INDIANAPOLIS, IN -- C.J. Miles has been arguably Indiana's most important role player. His versatile skill-set and high amounts of effort have allowed for the Pacers to use versatile lineups that attack the various weaknesses of their opponents. Miles is a rare player in the regard that he will accept a challenge presented to him, even if that challenge is playing out of position at the power forward spot.
Miles's versatility allows for the Pacers to use him at shooting guard/small forward and use a traditional power forward (Lavoy Allen or Jordan Hill), or use him at power forward to have a play making lineup of four perimeter players. This allows for the team to effectively defend and score against both traditional teams and small ball teams.
That's an extremely valuable situation that the Pacers have for themselves. Paul George is an elite perimeter defender and using him to defend traditional power forwards doesn't allow for the Pacers to fully utilize his defensive ability. But using C.J. Miles to defend those traditional power forwards does allow for the Pacers to utilize George, in fact, when it reaches its full potential it could be a lethal weapon.
Since the Pacers can get Miles to hold his own at power forward, Indiana can use their small ball lineup against a traditional team that uses a non-dominant power forward. That creates miss matches for the Pacers offense to exploit and it allows for their defensive rotations to cause problems for the opposing team because of their speed.
Indiana likes to utilize their speed to harass opposing offenses, especially traditional power forwards that think they can get away with posting up on C.J. Miles. It almost acts as bait for opposing offenses because it is a miss match to have Miles defending in the post, but that option isn't going to frequently work with fast help-defenders coming to trap the ball. With the whole defense rotating to adjust for a steal in the passing lanes, the opposing power forward is left with no option but to turn the ball over, or make a heave pass to the other side of the court. That heave pass is fine to allow since it wastes plenty of time for the opposing offense from the shot clock, which typically results in a bad shot attempt and another Pacers possession.
If a perimeter player gets past their man or they use an on-ball screen, the Pacers have fast help defense to help pressure that player. That can result in a tough shot, bad pass, or they can even rip the ball from his hands. Added speed allows for the Pacers to recover from their mistakes at greater effectiveness, which is why their defensive rotations have improved from last season, in fact, their defense should be on a whole other level from last season once everybody gets used to their roles. This defensive speed gives the opposing defense no miss matches to exploit with the ball directly in their hands, however, Indiana still needs to improve their off-ball defense when defending screens and cuts, but other than that, their defense has been great. But then again, that goes back to the fact that their defense should get better as the season goes on.
This strategy has worked for the Pacers defense. Indiana forces their opponent to turn the ball over on average 17.1 times per game. That rate ranks third in the league. The Pacers are also giving up just 95.6 points per game, that ranks fourth in the NBA. It is as simple as this; the Pacers defense has been getting results. This success has largely been because of the fact that C.J. Miles has played defensive power forward in their small ball lineup. George Hill, Paul George, and Ian Mahinmi have been great defenders for the Pacers in recent years, but many didn't know what to expect from C.J. Miles and Monta Ellis.
Defensive genius Frank Vogel showed last season that Miles is quality defender. Vogel did it again this season with Monta Ellis, a player that has a reputation of being a bad defender. Ellis is now a quality defender that gives it his all on defense. With Miles at the power forward spot, the Pacers are able to utilize the speed of Ellis, (George) Hill, George, Miles, and Mahinmi to pressure shooters, seal off penetration, defend the passing lanes, crowd the rim, force bad shots, and rebound the ball.
C.J. Miles has a great ability to make catch-and-shoot jump shots from both the perimeter and mid-range. Since Miles can manage to not be a defensive liability when facing non-dominant power forwards, the Pacers can use a 4-out, 1-in offense. With the fellow play makers on roster (Paul George, Monta Ellis, George Hill, and Rodney Stuckey), Miles gets easy catch-and-shoot opportunities because the help defense can't recover in time to close out. When the opposing team views Miles as too much of a threat to leave in help-defense, the play makers on the team are able to get space to do what they need to do with the ball in their hands. This is extremely valuable since that pulls a play from the paint and leaves a single interior player for a relief option and rebounder.
Miles has added versatility to his offensive contributions for the Pacers. When the opportunity is favorable, Miles can make plays with the ball in his hands by making pull-up jumpers, finishing at the rim, or drawing a help defender and find the open man for a quality shot attempt. Miles also has a versatile ability to shoot the ball, he can shoot off the dribble, shoot with a defender near him, shoot coming off screens, and make catch-and-shoot jumpers. These contributions come when he is at shooting guard, small forward, and even at power forward. This amount of versatility is a lethal combination with a talented group of teammates like Paul George, Monta Ellis, and George Hill. Miles fills a valuable role on both sides of the ball that really allows for his team to function the way that it does.
For reference, Miles is shooting 44.3 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers, 41.9 percent on pull up jumpers, and shooting 47.2 percent on shots from less than 10 feet. Miles has shot 43.8 percent on very tightly (0-2 feet) defended shot attempts, 41.7 percent on tightly (2-4 feet) defended shot attempts, 50.0 percent on open (4-6 feet) shot attempts, but is shoot 38.2 percent on wide open (6+ feet) shot attempts. This goes to show that Miles is effective from all ranges, on different shot types (catch and shoot, pull up, off the dribble, etc.), and with different levels of pressure contesting his shot attempts. It is strange though, Miles has been the least effective on wide open shot attempts, but that's an area that should improve over time. That is the definition of offensive versatility, which is what makes Miles so valuable to the Pacers.
Monta Ellis has started to improve his offensive play as of late, but it is not at the level that we are all used to seeing him play. Miles has done more than fill the void of Ellis's decreased level of production. Miles is averaging 15.4 points per game this season, which is the second most on the team. Paul George (27.2), C.J. Miles (15.4), George Hill (13.2), and Monta Ellis (12.8) are all averaging a double-digit scoring average, which is great, but the best is yet to come. Indiana should improve both offensive and defensively as their players get more familiar with their defensive rotations, offensive system, roles, and their teammates, but with all of that being said, Miles has been valuable so far in the early stages of the 2015-16 Pacers season.