Welcome to Basketball News' 10-part mini-series, Blazing the
Trail, where Mat Issa breaks down the most revolutionary players of
the 1990s and 2000s. Throughout this series, we'll examine how
these players changed basketball and pioneered their respective
In this fourth installment, Mat goes in-depth on one of the
greatest shooters of all-time: Reggie Miller. He explains what made
him different from the marksmen who came before him, with insights
from his former coaches in Indiana — Dan Burke and Bob Ociepka —
his former teammate Rik Smits and basketball analyst Mike
In his critically acclaimed, historical rendition of the NBA,
"The Book of Basketball," The Ringer's Bill Simmons ranked NBA and
Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller outside of the top 60
“Reggie Miller was the most overrated ‘superstar’ of the past
thirty years,” Simmons opined.
To Simmons' credit, however, he later retracted this statement
in the sequel podcast, "The
Book of Basketball 2.0." Revising his previous comments,
Simmons suggested that in today's game, Miller would
indeed constitute superstar status.
But what if Miller would have been a superstar in any era? What
if he was an elite scorer and playmaker in ways that we couldn’t
comprehend during his time? And what if he served as an inspiration
to the most prolific dynasty of the NBA's pace-and-space era?
Let's find out.
WHAT MADE MILLER SPECIAL
As a child, Miller would regularly participate in 1-on-1
matchups against his older sister, Cheryl, who turned out to be one
of the greatest women's basketball players of all-time prior to
untimely injuries. (She's enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall
Because of Cheryl's superior size and strength, Reggie going
inside was a moot point.
“One of the reasons I practiced shooting from the outside was
that Cheryl used to block my shots when I drove to the hoop,”
Miller recalled in his autobiography. “It’s a bad
feeling when your sister is knocking your best stuff into the
To defeat his sibling, Miller needed to hone in on his perimeter
That's exactly what he did.
Miller endured his sister’s challenges and triumphed to become
one of the premier shooters the NBA had ever seen. According to
Cerebro Sports' Three-Point Efficiency metric (a shooting metric
that combines three-point volume and efficiency to show the most
lethal shooters), Miller finished in the 97th percentile or higher
in all but one year from 1988 to 2004.
(The 2002-03 campaign was the exception, where he finished in
the 94th percentile).
Visual provided by Cerebro
Even more impressive is how he earned his standing in this data
set. Unlike many of the great shooters of his time — who made their
mark primarily off standstill catch-and-shoot opportunities — a
majority of Miller’s triples came while he was circling the
half-court at top speed.
And again, much like his pickup contests growing up, this
strategy was rooted in necessity.
“The chances for spot-up [threes] weren’t really there,” said
Dan Burke, Miller’s former coach in Indiana and now an assistant
with the Philadelphia 76ers. “You have to have a real big, key
player [you’re playing off of] to get spot-ups.”
To back Burke's words, think of one of the other notable
three-point shooters of that time: Dan Majerle. Throughout his time
in Phoenix and Miami, Majerle was gifted with potent penetrators
like Kevin Johnson and Tim Hardaway, who could both consistently
break down a defense and get two feet in the
Meanwhile, Miller’s most accomplished backcourt mate, Mark
Jackson, was more of a post facilitator than a downhill threat.
Instead, Miller achieved sage status in the art of movement
shooting. And for those following along at home, his technique can
be divided into three keys.
Key 1: Set up the Defender
Miller was an avid participant in basketball grappling — the
practice of using physicality to manipulate and gain separation
from your defender.
“[Miller] embraced contact and sometimes got the feel of a guy
so [he] could push off him and get open,” Burke said.
The cunning sharpshooter also deployed harsh cuts and abrupt
changes in speed to further decrease the likelihood that his
opponent could shadow his movements.
“When you watch him, it wasn’t always the same speed,” Burke
continued. “He changed speeds. He’d stop and go.”
Key 2: Read the Screen
Once he gained a step, Miller could interpret his optimal
route-running path based on the direction his defender was chasing
him. If his defender trailed outside the screen, Miller would juke
inwards. If his defender rushed from the inside, Miller would
Miller's astute ability in this regard was largely based upon
the continuity he achieved with his screen-setting bigs — Antonio
Davis, Dale Davis and Rik Smits.
