Making the Case for Brandon Miller
They say the 2023 NBA Draft starts at 2. With Charlotte on the clock, Corey Tulaba makes the case for Alabama's Brandon Miller.
The draft starts at 2. That’s what you’ll be hearing on the ESPN studio shows for the next week during their draft coverage. But for the majority of the last two years, we mostly assumed that the draft actually started at 3—that the 2023 NBA Draft had not one, but potentially two “generational” prospects in Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson. However, the narrative never plays out in the way we predict it to in the wide world of sports.
So what, or more fittingly who, shifted the 2023 NBA Draft cycle from a two-man race to a three-man weave?
Enter Brandon Miller, the 6’9” 20-year-old wing that lit the net on fire at Tuscaloosa this season.
Let’s not get it twisted, Miller didn’t exactly come out of nowhere to crash the party. The Antioch, Tennessee native was a highly touted prospect heading into the year—he was a two-time Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year and a McDonald's All-American. He was very much on the radar, however, he was divisive and mostly on the outside looking in amongst his peers as prospects most likely to find themselves on early Top 5 draft boards. While I had Miller in the Top 5 on my personal preseason board, Miller came into the year as the 15th-ranked prospect on the $DRFT IPO. The contention was not whether Miller was worthy of a top 5 ranking, but rather is he even worthy of a lottery grade?
A Shooting Star
It didn’t take long for Miller’s name to buzz behind the scenes. Miller got to work right away, reportedly dropping 33 points in a scrimmage vs TCU. Still, evaluators had questions about how he stacked up to his peers, even after a scorching hot start to the college basketball season. The main reason was Miller’s finishing at the rim, which I’ll detail in depth later in this piece, but what had made Miller one of the focal points in the early draft discourse was Miller’s shot-making from deep.
And that’s the main sell with Miller if you are of the opinion that the unanimous Second Team All-American should hear his name called second on June 22nd. With Miller, you are investing in one of the best shooting prospects in recent memory, who just so happens to also be 6’9” with the skills to also dribble, pass, and defend.
Miller shot the three-ball at ridiculous volume as a freshman. But beyond the volume, it was the hit rate, connecting on over 100 made threes while shooting 38.4% on 12.5 3PA per 100. Miller also shot over 85% from the free-throw line and got there enough per game that it matters in his eval. Those are real-deal shooter qualifiers. He’s also the only freshman prospect at a high major since 2008 to clear that bar. People may quibble with his freshman status as he is old for a freshman—he’ll be 20.58 years old on draft night. Taking Miller’s age into account and adding in sophomores to the query, the only other prospect to join him is UConn’s Jordan Hawkins, on the back of an elite prospect shooting season himself.
A lot of the online discourse for why Brandon Miller should go number two overall is due to his cleaner fit in Charlotte. I do think that sentiment is true given the shooting advantage, but fit shouldn’t be the primary reason to take him there. Miller should only go #2 overall if Charlotte feels as if he’s the second-best prospect on the board. I personally believe that he just may be, but with all that said it is easier to imagine Miller’s game complimenting not just LaMelo Ball in Charlotte or Damian Lillard in Portland, but really any litany of on-ball creators across the league. Miller is considered to be a Top 3 prospect not only because he can shoot and play with the ball in his hands, but the dude’s game is enhanced by the fact that he can synergize with any kind of roster construction. Pair him with a playmaking rim pressure guard or jumbo initiator and he can either spot up or shoot it off movement. Miller’s spot-up shooting and the gravity he provides on the floor for his teammates given his NBA range, is particularly deadly, as Miller shot 51%(!) on unguarded catch-and-shoot threes this season. If you leave him open just put the three points on the board.
The off-ball spot-up shot-making feels like a necessity in the modern NBA, especially the deeper you get into a playoff setting where made threes tend to swing games, but it’s the efficacy alongside the versatility in how Miller knocks down shots that makes him the dangerous shot-maker that he proved to be. He doesn’t have to just sit in the corner or on the wing and spot up, Miller will be used in pick-and-pop scenarios and you can run him off screens where his excellent footwork and quick release allow him to get shots off quickly. Miller’s off-ball movement skills will allow for offenses to get creative and use him in unpredictable ways if they so choose.
Early on in the process, Miller had gotten a fair amount of comps to Jabari Smith as high-level shooting forwards. However, the quibble with Smith was always that he needed to be set up for those shots. Remember all the dialogue about how if only Jabari had guards that could get him the ball in his spots? Well, you don’t have to worry about that with Miller.
