Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Andre Miller: The Unsung Hero

If a poll asked Blazer fans about their take on Team MVP, I'm sure the majority of votes would go to Brandon Roy, rightfully so, a reigning 2nd Team All-NBA performer and 3-time All-Star. A handful would select LaMarcus Aldridge as the most valuable, due to his ability to take the squad to a higher level when he is playing to his potential. The remaining few may point out the Trail Blazers recent trend of winning 9 of 11 has to do with Nicolas Batum being inserted into the starting lineup. Just as he was overlooked and passed by during free agency, Andre Miller ended up being the top free agent signee of 2009 and, to date, Portland's MVP.
While the likes of Hedo Turkoglu, Charlie Villanueva, and Ben Gordon headlined the '09 free agent crop, each of those players has not lead their team to winning records through mid-March, have seen their numbers drop significantly, and all garnered immense, multi-year contracts in the $50 million range. On the other hand, Dre had no suitors. His former team Philadelphia decided to go in another direction and was even passed over by Portland twice, thought of more so as a backup plan than anything else. Even at the time of the signing, it was thought KP was trying to salvage something with the team's cap space after being burnt twice already.
Feeling slighted already by the fact no one mentions his name as one of the game's 10 best point guards, Andre went about his business, using the feeling of being unsought after in the open market to fuel his fire. Not only were many other GM's guilty of failing to notice Miller's value, so were many of the Trail Blazer fans. The signing of Andre divided fans as the Willamette does the city of Portland. One side represented supporters of bringing in Andre, knowing his veteran presence and rock-solid consistency would be an asset to an already young Trail Blazer team. The other viewed Dre as a horrible compliment to Roy, who prefers to play with the ball in his hands and arugued Steve Blake was a much better fit due to his ability to knock down jump shots, a knock on Miller his entire career (.212 from 3). Nothing new to Andre, rather increasing an already large chip on his shoulder used to drive his motivation.
As the summer-long debate blew up radio airways and internet message boards, Miller quietly went about his duties heading into training camp when it was time to prove he should be the starting point guard. After a pre-season in which he completely outplayed Blake, Miller was still delegated to the bench after it was rumored Coach Nate sat down with both players, letting them know whomever will start will win the job during the pre-season. Media tried to spin it as a better "fit" as Blake could play alongside Roy while Dre could lead the younger, less experienced 2nd unit. After a lethargic and unexpected 2-3 start to the season, Andre was inserted into the starting line which propelled Portland to win six in a row. Only one catch, Blake was the shooting guard, pushing Roy to small forward, a move forcing him to guarding bigger, stronger, and faster players. Although the move resulted in the Blazers longest winning streak of the season, many knew it wasn't a long-term fit. Roy was getting unhappy playing out of his natural position, so the Miller signing still felt like trying to stick a square peg into a round hole.
After being added to the starting lineup on November 6th, just 15 days later on November 21st, Andre found himself back on the bench, despite being 7-2 as the starting point guard, as Portland went with a more traditional lineup, moving Roy back to the 2 and Webster replacing him as the small forward. Not only did Dre's production fall off, averaging pedestrian numbers of 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists through November, but the entire team was inconsistent due to numerous factors, from having too many players needing playing time to undefined roles. Suddenly the once thought-to-be darkhorse team to dethrone the Lakers had to worry about simply making the playoffs. After a 1-3 road trip putting the Trail Blazers record at a uninspiring 14-11, it was time for change. Insert Andre Miller.
On December 15th, Andre was the given the keys to the offense and this time he had Roy alongside him, not Blake. Andre's steady hand has lead the Trail Blazers to a 27-17 record since his permanent fixture as Portland's starting point guard as well as putting the Blazers on pace to win 50 games in back to back seasons for the first time since 99-00/00-01, an amazing feat considering all the injuries this team has dealt with. A season that saw both centers, Oden and Przybilla, end their seasons in December with kneecap injuries, felt the absence of Roy for nearly a month with a nagging hamstring injury, and only had Martell Webster and Andre Miller as the only two Blazers to play in all 69 games to date. While Roy was out the majority of January, Andre did his finest work as a Trail Blazer, posting season-high month averages of 18.8 points on 50% field goal shooting, 6.7 assists, 4 rebounds, and doing so by logging 36 minutes a night on his 33 year-old body. Highlights included his 52 point, superhuman performance in a 114-112 victory in Dallas.
The bottom line is even though Portland has more talented players, without the consistency Miller brought to the table every night, with every other Blazers seemingly in and out of the lineup with injuries, Portland would be no where near the playoff race right now. There would be no Rip City Uprise 2010. At a point and multiple points during the season where it felt like all hope was lost for the 2010 Blazers, Dre always made that one important play to secure the win and always keep our heads afloat in the Western Conference playoff race, never allowing the Trail Blazers to fall below the 8th and final playoff spot. At 33, he still has impressive numbers, averaging 13.7 points, 5.4 assists, and 3.3 rebounds in 30.7 minutes per game. Based on his Per 36 minutes production, his stats are as comparable if not better than the previous 3-4 years (16 pts, 6.4 asts, 3.9 rebs) so I don't think Dre plans on slowing down anytime soon. I doubt there will be any more debates as to whether Andre can play with Brandon or who should be the starting point guard for the 2011 Trail Blazers. For once in his career, he won't be overlooked or underestimated; he's earned himself that much.

1 comment:

  1. Andre for Coach Of The Year.

    Early in the season, he was the only guy interested in getting Oden the ball. And he was the one who finally spoke up about Nate's ridiculous lineup and substitution patterns, leading to Andre (finally) getting the starting spot he so obviously deserved. And of course, that led to Blake-for-Camby.