CJ Miles is a known quantity. He was a known quantity last year, and it’s no different coming into this new season. Miles is fun, by all accounts a great teammate, and gold to have in the locker-room. On the court, he’s one of the league’s best shooters, and that’s about it.
Despite his up-and-down season being interrupted by the happy birth of a daughter, as well as an unhappy (and botched) dental surgery, Miles performed about exactly as expected. He was personally disappointed in his season, but the only surprising element was his availability.
The man is a gunner unbothered by the whims and fancies of a conscience. His preferred shot is a 3-pointer from the elbow-extended area, preferably taken racing around a screen, with multiple defenders leaping at him from either side. And he takes them from way deep.
Miles takes difficult shots, and he makes them far better than practically anyone else in the league. Though he only shot 36.1 percent from behind the arc, that was almost entirely due to the difficulty of his shot choices. He still hit the easy ones, connecting on 45 percent of corner 3s and 42.1 percent of wide-open 3s. Despite his pedestrian overall shooting marks, he remained a fulcrum upon which the success of the bench offence swung.
The narrative was that the bench struggled on offence without Miles. He was the unit’s only high-volume 3-point shooter for much of the season, and he posted the highest usage rate among bench players. Possessions that didn’t results in a Miles triple out of the original action often yielded heavily contested shots. It seemed at times that Miles was the bench offence; however, that narrative is overblown.
Minutes that Van Vleet, Delon Wright, and Pascal Siakam played without Miles on the floor were in fact superior offensively, scoring a higher point-per-possession mark. However, that was only because Miles dragged down offensive rebounding and transition numbers. In only the half-court, with second chances from offensive rebounding taken out, bench units with Miles scored better than those without. However, add in transition and second chances, and bench units without Miles scored better. This means that his shooting was valuable, but he hurt them in so many other areas that it wasn’t enough to help the team’s overall offensive numbers.
That’s the knock on Miles. He’s such a good shooter that his presence can yield a high-value triple practically anytime. The only problem is that he offers exactly nothing beyond shooting. He is a poor rebounder, passer, driver, dribbler, and everything else on offence. He doesn’t move well without the ball outside of an initial action. He doesn’t screen well. This was known before he played a minute in Toronto.
I wrote this in the off-season after Miles signed with the Raptors.
“So what is Miles bringing to the Raptors’ offense? He is an elite shooter after someone passes him the ball, but not in any other situation. He immediately becomes a basketball disaster if he dribbles, passes, holds the ball for 1 second, or really even moves much at all. Despite those weaknesses, CJ Miles fits as well as your favourite jean jacket into the Raptors’ 2016-17 offensive game plan. He will not bring about the much-vaunted #culturechange.”
I was optimistic that his shooting would be enough to make him a positive, and that was arguably the case during the regular season. When Miles played, the Raptors were vastly better than their opponents. However, despite his offensive limitations, Miles is solely an offensive specialist. He’s slow-footed on defence, lacks awareness, doesn’t rebound, and is foul-prone. That has continued this preseason, as he’s continually died on screens and been roasted in isolation or in the post. His presence on the court alone will hurt the Raptors’ ability to switch screens off the ball. His inability to play defence – combined with his lack of diversity on offence – make him virtually unplayable in the playoffs.
I wrote in January last season that Miles’s one-dimensional game would hurt.
“Miles’ defensive shortcomings will sting more in the playoffs. Teams will pick on weaknesses over and over like a scab, and a Miles-Valanciunas pairing would be practically unplayable against smart offences, like Cleveland’s.”
And, yikes, Miles was awful in the playoffs. Despite hitting 42.2 percent of his triples, he posted the worst net rating on the team among players who weren’t traded to San Antonio. He was a monstrous negative against Cleveland, posting the worst net rating and defensive rating among bench players. He couldn’t defend on the perimeter or in the post. Hot shooting is not enough of a useful skill to keep a player on the floor in the playoffs.
What does that mean for him this upcoming season? Likely more of the same. Unless Norman Powell rediscovers himself and steals Miles’ minutes, Miles will remain a rotation player in the regular season. Single skills are valuable over a long season, and an excellent shooter will always be useful when teams aren’t gameplanning for individual non-star opponents. Miles will have a place in the regular season solely due to being a top-10ish shooter in the league. In fact, he will be playable on any unit because of how massively the Raptors have upgraded their wing defence. Miles can be hidden in the regular season.
Miles should play 10-20 minutes per game, shoot almost exclusively from behind the arc, post a high usage rate, and can 36-40 percent of his triples, depending on how Nick Nurse draws up his shots. He’ll have a hugely positive net rating, and he already has in the preseason. However, expect Miles to be glued to the bench come playoff time. He remains a useful player with exceptional ability at one thing. As past years have proved, winning in the playoffs requires athletes with skills across the board. As last year proved, Miles is not one of those players.