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:
- Miles is a better defender- This is probably the most plausible explanation. Miles is taller, quicker and just from watching the games looks to be much better on defense. Opponents are shooting an eFG% of 37% when Miles replaces Bell in the starting lineup. With Bell the starting lineup gives up 45% shooting.
- Miles shoots the ball- One of my main problems with watching Bell is that he doesn’t do anything. It isn’t like he is playing poorly, but sometimes it would be nice if the shooting guard actually shot the ball. He seems to be content passing the ball around the wing and doesn’t look for this shot nearly as much as Miles. The numbers reflect this. Bell’s usage rating is the 3rd lowest on the team at 14.4%. Miles, on the other hand, is second behind Deron Williams with a usage rating of 26.7%. Miles is 4th in field goal attempts despite being 6th in minutes. Bell is 6th in field goal attempts despite being 5th in minutes. My theory is that defenses have to respect the threat of Miles shooting the ball (even if he isn’t an above average shooter) more so than Bell and that opens up the offense. With extra spacing it gives Millsap and Jefferson a chance to dominate inside. The defenses seem to collapse and guard the paint more with Bell on the court.
- He shoots the ball more from close range – Miles shoots 23% of his shots from close range compared to only 9% for Bell. This has two advantages. One it it is easier to shoot from up close (Bell makes 70% while Miles makes 61%). The second one is that while I can’t proof this I think Miles moves more without the ball than Bell. It seems to me that Bell stands outside the three point line and is strictly a catch and shoot player. Miles is a little bit more dynamic and that movement is something that is critical to Coach Sloan’s offense.
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.