Andre Miller has always been an old-school point guard, but with his 39th birthday less than three weeks away, he is supposed to be too old period to conduct these nightly clinics against his younger, faster, taller peers.
Admittedly, the demonstrations are brief. Most last somewhere between 20 and 24 minutes. But the 15-year veteran, who was acquired by the Kings shortly after George Karl was named coach during the All-Star break, is opening up the books. This is textbook stuff. He is demonstrating vintage, point-guard plays that age like a fine wine.
Outlet passes for breakout dunks. Lobs over the long limbs of interior defenders. One-bounce passes to teammates cutting to the basket. Other times, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Miller backs into the lane, drawing defenders while angling his body so he can still see his teammates, then seizes an opening with a midrange floater or a kickout pass to a teammate with an even cleaner look at the rim.
So pretend this is a test and this is the first question: Who was the last Kings point guard to reasonably fit the description of a floor leader?
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The answer certainly isn’t Isaiah Thomas, Tyreke Evans, Aaron Brooks, Jimmer Fredette, Ramon Sessions, Toney Douglas, Sergio Rodriguez or Beno Udrih, to name a few of those who auditioned as the lead guard during the past decade. Ray McCallum isn’t there yet, either. The second-year starter is still learning and, fortunately, benefiting from the recent presence of the cerebral and accommodating Miller. A case could be made for Mike Bibby or Doug Christie, though a Bibby-Christie combo probably works best.
“I think you have to go back to Jason Williams to find one guy who was a real floor leader,” said Jerry Reynolds, the Kings television analyst who has been with the franchise throughout its 30-year Sacramento era. “Obviously, Jason was erratic and all that, but he eventually played for a champion (Miami Heat). Andre is the only other guy I can think of who is a pure playmaker. He knows where he needs to get the ball, gets guys in the right place, and he’s always looking ahead. He’s not the fastest guy. Nothing flashy. But he can score, and he doesn’t try to make plays he can’t make.”
As the Kings attempt to finish the season on the uptick, under a new coach, with an aggressive defense and an uptempo style, their task became significantly more difficult with the season-ending hip injury suffered by starting point guard Darren Collison. Turning the page on a disappointing and chaotic season surely won’t be a sprint. The final two months will be part-audition, part-tutorial, as the coaches and members of the Kings front office begin piecing together a roster that complements Karl’s coaching style and his personality.
Miller, a favorite of Karl’s during their years together in Denver, is leading the way. The only downside, of course, is his age. The major temptation, of course, is to utilize him during the crucial, deciding segments of games, conveniently ignoring the extended playing time and looking away when he appears visibly gassed.
The closing minutes of the third period and most of the fourth quarter Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers offered a prime example. With Collison unavailable and DeMarcus Cousins again watching in street clothes, the Kings were lacking direction and trailing by double-digits when Miller was summoned.
Within a six-minute span, the Southern California native stole a pass and fed Omri Casspi for a layup, converted a 7-footer, connected with Derrick Williams for a reverse layup, a running hook and an alley-oop, then tossed another alley-oop to Ryan Hollins that trimmed the deficit to 96-92 with just over six minutes remaining.
Not coincidentally, when Karl gave the winded Miller a breather, the Trail Blazers went on an inside/outside blitz led by Robin Lopez and All-Stars Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge and put the game out of reach.
The Kings are still trying to grasp new concepts and nuances, and adapt to a high-energy pace that requires players to be in top physical conditionin, though as Miller so aptly demonstrates with his change-of-pace dribble and crafty passes, teams don’t need five sprinters to run fastbreaks or even average triple-digits in scoring.
“Made the simple plays,” said Miller, who finished with 10 assists, 12 points, two steals. “Guys running out, I just kicked the ball up the court and let them attack the basket, let them be playmakers. Right now, we just want to make the passing contagious.”
McCallum says he is listening and learning something new by the hour. Collison is watching closely from the sideline. The goal, as Miller explains, is to finish the season at .500, prepare for 2015-16, and in the process impart the knowledge he gained from watching the likes of John Stockton, the league’s all-time leader in steals and assists, and his boyhood idol, Magic Johnson.
It’s a business, he added, and it’s next game up.
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