“We would run through our sets almost every practice,” Smits
recalled to Basketball News. “[A lot] of dummy offenses. Just run,
run, run. We really concentrated on getting good screens set just
to take full advantage of everything [Miller brought to the
"Reggie would talk to those bigs too," Burke added. "'Just stand
there, I’ll use you.'”
Key 3: Footwork
Miller boasted balletic footwork, akin to that of a
peak-Torture Chamber Kevin
McHale, able to stop and pop effortlessly regardless of his
travel velocity and angle.
“[Typically], if you are right-handed, you want to come off [a
pindown screen] going to your left so that your shoulder is closer
to the rim,” Burke said. “It didn’t matter with Reggie. He could
come with his right hand or with his left hand.”
Miller's ambidexterity is a testament to his impeccable
footwork. The direction didn't matter because his stride was sound
both ways. And his ability to maintain balance during these
sequences is even more impressive when you consider the defensive
physicality that was accepted during his era.
“Every time a guy like Reggie cut through the lane, the goal was
to smack him. We used to say, ‘Pinball him,’" Burke
“The league allows no ‘impeding’ cutters now. There was much
more holding then. But Reggie would stay locked and still get a
Here are all three of those keys in action:
Miller’s shooting served as a double-edged sword for his
reputation. On one end, he was revered as one of the game’s top
snipers. On the other, he’d been pigeonholed into a singular role
on the floor.
However, Miller was more than a marksman. He was a three-level
scorer who utilized the triple-threat position to score
from the mid-range and at the rim.
“One thing Reggie worked on, we used to call it ‘Pete Newell,’"
Burke explained. “Pete Newell was an old coach who used to have a
big-man camp. His whole thing was: Jab, catch, create space. If the
guy doesn’t honor your jab, you go by him. If he backs up, you
raise up and shoot it.
“It was a series. And [Reggie] really worked on it.”
This combination of three-level scoring and high conversion
rates from the most efficient spots on the floor made Miller
arguably the best backcourt scorer of the 1990s not named Michael
To compare the two, from 1989 to 1999, Miller tallied nine
seasons where he ranked in the 90th percentile in both scoring
volume and efficiency, while Jordan only touted two such
Additionally, Miller’s unpredictable tendencies coming off
screens and counter-laden arsenal made him one of the few stars to
rarely improve his volume and efficiency during postseason
For instance, in 1994-95, Miller averaged 23.9 points per 75
possessions on 62.0% True Shooting. In the playoffs, those averages
ballooned to 28.0 points and 63.2% True Shooting,
To show how rare that is, there was an inverse trend of that
with John Stockton and Mitch Richmond — two guards who were
(wrongfully?) regularly awarded
All-NBA selections over Miller.
WEAVING THE THREAD
The first guard to function as an off-ball superstar was John
Havlicek. When "Hondo" wasn’t ripping and running in transition, he
was usually curling off screens for leaning mid-range
A post-three-point line precursor to Miller was Joe Dumars (who
coincidentally probably also took some of his All-NBA accolades).
Another one of Miller’s coaches in Indiana, Dick Versace, spent
time as an assistant on the Detroit Pistons before becoming the
head coach of the Pacers in 1988.
“Joe Dumars had that knack for getting free off screens,” said
Bob Ociepka, an assistant on Versace's staff in Indiana and a
23-year NBA coach. “Coach Versace, coming from [Detroit], ran a lot
of the things Chuck Daly did — [like Dumars] coming off those
staggered screens from the baseline.”
Miller expressed a great admiration toward Dumars, even going as
far as to call him the "unsung MVP of Dream Team II" in his
Dale Ellis was another sniper from that generation who
cratered defenses using floppy action — a play in which a player,
positioned under the basket, can choose whether to cut off a single
screen to one side or a double screen to the other, per Basketball
However, because of the typical constraints placed on 2-guards
at the time, neither Dumars nor Ellis could fully leverage their
shooting prowess to their advantage.
