C.J. Milesis not going to be the best player on this Jazz team. At best I think he could be the 5th best player behind Deron Williams, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Andrei Kirilenko. That, however, doesn’t mean that Miles isn’t the key to a season where the Jazz (hopefully) make the jump from good to great. Why is a player who isn’t even a starter, or one of the best players, possibly the key to the Jazz season?
In trying to answer the above questions lets look at the Jazz lineup more closely. Right now the Jazz have two below-average shooting guards in Miles and the starter Raja Bell. Neither are particularly good shooters (32%-33% from 3 and less than 42% from the field for both of them), and neither stand out as above-average in any statistical category. They both have less than average WS/48 (average = 0.10) with Bell coming in at 0.062 and Miles only slightly higher at 0.072. It isn’t really that big of a surprise to see that the Jazz production by position has the shooting guard position as a -4.9 PER compared to their opponent. The fault on this lies on primarily with Bell and Miles since they play the majority of the Jazz minutes there.
The shooting guard position isn’t a team strength, so let’s do a little more analysis and compare the two players who play there most. Bell is a better shooter this year and overall from the line, the field and from three. Miles is more athletic and thus has a higher rebounding %, steal % and block %. He also has a higher assist % (12.1 compared to 6.3). Still they aren’t too different when you compare the individual stats with Miles coming out only barely ahead. However, when you compare the team stats it is a completely different story. The +/- when Miles is on the court is +133, while Bell is -48. The team’s win percentage when Miles is on the court is 82.4% compared to Bell who comes in at 43.8% (check out some of the stats from 82games.com to see the differences in the play of the Jazz when both players are on the court).
For a little more clarity lets compare the Jazz starting lineup (Williams, Bell, Kirilenko, Millsap, Jefferson) with the starting lineup when Miles replaces Bell. These are the top two lineups that Coach Sloan has used this year. In 331.9 minutes the starting lineup has been outscored by 23 points. They score on average 1.02 points per possession and give up 1.07 points per possession. When Miles replaces Bell, the team (in only 62.3 minutes) has outscored the opponents by 51 points. They score on average 1.36 points per possession (.34 points more) and give up 0.94 points per possession (0.13 less) to their opponents. All it took for the Jazz to go from an average team to the 1996 Chicago Bulls is substituting Bell for Miles. Now before anyone writes this let me stress that all of this is based on a small sample size, which could mean that everything changes. Also, I recognize it just might mean that Bell is facing tough competition (the starting shooting guard) while Miles gets to play against the backups. I know both of those things, but you can’t ignore numbers like that.
Now if both players really aren’t that different why do the Jazz play so much better with Miles ? Here are a few theories:
The season is only 20 games in and the Jazz are playing great. A 15-5 record makes me rethink my intial forecast of 50 wins and as a Jazz fan I have no problem with being wrong by guessing too low. Part of the reason for the Jazz record has to be C.J. Miles. Looking at those +/- numbers makes me think that Miles is really lucky, good or both. Let’s hope for both and that despite pedestrian raw numbers there is some magic to the way Miles plays that allows the Jazz to continue their strong play with him on the court. Overall I think that he is the key to the Jazz season.