That desperation was not there when he was first signed this summer to a four-year $18 million deal. At that point, the best-case scenario for Miles was a role as a third wing off the bench behind Paul George and Lance Stephenson. The worst-case scenario was Miles replacing Stephenson in the starting lineup if Stephenson signed elsewhere.
It turned out there was an even worse scenario lurking.
Stephenson left for the Charlotte Hornets, and George suffered a catastrophic leg fracture at the end of August which will likely keep him out for the entire season. All of a sudden, the Pacers' depth on the wings evaporated.
On Wednesday night we got a taste of the Pacers' new wing rotation in a 103-91 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Rodney Stuckey was the star, scoring 16 points in 16 injury-restricted minutes, but the game underscored just how much the Pacers need Miles.
After starting the game 1-of-7 from the field, Miles finished with 15 points, making six of his last 10 shots. Although the 76ers are not the scariest offensive team in the league, Miles also played solid defense and helped funnel penetration toward Roy Hibbert—the backbone of the Pacers' defensive scheme.
There is no way Miles will be able to completely fill the hole left by George, but like George he can contribute positively on both sides of the ball,which will be essential to Indiana.
ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus estimated Miles' defensive impact at 0.21 points per 100 possessions. While that's nowhere near the mark of 2.58 George put up last season, it puts Miles on the good side of the defensive ledger. That's something that can't be said for the Pacers' other wing options:
While George was a phenomenal one-on-one defender, the Pacers' defensive system is good enough to help ease the burden. What they really need from Miles is play within the system, sending penetration toward Hibbert and closing out intelligently on shooters. In those narrow capacities, he's more than capable of following through.
Miles' value goes beyond his defense. He was extremely efficient as a complementary scorer in Cleveland last season, finishing with a 56.9 true shooting percentage, shooting 39.3 percent on three-pointers and turning the ball over on just 9.1 percent of his possessions.
However, Miles' efficiency came in a very constrained role, much different than the one George played for the Pacers.
|Player||True Usage||Ast Usage||Drives per 36min.||% of FGA on C&S|
True Usage and Assist Usage are more complete measures of offensive involvement that blend additional assist categories from the NBA's SportVU player tracking statistics with traditional measures of usage. You can see here that Miles played a much smaller role and created far fewer scoring opportunities for his teammates.
His role was much more centered around the perimeter than George's—he drove the basketball far less, and more than half of his field-goal attempts were of the catch-and-shoot variety.
You can see from his shot chart from last season how his activity was focused around the perimeter:
Tim Donahue of 8Points9Seconds.com elaborated on Miles' offensive skill set:
Spotting up and coming off screens. That’s what C.J. Miles does. People like to talk about his ability to put the ball on the floor and make things happen, but he’s a shooter. He’s gonna shoot. If the Pacers can get him good looks, he’ll knock em down. If not, don’t expect much dynamism or creativity, though he did score nearly 10% of his points leading the pick-and-roll, which is encouraging when it comes to a Miles/West two-man game.
Breaking things down into these stylistic categories, it's clear that Miles will not be able to replicate a significant portion of what George gave the Pacers on offense last season. But he is a good fit for what is left on the roster and the way the team will likely play.
The Pacers will reportedly look to return to their smashmouth roots this season, running much more of their offense through Hibbert and David West in the low post. Stuckey, who will probably take over the starting shooting guard position when his minutes restriction is lifted, will be asked to replace a lot of the shot-creation and penetration contributions that George and Stephenson made. Stuckey is a questionable outside shooter, though.
Between post-ups for their big men and Stuckey's dribble-drive attacks, spacing is going to be at a premium for the Pacers. The fact that Miles can be counted on for consistent outside shooting makes him extremely important.
Miles is a capable defender, one whose impact should be increased in the Pacers' system and with Hibbert patrolling the lane behind him. On offense, he may not be a high-usage shot creator who can carry the perimeter scoring load, but he knows his role, doesn't turn the ball over and is a very good outside shooter.
He's no Paul George, but unfortunately beggars can't be choosers. The Pacers are short on wing talent, and there simply isn't anyone else on the roster who can provide a reasonable facsimile of George. If the Pacers are going to be successful this season they'll need positive contributions wherever they can find them.
That means a lot of C.J. Miles.
Statistical support for this story from NBA.com/stats.