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Has Miles Solved his Early-Season Issues?

Stats. Stats. Stats.

If the Toronto Raptors coaching staff was having trouble finding minutes for C.J. Miles in the early part of the season, then they are now having trouble finding minutes in which he can rest. Miles has been a massive benefit in his last 15 games, drilling 43.9% of his 3s on a stoopid volume of 6.8 attempted 3s per game. His 13.3 attempted 3s per-36 minutes leads the entire NBA rotation player in that stretch. If the ball hits his hands, he’s shooting it immediately.

Miles will shoot contested shots, several feet behind the arc, only fractions of a second after the ball hits his hands. This is not a good shot for practically any other player in the league:

And yet he hits it. He’s been doing that a lot recently. Let’s go through some stats during the last 15 games just to prove that Miles has been helping the Raptors.

O-Rat Net-Rat TS% Usg% Avg sec per Touch Points per Touch
Stat 125.4 31.5 66.9 22.5 1.49 0.549
Rank on Team (among rotation players) 1st 1st 2nd 2nd 2nd last 1st

So what do all these disparate stats mean, taken together? Miles rarely touches the ball, but when he touches it, he shoots it immediately. It usually goes in. The Raptors win when this happens.

This seems too simple, so we should question if anything is different that has caused him to be such a boon in the last 15 games. First let’s look at his shot distribution in the last 15 games as opposed to the entire season. First and foremost, 81.9% of his shots attempted have been 3s. That’s… staggering (and would put him 2nd in the league in 3-point rate behind only Wayne Ellington, 84% of whose shots are 3s). On the season, Miles’ 3-point rate is only (!) 77%.

Furthermore, in the last 15 games Miles has taken 63 above-the-break 3s as compared to 18 corner 3s. On the season it’s 247 above-the-break 3s compared to 69 corner 3s, per Cleaning the Glass. That’s a similar ratio of above-the-break to corner 3s (~3.5:1), and it’s been relatively consistent (although not to quite this extreme) for his entire career. These are the kinds of shots he likes, even if no one else in the NBA does. Fair.

So his shots are coming from the same places in the last 15 games, though more of his attempted shots are 3s. How about defenders? Have they been contesting his shots as thoroughly in the last 15 games?

% of 3s Wide Open % of 3s Open % of 3s Tightly Contested % of 3s Very Tightly Contested
Last 15 Games 27.4 45.2 26.0 1.4
Full Season 30.1 40.4 27.4 2.0

Hm, ok, basically the same. His shots are coming from practically the same places (although he is attempting more 3s), and defenders are defending them practically the same way. Perhaps the difference is simpler.

Wide Open Open Tightly Contested Very Tightly Contested
3P% Last 15 Games 55.0 33.3 52.6 0
3P% Full Season 43.4 39.1 35.6 28.6

So Miles is making far more of his contested 3s, which are a large portion of his shots. That adds up to a difference of ~0.2 extra points per game, considering the percentage of his 3s that are tightly contested. (The percentage difference between wide open and open 3s practically cancel each other out). The difference is perhaps not as significant as originally believed.

It’s worth mentioning here that Raptors plays create the same shots for Miles as they always have. This is his normal shot in the flow of the offence:

He runs off screens, catches the ball above-the-break, and fires before you can say C.J. Kilometers (well, way before that…). When the Raptors get fancy, they’ll run a double drag continuity series (thanks for teaching me that mouthful, Coop) to spring him:

The result is similar: an above-the-break 3 (although it is slightly more open). When Miles does get his chances from the corner, it generally comes outside the flow of the offence, in that the play is not designed specifically for him to receive the ball in the corner. He either drifts to the corner smartly on a drive:

Or just kind of stands in the corner and hopes a teammate makes the right pass:

The point is that these have been exactly his shots during the entire season! The plays have not changed to get him open corner 3s. This irked me early in the year when I wrote a piece criticizing Miles:

“[Miles] is playing in defense-first, up-tempo, weirdo groups in which the offence initiates through Fred VanVleet or Delon Wright as ballhandlers in the pick and rolls. Those offences – while fun and good, of course – have had trouble forcing multiple defensive rotations to create open jumpers for their shooters. There’s simply not enough shot creation in those all-bench lineups…. Basically, the youth have been throwing hand grenades at Miles all season, who has done well to put the pins in a high rate of such catastrophes, making 35.3% of such attempted 3s. Even when Miles gets his shots in the flow of the offence, he is attempting difficult shots.”

All of this remains quite true. He is still taking deep, above-the-break, relatively contested 3s more often than not. Those are the shots designed for him; he’s just been making them more often. So what has actually changed? Yes, he’s taking more 3s, and yes, he’s making them slightly more often. But as explained above, the increases are slight enough that they wouldn’t alone be responsible for the dominance he has shown in the past 15 games. His 3-point percentage increase from 38.8% (full season) to 43.9% (last 15 games) accounts for a difference just over 1 point per game, given his 3s attempted.

Could it be that he is taking more 3s? Playing more minutes? No (his increased 3-point rate is really that he is just taking fewer 2s) and no (same minutes per game). The answer appears not to lie on the offensive end. I also wrote earlier in the year that Miles’ defence was a problem. That was true then, but has it been true recently? Tune in next feature (of mine) to find out the true reason why Miles has ascended to the throne of deity-player during his last several games.

All stats taken from nba.com except where otherwise mentioned.

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