Miller has one of the slickest handles in the class and is one of my favorite ball-handling wings that I’ve scouted over the last few drafts. There aren’t many 6’9” prospects that have the ball on a string like Miller does. Skeptics feel as though Miller lacks that streetball-esque shake, the kind that Jamal Crawford had. While Miller may not have as much traditional side-to-side shake as J-Crossover, he still has plenty of wiggle that allows him to get elastic and bendy. That elasticity is what makes Miller’s movement patterns hard to predict, which in turn allows him to misdirect his defender and get them off balance to create space for clean looks.
This in-and-out step-back three is shot-making at the highest level. The way that Miller uses his body to sell the in-and-out by shifting his weight and playing high-to-low and then transitions seamlessly into the step-back with the exquisite footwork while the defender is recovering is just…chef’s kiss.
Miller has a deep bag to get into clean looks. Even on the majority of his misses, it feels as if he’s missing because he missed, not because the defender really altered the shot. When I broke down film with Arkansas’s Ricky Council—a tough shot-maker himself—he told me that “sometimes shots that look really hard are easy, and sometimes shots that look really easy are hard.” Miller is still creating enough space to get a clean look on this iso, especially given his quick release, and the defender gets a good contest, but that is an extremely makeable shot in Miller’s shot diet. These are the type of shots that you want Miller taking, especially if you are drafting him second overall.
Alabama ran a very NBA-friendly style offense this season, one in which Brandon Miller was very much empowered as a ball-handler. This in turn let Miller operate a heavy dose of P&Rs – around 20% of his overall possessions per Synergy. Miller’s off-ball spacing prowess makes him a clean fit in any offense, but it’s his ability to operate as an initiator that makes him such a high-level prospect. I’m not saying that Miller is going to be Luka or Harden and you should let him dominate possessions as a heliocentric creator or anything like that. That just isn’t the way to best make use of his game. And he still has some decision-making that needs to be cleaned up and perfected, but the consistent flashes of pace, nuance, and shot creation for both him and his teammates were very enticing when projecting how he’ll be optimized as a pro.
Let’s get back to Miller’s shooting for a minute because it’s the threat of the shot that opens up his pick-and-roll operation.
Miller has deep range and a quick trigger, he’ll make teams pay against whatever P&R coverage you throw at him. Going under gives him too much space and time to even make him think.
But even if you’re fighting over the screen—as projected lottery pick and known defensive stalwart Cason Wallace does here—he’s still comfortable shooting over a tight contest. Being 6’9” certainly helps. And man…check out the footwork to get set and balanced behind the line and the ability to knock down shots coming off the screen in either direction. Elite shit.
Miller isn’t the most explosive player on the floor by any stretch. He’s certainly a very good athlete, but he wins with skill and craft. We’ve seen how much success young jumbo wings with plus feel have had in the league over the last few seasons.
Miller is ELITE at P&R set-ups. A lot of young ball handlers rush through ball screens or become predictable because they come off it the same way every time. Miller is all craft and he shows it on this possession. He starts off by rejecting the screen, but he sells it because of the handle and craft. He uses the in-and-out to get the defender off balance and to start trying to cheat over, he get’s low super low allowing him to explode off the cross, and then hits the lane hard for an easy two at the rim. And one.
Dime ‘Em Up
It’s time to hit on the playmaking. On the surface, the playmaking numbers won't necessarily knock your socks off, 2.1 AST to 2.2 TOs and a 12.9AST%; but play the tape and you know that Brandon Miller can pass that rock man, providing us with some of the most advanced playmaking flashes of any prospect in this class.
Let’s start with his ability to hit the roll. Miller had great chemistry with Charles Bediako and would play off his ability to get up and go get it. On this possession, Miller again shows the nuance in ball screen operation by starting the action by faking the catch and rip with a jab step set-up to make the defender commit to the drive. This subtlety takes Miller’s defender completely out of the possession and puts pressure on the big to guard two, leaving him in no man's land. Miller uses a jump pass to make the big commit to him and it results in an easy lob with perfect placement above the rim.
