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Turning Up The Heat: Mike Miller

How can Mike Miller improve? He can start by figuring out what he's gonna do with the ball on offense. Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire

Mike Miller should have been the perfect Heat role player in 2010-11:

A Heat role player should be able to stretch the floor and score efficiently; Miller is a career 40.4 percent 3-point shooter who led all shooting guards in true shooting percentage in the 2009-10 season. A Heat role player should be unselfish, as it's seldom a bad idea to pass the ball to an open LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh; Miller led all shooting guards in assist ratio in 2009-10. And a Heat role player should be able to contribute without the ball in his hands; Miller led all shooting guards in rebound rate in 2009-10 and is a high-energy player on both ends of the floor.

Miller's main problem with previous teams was that he was too reluctant to shoot the ball, but the thinking was that, with the shot-creators on the Heat, Miller wasn't going to be counted on to create a lot of scoring opportunities. And since Miller could play shooting guard or small forward, he could back up both Wade and James, meaning the Heat could keep two of their Big Three on the court at all times. (That plan/theory would require James to play more power forward so that Wade, Miller and James could play together when Bosh sat, but that's a whole other story.)

Simply put, there are a lot of reasons why the Heat decided to make Miller the highest-paid member of their "other three" (Miller, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony). However, Miller didn't provide much return on the Heat's investment last season. Miller broke his thumb while guarding James in training camp, causing him to miss the first portion of the season, and was plagued by injuries to both hands and his head all season long. Miller never came close to finding his game and was the Heat's biggest disappointment of the season until the Finals.

What worked

Well, this shouldn't take long. Miller's energy and rebounding helped the Heat turn the tide of the Eastern Conference finals after he took James Jones' spot in the rotation and kept the Bulls from dominating Miami on the glass. Also, remember that game against Toronto in January where Miller scored 32 points on 21 shots and only three free throws? That was good.

What didn't work

You get the ball in the corner. A defender is closing out on you, meaning you won't have a wide-open 3-point look.

Do you:

A: Shoot the 3 despite the contest, confident in your ability to make the shot under duress?

B: Pass the ball back to a teammate and wait for a better shot later in the possession?

C: Pump fake, put the ball on the floor and drive hard to the rim for a layup, foul or pass to a wide-open teammate?

D: Think about shooting, decide against it, awkwardly take two dribbles without getting the defender to commit to blocking your shot, then throw the ball in the general direction of a teammate before getting to the actual rim area?

If you chose answer "D," you are the 2010-11 vintage of Mike Miller. Miller refused to take 3s unless they were wide-open, missed too many 3s that were wide-open, and didn't commit to his drives when he put it on the floor. His attempts to be a point forward were also miserable exercises in futility. Miller posted career-lows in field goal percentage, free throw percentage and assists, and he shot the second-worst percentage from beyond the arc in his 11-year career. Miller tried to be both a shooter and a slasher with the Heat, but ended up living in no-man's land offensively instead of being a jack of all trades.

His defense was even worse. Shooters like Miller tend to get bad defensive reputations despite their actual defensive acumen, but Miller really was that bad defensively in 2010-11. According to basketball-value.com, Miller absolutely ruined the Heat's defense whenever he touched the floor, and he didn't pass the "eye test" either. Miller hustled on D, but his lack of strength and poor defensive footwork allowed his man to blow by him whenever they took it strong at him. Miller also had a penchant for committing silly fouls. Nobody expected Miller to be a defensive stopper, but his defensive performance was abysmal during the regular season.

Possible lockout viewing material

First things first: Miller needs to get healthy and regain confidence in his jumper. He has a lot of skills, but his greatest asset will always be his 3-point stroke, and something caused him to lose faith in that stroke last season. It could have been the injuries (although he would always swish his pregame 3s at a freakishly high rate), it could have been the minute-shuffling, it could have been the pressure of playing in Miami. Whatever it was, it needs to get fixed, because there is no way Miller can be effective offensively if defenses aren't terrified of leaving him alone from beyond the arc.

That said, Miller needs to find out which offensive tools he should use at which time. I'd advise Miller to watch Delonte West's 2008-09 season if he wants to learn how to function as a shooting guard/small forward next to LeBron/Wade. West played off of LeBron James and Mo Williams beautifully in Cleveland -- when West was left open, he shot the 3 and made 39.9 percent in 2008-09. When he had a lane to the basket, he was always willing to take it straight at the rim and finish. When nothing was there, he'd make a smart pass -- not a home-run pass that led to a layup or open 3, but a pass that kept the ball moving from side-to-side and defenses honest.

Obviously, Miller is a more talented offensive player than West and is clearly a superior shooter, so he should be able to impact games with his perimeter shooting more than West did. But Miller needs to figure out when he should be shooting, when he should be driving to the rim and when he should be passing. And he needs to get his 3-point shot back. Once he does those things, he could take the Heat's offense to the next level. However, if he doesn't put it together, Heat fans and Heat management could get tired of waiting for the "real" Mike Miller to show up.

Coming Tuesday: Udonis Haslem