“[In that era], the shooting guard was supposed to be
Jordan-esque,” said Mike Prada, editor at The Athletic and "Spaced
Out" author. “You were an all-around
player, you got a lot of rebounds and assists, you went 1-on-1 a
lot, you were explosive, you could dunk on people — sort of that
Miller was different from those guards; he didn’t possess the
same ball-handling or rebounding acumen. He was an outlier who
weaponized his extraordinary gift to buoy an offense almost
entirely through his off-ball presence.
Notably, the Pacer legend pioneered a term deeply entrenched in
today’s basketball jargon: gravity.
Dangerous from deep, Miller made doubling down on his big-men teammates in the
post a conversation killer. Teams would rather face guard him at
the three-point line than send reinforcements to the interior,
which opened up room for his low-post executioners to make
Smits expressed a great deal of gratitude for the space Miller
provided him to operate.
“I was glad he was on my team. I could tell you that,” Smits
Miller’s landscape-altering effect is felt when you look through
the lens of historian Ben Taylor’s passing and playmaking
For example, in 1993-94, Gary Payton finished in the 80th
percentile in Taylor’s Box Creation stat — a metric that estimates
playmaking (per Backpicks.com). Payton did this while
simultaneously scoring in the 94th percentile in Passer Rating.
In the same season, despite only scoring in the 37th percentile
in passing, Miller finished in the 77th percentile in
Miller wasn’t the on-ball initiator that Payton was, but this
conveys that the former was still able to operate as a high-end
creator thanks to the attention he garnered from his opponents.
“The thing that Reggie Miller had that we didn’t know how to
identify back when he played — but now it’s a no-brainer concept —
is this idea of gravity,” Prada said.
IMPACT ON TODAY'S GAME
In many circles, Ray Allen is often cited as the disciple who
bears the most resemblance to Miller. Along with Allen, Richard
Hamilton, JJ Redick and Kyle Korver have all played the part of
"offense unto themselves" by
utilizing their off-ball gravitational pull.
In the current NBA landscape, Miller’s most obvious descendants
share the same squad.
“Two guys on the same team,” Burke pointed out. "Stephen Curry
and Klay Thompson."
The dynastic Golden State Warriors have become famous for
pushing the boundaries of time and space by exploiting the shooting
gravity their dynamic duo wields.
And, as fate would have it, Miller also once teamed up with a
fellow gravity co-founder, Chris Mullin.
Mullin was arguably the closest comparison to Miller at the
time, and together, the tandem caused wide-scale chaos and
confusion — the likes of which the league would not see again until
the Splash Brothers coalesced in the Bay Area nearly two decades
Tell me if these sequences look familiar:
In both plays, the two pairs create a defensive breakdown simply
by running past each other in the opposite direction.
Even more poetic, take a look at the Pacers’ opponent in the
first clip. Who was a reserve on that team? None other than
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr.
“All of the stuff that the Warriors did in the early days with
the Steph/Klay combo — the crazy, figure-eight-type stuff — was
very much ripped right from the Pacers,” Prada explained.
Golden State expanded on Miller’s semi-contained havoc, turning
half-court offensive sets into absolute anarchy.
Miller’s movement authored a great deal of mayhem, more than
anyone of his time, but he was still forced to rein it in a bit to
accommodate the structure of his offense. Nowadays, engines like
Curry and Thompson have the discretion to graze the terrain as they
“[For Miller], his was set plays, so it was easier for teams to
really dial in,” Burke explained. “Curry is more of a constant,
built into a random system.”
But it was still the audacious Miller who paved the way. He
crawled so that the Golden State empire could walk.
“He was this type of player that, in an era that did not have a
blueprint for this style of play, he provided it,” Prada
He's the player responsible for the outline that triggered a
Are we sure Reggie Miller was overrated?
Tune in next week for Part V of Blazing the Trail, which
focuses on Andrei Kirilenko — the five-tool defender.
Click here to read Part III: "Shane
Battier, the data-ball defender."
Click here to read Part II:
"Rashard Lewis, the All-Star stretch 4."
Click here to read Part I:
"Steve Nash, the magician who danced in the