Mike Miller is back for the second time for Miami, and he has a few things to prove this time around.
The last time Miller came off the injured list (i.e. last year) he did so with the benefit of being a well-touted role player with a solid history and plenty of optimism regarding his upcoming contribution to the Heat.
The second time around, he's returning to action with the stink of his worst pro season still wafting off him, and there is skepticism as to what he has in store for Round 2.
Was last year just a temporary lull resulting from a loss of rhythm and the shock of joining history's most despised team? Or was it the start of a steady decline into worthlessness, before Miami could squeeze even one good year out of him?
Miller will have ample opportunity to answer these questions as his second year in black is under way. In this writer's opinion, he isn't all that likely to really ever take any major steps forward on this team, if only because of how easy it is to get lost in the shuffle as the games pile up.
Still, it could just as easily be argued that Miller is on the verge of bouncing back in the coming weeks and months, most likely based on the following five indications.
When you think about it, Mike Miller is less than two years removed from being a not-too-shabby player on a yearly basis...
He is, after all, a former Rookie of the Year, and at one point in 2009 (just prior to the Arenas/Crittenton incident) his acquisition was a key reason why the Wizards were preseason favorites in the East. By his last season before coming to South Beach, he was shooting above .500 from the field and just a shade below from range as well.
That may seem like a lifetime ago, and there's no discounting the effects of time on a player's former self, but the point is that Miller is no stranger to playing strong basketball.
What this means is that a strong year would be more of a return to form than some kind of breakthrough for him, the former being arguably the easier of the two to achieve.
If Miller can regain some of his previous lustre, even a partial comeback would be all he needs to prove the Heat were right to pick him up.
When you're a three-point specialist on a team that assaults the rim as much as the Heat do, you're in no danger of getting dusty.
Miller is playing alongside Mr. Drive n' Dish himself, LeBron James, and let's not forget that Dwyane Wade is also more than adept at finding the open man. Heck, kicking the ball out of the high post is one of Chris Bosh's signature moves.
Considering who he plays with, and why he was brought in to begin with, the ball will come to him quite frequently. If Mike Miller fails to make him mark this year, it probably won't be for a lack of looks at the basket.
He's also not the most horrible cutter who ever lived—nobody can overtake James Jones—which enables Miller to mix up the offense once in a blue moon. Still, the three-point line is where he needs to make most of his magic happen in order to highlight his true value to the team.
Let's be clear: Pressure can be a good or a very bad thing. If Mike Miller needs someone to inform him of this, then he has absolutely no idea who's feeding him the ball half the time.
Assuming Miller hasn't picked up any bad habits from his teammates—or at least not too many—there's no reason he shouldn't be able to respond to the pressure that comes with being the fourth original piece of Miami's super-puzzle.
So where does the pressure come from? Besides being a member of the Miami freakin' Heat, there's also Pat Riley's reputation as ruthlessly unafraid to fire underachievers out of a cannon—figuratively speaking, of course.
Further adding the tenuousness of Miller's hold on a Heat roster, is the fact that he still has the most trade value of anyone outside the Three Banditos. His name is destined to keep popping up any time Riley's phone rings, and eventually one of these phone calls will end in a deal unless Miller does something to make him think better of it.
Assuming that fact is not lost on Miller, it should help light a Heat logo under his rear end this season.
Let's just say Mike Miller doesn't need to set the world on fire to improve over last year...
After spending a healthy chunk of time on the injured list, Miller's insertion into Miami's delicate offensive machine went about as smoothly as jamming a wrench down a car cylinder. What I'm saying is results were not very positive.
Miller proceeded to nearly cut in half his previous career-low scoring average, his shooting dipped 10 whole percentage points and his free-throw shooting was frightful. He was tentative, didn't know where he fit in and on many occasions his play cost the Heat more than helped them.
He doesn't need to return to his 18-point glory days to bounce back from the year he had in 2011; he just needs to be decent and contribute. Heck, simply netting 10 points on 50-percent shooting could put him in the running for Most Improved Player.
Technically, Miller did briefly average 18 points and shoot 100 percent from downtown this year...
Fine, so it only lasted one game, but it certainly gave people a taste of what Mike Miller can do in an ideal scenario. Not that his performance against San Antonio set some sort of enduring standard, but it certainly generated some optimism that there is still much hope for Mike Miller on this team.
His numbers have tapered off rather swiftly since, and four games later, he sits below seven points per game. So was the Spurs game just a very temporary flare-up?
Five games in, it's far too early to tell, but it bears mentioning that 6-of-6 nights from downtown are a bit of a rarity. This means that if this is the only way Miller can make his presence felt on the stat sheet—and generously intersperses it with four-point duds—that groove of his is far likelier to stay lost.