It’s all about the hesi’s. The best operators play at multiple speeds, making their timing unpredictable. Miller makes great use of hesi’s on this possession, first setting up his defender in semi-transition, as he has to play Miller for the transition pull-up three. That first hesi freezes the defender, allowing Bediako to get himself in position for the drag screen, and it’s all downhill from here. The big commits to Miller who then uses a retreat to pull the big out and finishes the play off with a left-hand live dribble hit over the top leading Bediako to the rim for an easy deuce. Size, vision, and craft.
Let’s get to the bad crap. Shoutout to anyone who understands that reference. Running ball screens is about more than just hitting one passing option, you have to be able to read what the defense gives you and dissect them from there. Miller again starts by setting up his man with a jab, Bediako then crushes him with a screen forcing Robbins to commit to the switch. This is where Miller’s patience and pace pays off, as he patiently probes his way into the paint forcing four black shirts to collapse in on him. He then again uses a left-hand live dribble to hit his shooter on a rope for an open corner three. And go back and check out the slight body shield as Robbins steps up after the screen. Miller hits a slight hesi and swings that right foot in front of his body to shield the ball and hit the gas. Really advanced shit.
Are we having fun yet? OK, good. Let’s watch some more. This time Miller is going to set up his defender by faking the action and rejecting and using the re-screen. The footwork here is immaculate and because both ball screen defenders are out of the play Miller is able to attack the open baseline forcing the low man to commit and the weakside wing defender to close to the shooter off Miller’s live dribble corner pass.
The last pass I want to highlight here is one of my favorites of Miller’s season. Miller is going to reject the screen and spin off Kugel and attack the space. Here’s where it gets fun. Miller is again going to show his patience by probing the baseline with a Gretzky dribble and pulling both Castleton and Kugel out with him leading to the smooth Stephon Marbury highlight spin pass for an easy Bediako dunk.
Ok, it's time to get real. Miller is not a flawless prospect by any means as he has one glaring weakness at the moment…the finishing. Miller struggled at the rim this season and for a guy whose shot diet was mostly rim and threes, it’s fair to say that it could be a big problem going forward.
Miller shot just 54% at the rim per Synergy this season; when you isolate his at-rim attempts to the halfcourt, that number falls to 39.3%. That is a fairly ghastly number for someone who is more than likely going in the Top 3.
A lot of the issues stem from Miller’s lack of strength. Miller is slight of frame and it doesn’t help that he reportedly came down with a bout of mono during the pre-draft process which in turn caused him to lose an additional thirteen pounds.
Too often his lack of strength would disrupt the finish before the actual attempt as he’d get bumped off his spot and lose control of the ball on his drive, or have his space altered in the air because he can’t yet win the physicality battle.
NBA defenders are going to be bigger, faster, and stronger. Miller is going to have put in the work to gain the kind of functional strength that will allow him to meet defenders at the rim and go through them. Miller has the downhill momentum here and the big is still able to move him off his spot with his verticality as he is retreating.
If Miller doesn’t make progress with his body, he’ll struggle to live up to the hype. But here’s the good news, he isn’t the first skinny dude to be drafted into the league. NBA teams are very good at putting plans in place for physical development. Miller is never going to look like Scoot, who appears as if he was chiseled out of fucking marble, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t gain functional strength that will allow him to more effectively control his drives and at-rim attempts. He’s also not the only skinny high-level wing who had physicality issues in college. Paul George struggled with similar issues in the half-court at Fresno State and would frequently look like he struggled exploding off the floor because he got bumped off his spot by a physically stronger opponent. Synergy doesn’t have PG13’s sophomore at-rim finishing numbers but they do show that George connected on just 33.3% of his overall half-court attempts. By the way, I apologize for the quality of this clip. Apparently, Paul George played in the 1980s.
How about some HD-quality physicality issues from modern star wings? Another common Brandon Miller comparison? Brandon Ingram. Ingram was a skinny, slender, weak, lanky wing who shot 48.5% on lay-ups in the halfcourt during his freshman season at Duke. He’d get to his spots and struggle through contact. But he got to the league and improved his body and his craft and his finishing. These things take time.
Even an older prospect like Mikal Bridges who was really good at the rim in college had moments where his lack of strength was apparent.
