They call him The Professor.
For the Denver Nuggets’ Andre Miller, it’s a nickname borne as much out of a productive 14-year tenure as it is that career’s enduring qualities: methodical and unflashy, cerebral and exacting, effective to an art form’s degree.
It’s the kind of curriculum vitae that a Princeton Review party school like the New York Knicks could stand to see gracing its faculty—even if only for the next few semesters.
Recent resurgence aside, the Knicks remain in dire need of the kind of savvy veteran leadership that proved such an integral part of last season’s 54-win renaissance.
Miller, who has commanded respect through changing after changing of the NBA guard, fits that template to a T.
With the Nuggets mired in their own identity crisis and Miller relegated to the pine by head coach Brian Shaw, the timing for a deal couldn’t be better for either team.
So what would a possible trade look like?
It really depends on what the Nuggets are looking to accomplish in the near term. On the one hand, Denver is still very much in the playoff conversation, being only two games out of the Western Conference’s eighth and final seed.
If Shaw and company are serious about making a push, having a fussy Miller in the fold probably isn’t the smartest long-term strategy—even if the Nuggets are 5-1 since benching Miller outright.
Trading Miller now allows the Nuggets to accomplish three things seemingly at once: rid themselves of a surly presence, get younger and prove to their fans that they’re prepared to stick with what works.
If they deal Miller and the bottom suddenly falls out? With this draft class on the docket, I don’t think too many Denver fans will be up in arms.
What the Knicks would give up for Miller depends on just how bad the situation gets. If Miller continues to demand a trade, for instance, New York could stand to get a better deal than they might have otherwise.
|Knicks get||Nuggets get|
|Andre Miller||Raymond Felton, Beno Udrih|
|ESPN.com's Trade Machine|
Why does this work for New York? By trading two point guards for Miller, the Knicks are easing a positional logjam grown even more crowded by the impressive play of rookie Toure’ Murry while improving their future flexibility.
As for Denver: Would you want to deal with a cranky Andre Miller for the next 18 months?
Didn’t think so.
The hope is that Raymond Felton—who has played quite poorly this year—is comfortable with the idea of transitioning to more of a backup roll (a big "if," to be sure). With Beno Udrih, the Nuggets are essentially getting a four-month flyer.
The problem with this deal: A ticked-off Felton might be worse than a ticked-off Andre Miller.
Judging by how Felton coped with first being traded from the Knicks to the Nuggets in the 2011 Melo trade (i.e. not well at all), it’s easy to see Denver being apprehensive over such a cut-and-dry deal.
Remember, the Nuggets are a team that is just bad enough to where tanking—even turmoil-fueled—isn’t the worst outcome. That they own the Knciks’ 2014 first-round pick only strengthens this case.
Thus, it’s entirely possible that the Nuggets would seek out a slightly more complex trade with more moving parts. Something like this:
|Knicks get:||Nuggets get:|
|Andre Miller||Raymond Felton|
|Jordan Hamilton||Iman Shumpert / Tim Hardaway, Jr.|
|ESPN.com Trade Machine|
The Nuggets—a team in much the same situation as the Raptors were immediately after the Rudy Gay trade—could make a similar demand.
The Knicks balked last time, but with the price tag lowered, might they consider parting with one of their two principal young assets?
Iman Shumpert’s recent improved play has helped stymie his own swirling trade talk, at least for now. That doesn’t mean the Knicks will stop entertaining offers, however.
How Knicks fans might stomach watching another asset go to Denver—after parting with Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov three years ago—is a different question altogether.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Miller’s antics become fully untenable, and the Knicks are somehow able to steal him for a song (the first Felton-Udrih deal). How, exactly, does this help the Knicks in the short term?
Judging by the numbers so far this season: you name it.
|Miller and Felton: Tale of the tape|
|Age||PER||TS%||O Rating||D Rating||TOV%|
Even at 37 years old, Miller is far ahead of Felton in just about every relevant advanced statistic.
That he’s doing it in 13 fewer minutes per game is almost irrelevant: With the looming return of Pablo Prigioni and the steady ascendance of the aforementioned Murry, the Knicks have more than enough positional depth to make it work.
While Miller is renowned for his ability to manufacture points with a craftsman's care, his abilities as a distributor also fit quite nicely with coach Mike Woodson’s offensive philosophy: using Melo as a primary scorer and floor-spacer.
But Miller is also adept in the pick-and-roll, another of New York’s principal points of emphasis over the last two seasons.
More important still, Miller is the perfect protege for Murry, someone who—for all his talent and upside—could stand a course or two of basketball fundamentals.
Who better than the chair of the department?
You can already hear the critical caveat, of course: Why would the Knicks bring on a guy who’s proven such a problem child this season?
Setting aside the obvious—that Kenyon Martin, Metta World Peace and J.R. Smith already fit this bill—it’s important to appreciate Miller’s recent travails in the context of his career, which by all accounts have been certifiably drama-free.
Sometimes a guy just needs a change of scenery, and Miller—who’s played more years in Denver than for any other team—is clearly looking for one.
When you’re a perennially productive player pushing 40 and with 10 empty fingers to your name, the last thing you want is to be bolted to the bench of a team that has no idea what it’s doing.
For all their fits and foibles, the Knicks at least know what they want do be doing—not missing the playoffs with no draft-pick backup plan—even if they're not entirely sure of how to do it.
Trading for Miller isn’t going to launch the Knicks into the Eastern Conference’s upper echelon. What it might do, however, may be more important:
It gives Mike Woodson a steady, capable ball-handler (his turnover percentage is on par with Felton’s) and reliable secondary or tertiary scoring option, while—thanks to the length of his deal—putting the Knicks on a sturdier financial footing going forward.
Like a middling university looking to bolster its intellectual bona fides, the Knicks need a respected professor to serve as a kind of academic catalyst.
Getting Andre Miller won’t guarantee the Knicks make an in-season leap from Hangover State to Harvard, but it’s certainly better than the alternative: being a team that manages to pass just by showing up to class.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and current as of January 13, 2014.