that has to be a major consideration for the team that selects him if he stays in the draft.
Shooting foundation and refinement
Now, Miller’s percentages were reasonable at the high school level. He wasn’t a bad shooter by any stretch and actually shot the ball with extreme confidence, hitting shots several feet behind the line with regularity.
The questions come from Miller’s shot prep and shooting form, which are frankly his worst traits right now and call into question his readiness and role at the NBA level. He basically shoots a push shot with a relatively low release point and doesn’t get a ton of flexibility from the wrist. It worked well enough at lower levels, but to become an NBA caliber player, he will have to revamp his shot motion, which can either make or break athletic prospects.
Miller does have pretty strong shooting touch on awkward finishes around the basket. That much is clear. Part of the reason those finishes are awkward though is his shot prep and lack of go-to moves, which can seriously hurt at the NBA level if he doesn’t take the time to identify what works best skill wise.
It’s always difficult to identify high school film on the defensive end, but Miller is a particularly difficult defender to evaluate. Some of his defensive lapses were of the “I don’t need to care about this” variety. Others were more in line with not reading the floor particularly well. Both in combination lead to some pretty negative moments on the defensive end.
Given his physical tools Miller should project to be an above average defender when he reaches his prime years, but that often takes a bunch of hard work, dedication, and a professional mentality. It’s also another example of how far behind Miller is from fellow 2022 draft prospects. Even many of the younger prospects that are “toolsy” like Jabari Smith, Jeremy Sochan, and Jalen Duren simply have better defensive instincts, mostly because they’ve been in a college program for a year.
If Miller is going to be a 2022 draftee, he will need to put in a lot of work defensively to be a true NBA option.
Leonard Miller may still decide to go back to school or take the G League Ignite route, but if he opts to stay in the NBA Draft, the Nuggets should probably pass, at least with their 21st overall pick. Miller clearly has the skill set and the projection to be a high quality NBA option, but it’s going to take a lot of time. His jumper needs to be reworked, his defense needs to rise a few levels, and reps as a ball handler against NBA defenses are unlikely to go well early.
Given Denver’s previous draft history of selecting younger players like Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Bol Bol, R.J. Hampton, and Bones Hyland, it’s easy to see them taking a risk on talent with a player like Miller. He fits the bill in Denver of high ceiling prospect if everything works out; however, the only players remaining in Denver among that group are Murray and Bones, while the steadier, lower ceiling options of Monte Morris, Vlatko Cancar, and Zeke Nnaji have all stuck around thus far.
If the Nuggets are willing to wait, he seems like a decent target if they want to purchase a draft pick in the second round. That seems beside the point though, as the Nuggets need contributors now. They aren’t looking to maximize their title window four or five years from now. The onus is on the front office, coaching staff, and entire organization to be ready to compete next season. Miller isn’t ready to do that, even if he has tantalizing skills that could make him a solid long term play.
Given Denver’s need for production, reliability, and defensive talent to add to their current core, Miller just doesn’t seem like the right fit. Perhaps he develops into that going forward, but as it currently stands, Miller just isn’t the right fit for the Denver Nuggets.