Dating back to last season, it seemed the entire NBA world questioned Mike Miller. With the Miami Heat's tight budget to spend on personnel, the 6'8" swingman's contract is glaring as the team's fourth-highest paid player.
When the Big Three was formed in 2010, Miller and Udonis Haslem—both former teammates at the University of Florida—were named as the lead role players. Both succumbed to injury in their first season and played just 54 games combined.
Haslem returned just in time for the NBA Finals rematch against the Dallas Mavericks, and became a spark plug off the bench for the Heat. Miller, however, contributed just 2.6 points on 34 percent shooting in a minor 11.9-minute-per-game role through the playoffs.
After signing such a large contract—albeit in the context of Miami's salary cap—many expected Miller to be a central component to the team's rotation. He was never really 100 percent in the 2010-11 season, and was ultimately relegated to an even smaller role with the arrival of Shane Battier.
Battier's effect on the team was instantly apparent, and truly paved the path for the Heat to run a "small-ball" lineup and counteract their biggest weakness in having no true big man. Miller saw just 19.3 minutes per game last season before exploding in the NBA Finals.
His 7-of-8 shooting from three-point range set a tone for Miami, and made for an emotional and memorable close to the season. While Miller set an NBA record for most threes by a reserve in the Finals, his ailments were clear after every shot.
His back was clearly limiting his ability, as Miller shuffling back on defense, hunched over after each make from deep was a testament to his dedication.
This season saw the controversial signing of Ray Allen, and a much more limited role for Miller. He's played an average of just 13.6 minutes per game thus far, and even saw a stretch of 25 games in which he participated just eight times.
In the wake of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen recovering from various conditions, Miller has been promoted. He's averaged 25.8 minutes a game in his last six, and is healthy enough to show Heat fans what he can do.
Miller is scoring 12.5 points per game, en route to 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He's also converting on 48.6 percent from three, highlighted by an impressive 7-of-11 against the Charlotte Bobcats on April 5.
That gives Miller 15 three-pointers over his last three games, proving he's more than capable of fulfilling such a role. Even this athletic alley-oop surprised many, but tells the tale of how big a factor health is for NBA athletes.
Many were ready to discount his contributions, even to the extent of calling for his contract to be amnestied; however, health has always been the biggest question mark for Miller.
He's been fairly injury-free all season; however, his limited time in the rotation has hindered any chance for him to convince the public otherwise.
Just as Battier fits the mold of the Heat's small-ball lineup, Miller does the same. He doesn't present the same defensive versatility as his teammate, but his all-around game allows Miami to do more.
The absence of James and Wade is certainly a blessing in disguise for the Heat, as Miller's ability to contribute is undoubtedly confirmed as of late.
It's potentially something already understood internally by the Heat, but it has been beneficial for Miller, Miami fans and NBA fans in general to realise he remains a potent threat off the Miami bench, and is just as valuable as any member of this team.
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