- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2014

Kris Humphries reacted as if he saw something sudden and alien. Marcin Gortat leaped from his seat. Paul Pierce, out for the night because of an aching toe, hopped up so quick he nearly ruffled his pressed suit.

The stunning occurrence? Point guard Andre Miller’s putback dunk attempt Tuesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Miller, alone in the lane, crept in to try a one-handed tip dunk of a missed jump hook by Kevin Seraphin. He did not succeed. The ball was hammered onto the front of the rim. Considering the source, it may be the most glorious miss of the NBA season.

“That was sick, right?” Gortat said. “Oh my God.”

Miller, 38, is in his 16th season. His role at this point is to backup an in-bloom John Wall. Miller runs a bench unit that is second in the league in field-goal percentage. He’s averaging a seemingly benign 4.2 points and 3.2 assists per game, but it’s efficiency, not simple averages, that better explain what Miller is doing. His player efficiency rating is 17.3, which is fourth best on the team. An average efficiency rating is 15.0. In his 12.4 minutes per game, he is picking apart opponents with a singular style in the modern NBA.

The oldest active player in the league plays that way. He drags smaller and mid-sized point guards down into the post. His offensive approach is filled movement mimicked by a stage coach traversing a rock-filled road. Miller goes up, right and left in stops and fits. It’s an archaic model of offense. Coach Randy Wittman joked the last time someone used a similar style was in the 1930s.

“Reminds me of the early days of NBA,” Wittman said. “We saw Gary Payton, we saw Jason Kidd do those kinds of things. There’s been guys that can run a team but also can run a team like he can from the post. There’s not a lot of them. But he developed that early on.”

His age produces all manner of jabs. After practice one day, Humphries challenged Miller to a shooting contest and encouraged the team’s old man to bring some of that “1990s money.” Often, Miller is matched against the opponent’s young backup point guard. That results in a scramble to see where Miller was in his career when his foe was learning to walk. At times, Miller was in college at Utah when the other point guard was leaving behind the terrible twos.

That was the case opening night in Miami, where the flourishing Wizards return Friday night to face a banged-up Heat team that is without Chris Bosh. Miller was matched up with 23-year-old rookie Shabazz Napier. They dealt with each other again Dec. 1 when the Heat came to D.C. During that 107-86 Wizards win, Miller backed Napier into the post with ease. He also shook Napier’s pressing defense by putting the ball behind his back then through his legs. On the way to the rim, he faked the kickout pass with his strong hand and scored off the glass with his off hand. That move has been in his pocket for some time.

“Probably since I was little,” Miller said with a smile and small laugh.

He’s nicknamed The Professor and is often silent. As other Wizards players pull out hats, socks and outfits of varying sartorial splendor postgame, Miller most often tugs on his track suit and walks out quietly. His departure produces several goodbyes of, “All right, Dre,” from his teammates who continue to primp.

After the second game of the season in Orlando, he was curled into his locker watching the Cleveland Cavaliers game while interviews went on around him. His quiet and calm appear counter to a person who was described as “disgruntled” in Denver, prompting last season’s three-team trade which brought Miller to the Wizards, sent washout Jan Vesely to the Nuggets, and Eric Maynor plus a protected 2015 second-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers. Vesely is now playing in Turkey. Maynor is also out of the league.

Miller has little to say about leaving Denver. He’s also not sure about how much longer he will play. Money is not a reason to stay. Once this season ends, Miller will have pocketed around $95 million for playing basketball. Yet, at his current rate, he may end up sticking around the league.

“I’m not playing a lot of minutes, so, if I was playing this amount of minutes, I could do this for like five, six more years,” Miller said. “The main thing for me is to continue to try to take care of my body. Be prepared … hopefully, nobody is getting injured. Just be ready for whatever happens.”

He works almost exclusively in the post and lane now. According to NBA.com, only 14 of his 70 field-goal attempts this year have come from outside the paint. He has a turnaround jumper out of the post, a drop-step into the middle and masterfully shields and angles defenders with his body and pump fakes. Miller is shooting 61.4 percent from the field.

His nature and fundamental understanding of the game prompts conjecture that he will become an assistant coach after he retires. That suggestion comes from others, not Miller, who is an unrestricted free agent after this season.

“I haven’t thought about it,” Miller said. “Just enjoying the ride. Just preparing myself for whatever happens. So, I wouldn’t rule it out. Right now, I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

Once in a great while, the day will include a dunk attempt and a moment to rejoice.

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