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Heat making a mistake playing Mike Miller over James Jones

- guest writer Danny Martinez As the 2011 season starts to wind down, the Miami Heat and coach Erik Spoelstra have some very difficult decisions to make. Come playoff time, it is typical for teams to pare their rotation down to eight or nine players, an exercise that will be difficult for the Heat. One particular position that hasn't been talked about broadly, but should, is that of the bench swingman. For the first 40 games or so, James Jones filled the role capably. Lately, however, it has been Mike Miller garnering all of the minutes. In comparing the two, there are numerous statistics indicating that the Heat may be giving these important minutes to the wrong player. In the reserve swingman position, the Heat look for elite outside shooting and solid defense. Most of the minutes are played without either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, so theoretically the ability to handle the ball is also very important. When shopping for players this free agency, Pat Riley set his sights on Miller because he fit the bill perfectly. Of course, a preseason thumb injury sidelined him for the first two months of the seasons, and Jones stepped in to fill the void. The Miami native was an afterthought coming into the season after he was signed at the veteran’s minimum and wasn’t expected to see lots of action. Wrist injuries had derailed his previous two seasons with the Heat, and there was concern as to whether Jones could regain his shooting form from his breakout season in Portland. Quickly, Jones erased any doubt. In his first 47 games played (games where he received regular, substantial minutes), Jones shot 42.9% from three-point range. This was good for an Effective Field Goal percentage (three-pointers are weighted heavier than 2-pointers) of 61.1% and a True Shooting percentage (measuring a shooter’s efficiency) of 64.1%. Both figures topped the Heat roster, and were among the league best for all perimeter players. With less regular minutes the last two months, and a slight regression to the mean, Jones’ numbers have dropped slightly, but he still leads the team’s perimeter players in 3FG%, eFG% and TS% (excluding Mike Bibby’s numbers which are better, but are in a much smaller sample). While Miller’s season started in December, regular rotation minutes eluded him until January. His first seven games were terrible and dragged his season averages down considerably. By judging his performance since the increase in play, a more accurate evaluation can be had. In the 26 games Miller has received regular playing time he is shooting 41% on three-pointers, has an eFG of 55.1% and a TS of 55.4%. These numbers are fairly consistent with his career averages, but are worse than his last few seasons, and thus worse than the Heat expected. ..
Season Averages 3FG% eFG% TS%
Mike Miller 38.0% 51.3% 53.5%
James Jones 41.6% 58.8% 58.8%
.
Regular Minutes 3FG% eFG% TS%
Mike Miller (26 games) 40.7% 55.1% 44.4%
James Jones (48 games) 42.9% 61.1% 64.1%
.. Despite the fact that he’s shot worse than James Jones, Miller has received playing time because of the other skills he brings to the table. He is a far superior rebounder to Jones and has been labeled as a skilled ball handler. Also, Miller’s athleticism should lead to him being a better defender than Jones. However, numerous metrics indicate that Miller’s ball handling has been overstated and that he’s a real liability on the defensive end of the court. There is no doubt that Miller can move with the ball better than Jones can, but there is little to prove that he’s been efficient when given the opportunity. Miller has had the lowest Assist Percentage of his career (percentage teammates field goals that he assisted on while on the court), and has had the second highest turnover percentage of his career. Some of this can be contributed to being in a new system. Still on a team that has numerous capable ball handlers on the court at most all times (almost all of Miller’s minutes come with either Wade of James on the floor), Miller has yet to prove he can take care of the basketball. Also, Miller’s ball handling has not led to any shot creation for himself either. 83% of his made field goals have been assisted (the highest of his career) and this is a function of the Heat’s desire to use him as a spot-up three-point shooter. James Jones rarely handle’s the ball in any playmaking scenario, thus both his assist and turnover rates are low. Also, nearly all of his field goals, 99.1% to be exact, have been assisted. Jones is the prototypical corner three-point specialist. The Heat wait for the opposing defense to collapse around Wade, James or Bosh then kick it out to Jones for the three. It was proven to be very effective. Jones’ individual Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions) is leading all qualified Heat players at 126. Miller’s Offensive Rating is 106. Individual offensive ratings can be misleading however, and it’s better to look at how a team performs while a certain player is on or off the floor. When Miller is on the court, the Heat have an offensive rating of 107.3 and a defensive rating of 109.6. When he’s off the court the Heat have an offensive rating of 111.8 and a defensive rating of 101.3. For Jones, when on the court the Heat’s offensive rating is 109.4 and it’s defensive rating is 101.30. When Jones is on the bench the ratings are 111.7 and 103.9 respectively. This comparison highlights one key difference between both players and it's on defense. The Heat’s offensive output when Jones is on the floor is slightly higher than that of Miller, but the defensive difference is staggering. The Heat are a full eight points per 100 possessions better when Mike Miller is not on the floor. That is also the difference between Jones and Miller. Overall, Jones’ on the floor is a net of 10.6 points per 100 possessions better than Miller. ..
Season Averages 3FG% eFG% TS%
Mike Miller 38.0% 51.3% 53.5%
James Jones 41.6% 58.8% 58.8%
..
Regular Minutes 3FG% eFG% TS%
Mike Miller (26 games) 40.7% 55.1% 44.4%
James Jones (48 games) 42.9% 61.1% 64.1%
.. The defensive superiority by Jones is somewhat counterintuitive since he is not an overwhelming athlete. However, his help rotations have been key to the Heat’s team defensive concepts (he leads the team in charges taken). It is my belief that this is where Jones’ extra seasons in the Heat system and his healthy legs give him the advantage over Miller. Mike has been battling a knee injury for much of the season and still walks with a notable limp on the court. The Heat’s mantra ever since Riley took the reigns has been defense first, and if that’s the case, Jones has a case to be on the floor. Despite the numbers, I believe that the Heat staff believes that Mike Miller is a better basketball player than James Jones. I don’t necessarily disagree, but don’t believe a hurt Miller is better than a healthy Jones. The Heat already are battling rotation issues, and the thought of giving Miller a week or two off then reintroducing him to the lineup is a tough pill to swallow. The Heat already will have to work Chalmers and Haslem back into the rotation, and the prospect of doing it with a third player at the same time is daunting. I think I can understand why Miller is getting minutes over Jones, but it is getting harder to ignore the mounting empirical evidence. If Mike Miller were playing at full health, Spoelstra’s decision would be a no brainer. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The Heat desperately need three-point shooters to space the floor for LeBron and Dwyane, and at this point, Miller is not the most effective. In fact, he’s probably third behind Jones and Bibby. The Heat’s front office uses its own metrics to measure performance that we do not have access to, and while it’s possible Miller shines there, I highly doubt it. Every move made this year has been made with an eye on winning the title right now. I’m curious to see how they address this situation. If the Heat believe that "defense wins championships," can they justify big minutes to Bibby and Miller while neglecting Jones? It remains to be seen. Danny can be followed on Twitter @DannyMartinez4