Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hipster HOF: Andre Miller

It is time to induct the second member of the Hipster Basketball Hall of Fame - Denver Nuggets PG Andre Miller. In his 13-year NBA career so far, Miller has played for 5 different teams (including two separate stints with the Nuggets). He certainly has longevity, but does he stand up to the criteria for inclusion in our Hall of Fame?

As a reminder, we select for this hall of fame from on a set of questions we developed based on the Keltner List, designed to determine a player's worthiness for induction. Some of the questions are more or less necessities, others simply add bonus points and make a stronger case for the player. We have made one change to the first iteration of the list, changing question 9 from Do color commentators frequently use the terms "crafty," "sneaky," or "old-man game" when describing this player? to Do color commentators seem to think this player "always kills their team" or "plays great against us," when in reality his game is just better than the announcers expect? The first criteria applies to some HHOF (Hipster Hall of Fame) candidates, but not all of them - for some players, athleticism is part of what makes their game unique. The second criteria is a better test for players flying under the radar that are still highly effective, as local TV announcers rarely know anything meaningful about the teams they play against. If a player is "under the radar," they are a natural candidate for the HHOF.

The questions (and answers) are as follows:

1. Did this player have something unique or unusual about his game that distinguished him from many, if not all, of his peers? The better question here is, what isn't unique about Miller's game? From his no-jump set shot, to his pinpoint lob and lead passes, to his well-hidden athleticism (both in 2001 and in 2012), Miller's game has been confusing opponents his entire career. He also went to the University of Utah...huh? Check.

2. For at least most of his career, did fans of the player's team harbor an increased appreciation for this player's skills by virtue of seeing him on a regular basis? In other words, was he a "crowd favorite?" Difficult to tell for Miller - in Denver, where he has spent most of his career, his jersey is never a leading seller, but the hometown fans have a strong appreciation for his skills. Check

3. Has this player ever won an MVP award or been the best player on a title-winning team? Um, no. Believe it or not, Miller has never advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs in 8 tries. But as we know, in the HHOF, that is a good thing, as it allows him to remain rather under the radar.

4. Was this player elected to 8 or more All-Star games or 4 or more All-NBA teams, with at most 1 being a first team selection? Miller has never made an All-Star team, most likely because he a) doesn't score enough and b) only elevates 2.5 inches off the ground on his jump shot. His best season was probably 2001-2002, when he averaged 16.5 PPG, 11 APG, nearly 5 RPG and 1.6 SPG for Cleveland, which promptly got him traded to the Clippers for Harold Jamison and Darius Miles. Whoops.

5. On the other hand, was this player at least reasonably successful for an extended period (>3 years)? If the player was injured, can it be assumed he would have been successful for this period? This is certainly true for Miller - while he was never phenomenally successful in any one season, he was the model of consistency, averaging at least 13 PPG and 5.4 APG every season for the entire decade of the 2000's. His peak year (mentioned above) was pretty good as well, when he led the league in assists and was the best player on a terrible Cleveland team.

6. Did the player's unusual style in some way contribute to his success? Miller's penchant for never leaving the ground allows him to make passes that might not be available to more aggressive scorers. He also has a nice ass-to-the-basket game, so he scores effectively even though he is a truly awful outside shooter. How awful you say? He is a 21% career three point shooter. THAT. Is some bad shooting.

7. Did the player's unusual style work for several different teams, or at least several different types of teams? Miller played for 5 different teams and was pretty much equally effective wherever her went. He played for the run and gun Nuggets as well as the grind-it-out 76ers and Blazers teams of the last half-decade, and while his game didn't change that much, he was always able to make it work.

8. Was the player ever in the top 3-5 in the league at any one facet of the game? Miller actually has two things here, one well-known aspect of his game and one lesser-known aspect. Obviously, he has a reputation for being an amazing passer, and was recently referred to as "Dr. Andre Miller, PhD, Point Guard University" by Grantland writer Zach Lowe. However, Miller is also one of the most durable players in the game, having missed just 4 out of 1096 possible regular season games in his career and playing in all 82 games in 8 different seasons (as well as all 66 games in the strike-shortened season last year).

9. Do color commentators seem to think this player "always kills their team" or "plays great against us," when in reality his game is just better than the announcers expect? This is exceptionally true for Miller. Watching Nuggets games this year, no less than 3 teams have had their color guys make some reference to Miller's propensity for killing their team. Obviously this is not true - he plays this way all the time - and is thus an indicator of the color guys being unfamiliar with the quality of his game.

10. What impact did the player have on basketball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he change the game in any way? To my knowledge, Miller has not caused any NBA rule changes, although his ridiculous passes have led to a number of terrible goaltending calls on JaVale McGee in the last few seasons. You also can't credit Miller with being the inventor of the lob pass, although he has debatably taken it to a new level over the last couple of seasons.

11. Do the player's career statistics jump out at you? If not, do they at least mildly surprise you in a positive way? Miller's career point total is somewhat surprising (over 15000) and he is 10th on the all-time assist list. Between those two numbers and the games played, his statistics fall into the "mildly surprising" category.

12. Did the player ever have games, or stretches of games, where they truly were dominant? Miller once scored 52 points in a game against the Dallas Mavericks. On second thought, it makes a lot more sense why the Dallas announcers really think Miller kills them - 52 points will make an impression. In the last 30 years, Miller is probably the 2nd most random player to drop 52+ in a game, narrowly behind Willie Burton, who even I had absolutely never heard of before. (On a side note, the list of top scoring games since 1985 is pretty fascinating. Very few players have ever scored 50+ that aren't destined for the Hall of Fame).

13. Would an objective observer conclude that this person should be a Hall of Famer as a player? In Miller's case, almost certainly not - when you play for 14 years without making a single all-star team, you likely are not a hall of famer by any definition...

14. At the same time, could you make a "5%" case for hall of fame induction for this player? ...but by the same token, don't you just want to see Miller in the Hall of Fame? His career stats don't do much for his cause, as does his lack of playoff success. But the man has made more highlight-reel passes over the last 10 years than anybody else, bar none, and has contributed to a lot of big contracts for a lot of other players simply by virtue of getting them the ball in the right spots. You get the sense that Miller's impact on his teams was always a little bit greater than the stats would have you believe. Pretty impressive for a guy who can barely jump, right?

15. Do a large subset of "real NBA fans" hold a great deal of appreciation for this person's game that never shows up in mainstream highlights? When you ask almost any coach or former player who the best passers in today's game are, Miller is mentioned in the first 4 players every single time. While he may not ever make the hall of fame in Connecticut, he is more than worthy of induction in the HHOF. Congrats Andre.

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