Back to Brandon Miller. I’m not telling you to not be concerned about Miller’s finishing because other NBA guys have improved that aspect of their game in the league. Those dudes aren’t Brandon Miller. But what I’ll say about Miller’s finishing and why I personally believe he’ll be fine in the league is because it was an area of his game in which he really got better throughout the course of the season. Miller started out really really really poorly around the rim. Like, REALLY poorly. Throughout his first 11 games, Miller finished just 10% of his rim attempts in the half-court and 40.4% overall per Synergy. But over the last 26 games those numbers got a lot better! The half-court rim finishing jumped up to 46.8% and the overall finishing jumped up to 59.8%. Those are significantly more encouraging numbers when projecting Miller’s finishing going forward. There’s still a lot of room for improvement, especially in the half-court, but I think with NBA spacing and an NBA strength program he’ll get there. But numbers don’t tell the whole story, so let’s go back to the tape.
Despite the slight frame, Miller isn’t afraid to attack the cup and seek out contact. If you give him a head of steam and a clear lane he will attempt to put you on a poster.
Miller’s finishing issues weren’t a secret made for the internet. The scout was out on him. Opponents would try to put him in uncomfortable positions, sending him left and daring him to finish. But as he got more comfortable, he got more confident, and consistent at putting pressure on the rim and finishing.
When I asked an anonymous NBA Draft prospect to give me a scout on Miller he told me: “Crazy how he improved his finishing throughout the year. We tried to make him finish going left at the beginning of the year and then he figured it out and he was doing it multiple times against us.”
In two of the tightest crunch time moments of the year with a dwindling clock against South Carolina, Miller attacked hard downhill and finished with two tough clutch buckets at the hoop.
Miller was the focus on the Bama team, the engine. Nothing he got was easy at the hoop. Miller registered just five cut attempts on the season, nearly everything at the hoop had to be self-created in the half-court. I’m betting on the consistent flashes of craft and touch.
More Than Meets the Eye
One of the more underrated aspects of scouting is looking back on pre-college tape. Sometimes a prospect may look awesome because they’re just way more physically gifted than their peers, but sometimes they show you skills that a college system may not have tapped into.
At Bama, the team opted for an analytics-friendly offense. Mid-range shots were an afterthought. But it’s still an important NBA shot if you indeed project to be a star. In a playoff setting, you can’t always get clean looks at the rim or behind the three-point line. Teams will game plan and try to force you into more inefficient spots on the floor. The best scorers in the league can make you pay by hitting enough of these looks when they’re given to them by the defense. Miller didn’t shoot a lot of these shots in college, but it’s how he bread his butter in high school.
Miller has elite footwork and craft and at 6’9” he can keep this shot in his bag to use when he gets smaller guards switched onto him. Just turn, jab, rise, and shoot.
When you’re selecting prospects in the top three of the draft, one of the barometers the prospect should reach is the potential for two-way impact. Does this prospect have the ability to get it done on both ends of the floor? Are you ever going to be in a playoff setting and have to ask yourself: is Prospect X going to get targeted and played off the floor?
The answer to that question is a “no” for Brandon Miller.
At 6’9” Brandon Miller moves around like a guard. He’s a smooth lateral mover that can get low, flip his hips, and use his length to make you take tough shots over his outstretched arms.
Just as he needs to get stronger for his finishing, he needs to get stronger defensively. Miller can get stuck on screens when teams play him physical.
When Miller can see or feel the screen early, he’s got good instincts getting skinny and fighting over to stay in the play and he works to chase and stay attached to shooters off the ball.
Sometimes when you’re tall in high school you are tasked with playing big. At Cane Ridge, Miller would often operate as the main rim deterrent. As such he developed excellent court awareness and timing contesting shots at the rim. On this possession, Miller goes from guarding the P&R as the big to dropping back into the paint to meet the ball at the rim for the two-handed rejection.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of Miller’s defensive game is his propensity for the chase-down block. He very well may be the best chase-down blocker in the class. The art of the chase-down requires hustle, timing, and a proper level of bounce and Miller was Van Gogh on the court.
The case for Brandon Miller isn’t a hard one to make. He’s a 6’9” dribble, pass, shoot wing that happens to be really really awesome at the shoot part. When the shot isn’t falling, he doesn’t sulk, he finds ways that he can still impact the game. And that’s what Brandon Miller does, he impacts the game, and in a variety of ways. He scores at all three levels, he rebounds, he makes plays for his teammates, and he defends. He does everything you want on a basketball court and with plenty of room to grow and expand his game at the next level.
It doesn’t matter whether Miller hears his name called immediately after Wembanyama, keeps Portland weird, or heads down to H-Town. Whatever city that Brandon Miller ends up in is going to land themselves an elite NBA prospect.
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