Now that the NBA Draft has come and gone, free agency is the next focus of the summer and the Cleveland Cavaliers hope to be major players. Besides their hope to lure LeBron James back to Cleveland, as well as interest in other major free agents, the Cavaliers have several of their own free agents. As they decide which players they want to attempt to keep in Cleveland, the most important may be the underappreciated C.J. Miles.
To the casual fan Miles may not seem like a signifcant player for the Cavaliers. He is usually seen as a nice, but streaky, bench player who is certainly less important to the Cavaliers’ future success than Luol Deng or Spencer Hawes. Some fans and media even lump Miles in with the likes of Alonzo Gee and Earl Clark, men who are probably going to sign minimum contracts for the rest of their careers. The truth though is that Miles is a very effective two-way player and has been the Cavaliers’ best wing during his time with the team.
While that may be considered a bold statement, the numbers (courtesy of 82games.com and basketball-reference.com) back it up. Miles’s PER of 16.8 (15.0 is considered average by experts, although more players fall below that mark than above it) while playing small forward was the best on the team for that position, and his season total PER of 16.0 was the highest by any Cavalier wing since James left in 2010. His PER of 15.3 while playing shooting guard last season is even a hair higher than the 15.2 mark Dion Waiters posted. On the defensive end, shooting guards had a PER of 13.5 and small forwards were at 14.4 with Miles guarding them. Both of these numbers are below the league average of 15.0 and shows that Miles had a greater impact on offense than the players he guarded.
The numbers go far beyond PER. The Cavaliers’ offense averaged 108.2 points per 100 possessions with Miles on the court and 104.9 points per 100 possessions without him. The impact was even larger on the defensive end, where the Cavaliers allowed 106.2 points per 100 possessions with Miles on the court, and 109.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. So the Cavaliers went from a team that would outscore its opponents by just under two points per 100 possessions with Miles on the floor to a team that was outscored by five points per 100 possessions with him out of the game. That’s the difference between a playoff team in the Eastern Conference and a team that would challenge for the worst record in the league. As a frame of reference, while the offense was 4.9 points per 100 possessions better with Deng on the court, the defense was 2.4 points worse. This is a surprise considering Deng’s reputation as an elite defender. The stats are even more unfavorable for Hawes, who improved the offense by 3.2 points per 100 possessions but saw the defense give up a whopping 6.1 points more, meaning the team was 2.9 points worse for every 100 possessions he played, a significant statistic that calls into question just how effective Hawes was for the Cavaliers.
Miles also brings much-needed outside shooting to the team. The Cavaliers shot 35.6% from deep as a team this season, which was eighteenth in the league. They also averaged twenty three point attempts per game, which was only good for twentieth in the league in this time when NBA offenses put such emphasis on spacing. Miles’s shot 39.3% from deep this season, well above league average, and did so on just over four attempts per game. He is effective from all areas behind the arc, including both corners, an essential shot in modern NBA offenses. The only Cavalier with a higher percentage from deep last season was Hawes, who only played 27 games with the Cavaliers and struggled defensively. Miles also does a nice job using screens and has the ability to create his own shot, something that is particularly useful during the times he is a main weapon of the bench unit.
None of this is to say that Miles is some sort of undiscovered star. He is a mediocre rebounder and a ball-stopper on offense who hasn’t met a shot that he doesn’t like. The combination of being both streaky and a remorseless gunner keeps him from being the efficient “3-and-D” player that he should be. This can make it hard for him to play effectively in lineups that feature both Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, who both need the ball in their hands to be at their most effective, and is a big reason why Miles is more effective off the bench for the Cavaliers. That being said, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and Cavalier fans are often excited about adding players who do not have nearly the effectiveness on both sides of the ball that Miles does. In this case, it’s probably best if the Cavaliers appreciate what they already have and do what they can (within reason) to make sure C.J. Miles is a Cleveland Cavalier for years to come.