16 January 2011
The Significance of CJ Miles by Jake Jeppsen
The NBA is a league rife with love for its superstars. The big names are lauded, praised almost daily. With that fame comes attention. Their moves – on and off the court – are analyzed, scrutinized and become front page headlines for the masses. Their decisions can leave lasting impressions about their character, sometimes damaging.
Importantly, these impressions become what we expect of our superstars. LeBron’s “Decision” debacle last summer, Melo’s mile high meltdown this season, as well as various player trade demands. It takes time – days, months, even years – to repair that damage. It takes time to forget.
But what about those players who’s light glows a little dimmer in the public eye? Though not in the spotlight as frequently, nor talked about nightly by mainstream media, these players leave impressions as well. At times, we have a tough time shaking our preconceived notions of them, too.
I give you Exhibit A for this experiment: CJ Miles.
Miles has had to fight for his right to prove himself under Sloan’s tutelage. Likewise, he’s had a difficult time winning over certain sections of Jazz fans. And while many are finally starting to come around, it hasn’t always been this way. Branded as immature, undisciplined and streaky, Miles is trying to change the perception of his character.
And like his superstar counterparts, he may find that time heals all wounds. Because fans have a hard time forgetting. And winning cures everything.
CJ Miles is in his 6th year as an NBA player, all with Utah. Though only 23 years old, Miles has had his fair share of minutes here, though rarely in consistent fashion. For the first three years, he spent time in and out of the starting lineup and sporadically off the bench, struggling to find consistency.
Coming into 2010-11, Miles most significant year was 2008-09, where he was essentially handed the reins to the starter role as a 21 year old. Starting all 72 regular season games he appeared in, Miles also nearly doubled his minutes per game over the previous year (22.5 vs. 11.5). He nearly doubled his points per game (9.1 vs. 5.0) and rebounds per game(2.3 vs. 1.3) all while shooting a career high 88% from the free throw line.
Things were definitely looking up. Patience and persistence had prevailed. Then, ANOTHER setback.
Miles missed the first 6 weeks of the season nursing ligament damage to his thumb. In his absence, an unknown, undrafted rookie named Wesley Matthews was given “his” minutes. Matthews story is history, as they say, and Miles was seemingly at square one yet again.
Then, in a mid-season trade, Ronnie Brewer was sent to Memphis. In March, Andrei Kirilenko suffered a nagging calf injury that would keep him out of regular playing time for the remainder of the season. And it was then that Miles seemed to just…click.
His demeanor had changed. His desire ratcheted up. The Miles and Matthews combination was quite literally the x-factor in the first round playoff series against a tough Denver Nuggets squad. And it was CJ instigating the hunger for pesky defense with his “Go Get That Ball” initiative for his teammates (a friendly, yet fierce, inter-team competition for steals and deflections). A new leaf was turned, encouraging us to be ready for next year.
2011 was going to be a new season. The old cast had exited stage left. No Boozer. No Korver. And most significantly for CJ, no Wesley Matthews. Yet Miles would still find himself in a peculiar position: coming off the bench. And while his game was looking up, Jazz fans would kick off the season still not knowing which CJ to expect.
Would we see the hungry, dedicated one we saw towards the end of last season? Or would this be the streaky CJ whose minutes were never guaranteed, nor totally efficient?
I guess right now would be a good time for me to interject this next thought. On one hand, it’s easy to look at CJ’s unusual case and say, “He’s in his sixth season. He should be in his role by now, consistent and solid. He’s reached his ceiling. It’s time to move on….” A few Jazz fans have drawn this conclusion and suggest their patience for this project has run out. On the other hand, however, you have to remember – CJ Miles is only 23 years old and been “saved” for this moment. His career to this point has been an up and down journey. Yet his career minutes played have hardly taken a toll on his body. You could argue, though, that they have taken a toll on his psyche.
But CJ is ready for his moment, even if it is 6 years later. He’s matured. He’s accepted his role. And he’s relishing it.
As Utah’s sixth man, he is making an impact. Miles is averaging a career high 12.2 ppg in 23 minutes. And for all the drama currently being discussed regarding the starting 5, CJ is offensively anchoring a second unit that has, on more than one occasion, resuscitated a lifeless Jazz team back to life. His mind is in the right place, a good place.
A fan favorite on Twitter (@CJMiles34), he is never shy to share his thoughts on his most recent performance, good or bad. In fact, some of his worst showings have led to some of his most honest, vulnerable moments. And not just on Twitter either. In the locker room with reporters, in the blogosphere, in the papers, too.
And it was a down moment like this last week, in fact, that exemplified for me everything CJ Miles has come to represent for the Jazz. Honesty, maturity and resolve.
The season had been kind to this point for CJ, but for some reason in Memphis last Friday, the wheels seemed to fall off a bit. He played just 9 minutes, his second lowest of the season, recording 0 points, 2 rebounds, 2 turnovers and 2 fouls in an ugly loss to the Grizzlies. Most confusing was his substitution back into the lineup for the game’s final 26 seconds after sitting nearly the entire 2nd half. Afterwards, he didn’t sulk. He talked about the importance of being prepared to be called on at any time.
He showed maturity.
Since that game, he’s shown the resolve of which I speak. Knocked down, but not out as evidenced by his past 3 games: 20 ppg on 60% shooting while shooting 42% from behind the arc during most importantly, a 3-0 stretch for the Jazz. All this coming after serious questions were being raised regarding which direction Utah’s season was headed. And while other in his draft class are reaching or have reached there their peak (great research by Clint Peterson, @clintonite33), CJ is hitting his stride at a very young age.
For those who have difficulty letting go of the past, now is a great time to allow CJ Miles to leave a new impression. Time heals all wounds and he is coming into his own as an important piece of this Utah Jazz team.
Don’t allow yourself to be blinded by what may be outdated opinion on the matter.
CJ Miles is getting it done, inside and out. So do yourself a favor: Look a little closer and see what many of us have been witnessing all season. This is the CJ Miles we hoped for, that Jazz brass believed in and that is getting results in impressive fashion.
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