When Reggie Miller started trending on Twitter last night, it was easy to guess why: he’d said something that people were mocking. Maybe he’d tried to bring back “Kodak moment” again!
But no, actually, it was something analysis-related. Reggie, on the call for Bucks-Heat with Kevin Harlan, accurately noted how difficult it is to actually challenge shooters in the modern NBA. Then, though, he suggested that if his career was taking place now, he’d be averaging 45 points-per-game:
Reggie Miller says he would average 45 PPG with today’s rules pic.twitter.com/6JKrqqJx10
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) September 4, 2020
Okay, so, let’s focus on the less obvious but very funny portion of this: Reggie Miller was the pioneer of drawing contact as a shooter. There’s no escaping that. Any hint of Miller questioning fouls called while contesting jump shooters is a chef’s kiss moment.
The part about 45 ppg, though? Yeah, that’s hyperbole. Miller averaged 18.2 PPG for his career, so obviously changing contact rules alone wouldn’t get him close to 45 per game. But clearly that wasn’t meant to be serious (well, probably not); Miller was instead just making a point. It’s a valid point, too; considering his career 89% free throw percentage, any additional trips to the line were basically as good as converted. And in general, the more free-flowing offensive game played today would have certainly favored a scorer like Miller, as would the league’s trend towards smaller lineups.
But if Reggie really wants to find the modern evolution that would have greatly increased his scoring output, he should be focusing on three-point volume. Watching games from that era earlier this summer during The Last Dance, it was obvious how reticent teams were to actually look for three-point attempts. Despite that, Miller retired with the most attempts and most makes, and he still sits in second place on both of those lists, trailing Ray Allen, who came a generation later. Looking at those lists, though, and it’s obvious that it’s not going to take long for Miller and eventually Allen to be overtaken by a wave of players.
Some are obvious; James Harden and Steph Curry are clearly players who have built their games around creating and shooting from deep. Harden is within 100 attempts of Miller already, and he’s gotten there in about 20,000 fewer minutes played. That’s the real disparity; Miller averaged 4.7 three-point attempts per game, despite being a career 40% shooter from beyond the arc.
To Twitter’s credit, there were a few reasonable debates on that in the replies:
Yeah he was considered high volume 3 point shooter for his time and he took a little under 5 for his career. Dont know about 40 but he could get close to 30 in a time were they taking 10 a game as a first option
— Germaine Jacob (@maine_kingpen) September 5, 2020
If there’s one statistic that perhaps best illustrates the difference between the NBA Miller played in and the NBA Miller now comments on, it’s that in 2018, Blake Griffin attempted 7.0 threes per game. The most Reggie ever attempted for a season: 6.6. (And that only came during the NBA’s two-year experiment with a shorter three-point arc. He never cracked six attempts per-game for the rest of his career.)
In a world where Miller was encouraged to shoot more often and from more efficient spots, his scoring average would have absolutely been higher. He scored 25,000+ points anyway, but Miller is a perfect example of a player who played a few decades too soon to fully maximize his skills. We often hear ex-players talk about how they’d do this or that in today’s NBA, but Miller, maybe more than anyone else, has a legitimate point.