Athletic and confident, C.J. Miles has set a dangerous precedent over the past two weeks, one that he’s struggled to live up to in the past.
By scoring at least 17 points in four of his past five games, Miles has given everybody — Jazz coaches, officials, teammates and fans — a glimpse of the player he can be.
In becoming a legitimate weapon off the bench in Tyrone Corbin’s offense, Miles has helped take the Utah Jazz to another level, and reset expectation at the same time.
The conventional wisdom was Miles would quietly play out the final year of his contract, bow out of Utah and be playing elsewhere by next season. But now, there’s excitement again. From Miles, his teammates, his coaches, and the Jazz front office.
Now, he has to do it all the time.
“He made a mistake,” Utah general manager Kevin O’Connor said. “We all saw where he grabbed two or three rebounds, and went about 11 feet to get them. Now, we’re going to expect it all the time.”
Going into Wednesday night’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors, Miles is in the midst of what might just be the best stretch of his seven-year career. He’s slashing to the basket first, drawing contact and getting to the free-throw line. His jumper, a mystery early in the season, has returned as defenders have been forced to play off him, for fear of him driving to the hoop.
Everyone knew Miles could score. His defense — previously sporadic, at best — has improved with the points. He’s getting into passing lanes, creating turnovers and easy baskets. He’s been rebounding the ball, and creating offense for others with his passing.
By getting it done at both ends of the floor, he’s forced his way back into Corbin’s rotation. After beginning the season frustrated with his playing time and fretting that a few missed shots would land him back on the bench, he’s now developing into a confident shooting guard — the C.J. Miles the Jazz hoped they would get when they drafted him out of Skyline High in Dallas back in 2005.
Can it continue? Miles has played well in stretches throughout his Jazz career, but has never sustained it.
He swears it’s different this time.
“This is who I am,” Miles said. “This is what I’m going to be. The funny thing is that I’ve been doing what I’ve done the last five games, but my jumper still doesn’t feel right. I feel like I’ve always had the ability to do what I’m doing now, but the opportunity hasn’t been there. I’ve always been in a situation where I’ve been trying to figure things out.”
Things started to change for Miles two weeks ago.
That’s when he and Corbin sat down and hashed things out in a meeting. He wanted more from Miles. More activity on defense, and better leadership out of him for a young second-unit. Miles was frustrated, feeling like the slightest mistake would make him a scapegoat and get him pulled off the floor.
“There were times when I would come into the game, and on my first possession the ball would come to me with three seconds on the shot clock and then I would have to put up a 3-pointer,” Miles said. “I would miss, and then everyone would be mad at me.”
So Corbin told him to be aggressive. Go to the basket more. And most importantly, to stop thinking and just play the game.
The difference has been startling. Miles has started to use his athleticism to make things happen offensively. Defensively, his production has multiplied. Last week, against Minnesota, Dallas and the Los Angeles Clippers, Miles had seven steals combined. In the previous eight games, he had six steals.
In those three games, Miles took 20 free throws. In the previous eight games, he took 14. Corbin has responded by giving him more minutes. And for Miles, who lost 20 pounds in the offseason, he now feels that his hard work during the NBA lockout is finally being rewarded.
“He’s coming along,” Paul Millsap said. “He’s finding his rhythm and his confidence. We need him to do that. We need that threat from him.”
Five years ago on Thursday, Miles was recalled from his second stint in the NBA Development League. Miles remembered it well, saying that coming to the Jazz for good meant that he had cleared a hurdle.
Jazz fans can only hope that he’s cleared another.
Miles’ big week
• Scored 19 points, had five rebounds and four steals against the Los Angeles Clippers
• Scored 18 points and took 10 free throws against the Minnesota Timberwolves
• Scored 17 points in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks
• Had scored in double figures just twice over the previous eight games
C.J. Miles’ career numbers
Year G GS Min Reb Ast Pts
2006 23 0 8.8 1.7 0.3 3.4
2007 37 13 10.1 0.7 0.3 2.7
2008 60 13 11.5 1.3 0.9 5.0
2009 72 72 22.5 2.3 0.6 9.1
2010 63 28 23.8 2.7 1.7 9.9
2011 78 19 25.2 3.3 1.1 9.4
2012 15 0 18.3 2.2 1.1 9.4