What John Wall Can Learn from Ageless Point Guard Andre Miller

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 30, 2014

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 20: Andre Miller #24 and John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards on the court during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on March 20, 2014 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
Sam Forencich/Getty Images

Washington Wizards point guard John Wall boasts Olympian-style athletic gifts.

The only question is which event the 23-year-old would pursue. He has a sprinter's burst, enough hops for the high jump and all the endurance needed for a marathon.

If Wall's backup this season, Andre Miller, has his own Olympic future, it would seem to be that of a spectator. The 38-year-old is trapped in Father Time's clinch, and he never had the deepest bag of physical tools to begin with.

Should someone draw up a Venn diagram comparing Wall and Miller, the overlapping section would be almost empty, save for a few similarities: They play point guard, they don't shoot well from distance and they both suited up for the Wizards in 2013-14.

Wall is a franchise face, a max-contract recipient with an entire market hoping he can capitalize on his unique natural gifts.

Miller has a face too easy to forget, an NBA vagabond milking whatever's left of his already 15-year career. It's hard to say just how much that will be. He's owed $4.6 million for next season, via ShamSports.com, but it's not fully guaranteed. The Wizards could buy him out for a fraction of that cost, although he's hoping to stick around.

Mar 3, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards point guard Andre Miller (24) looks to pass as Memphis Grizzlies shooting guard Tony Allen (9) defends during the first half at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

"Hopefully they can figure out how to keep a nice good core group of guys together," Miller said, via J. Michael of Comcast SportsNet. "I'd like to be a part of that...I feel like I have a lot more years left and I can be in the rotation of a lot of teams in this league."

Wall needs to maximize his influence as the organization's centerpiece and see to it that Miller returns. There's so much the young prodigy can learn from the grizzled vet.

Wall, by all accounts, is sitting on the cusp of stardom. Some might say he even entered that realm during the 2013-14 campaign.

He lifted his points (19.3), assists (8.8) and true shooting percentage (52.4) to career-high levels, via Basketball-Reference.com. His Wizards won 44 games, their most since 2004-05 and secured just their second playoff-series win in more than 30 years.

With so much of his game based around speed and explosiveness, the ground-bound Miller may seem like a curious mentor. After all, the latter has enjoyed a lengthy NBA career in spite of his natural abilities, relying instead on smarts, savvy and an insatiable passion for the sport:

"He has a knack of doing the fundamentals and doing the little things of basketball probably as good as anybody I've ever coached," said ESPN analyst George Karl, who coached Miller while both were with the Denver Nuggets, via Michael Lee of The Washington Post. "Andre knows how to win basketball games and he knows how to lead people."

Miller knows how to win without overwhelming athleticism.

According to NBA.com's SportVU player-tracking data, Miller played at an average speed of 3.8 miles per hour this season. That was the same pace as plodding big men Brook Lopez, Tim Duncan and Roy Hibbert.

With so many peers at his position possessing freakish physical tools, Miller's limitations should be deal-breakers, but they're not.

He's learned to survive off what many have dubbed his "old-man" game. He's a master at changing speeds, navigating around defenders like pitchers sneaking a mid-80s fastball past major league hitters, thanks to the stark disparity with their off-speed stuff.

When dribble drives can't get Miller to the basket, he'll body up his defender on the low block and unleash a lethal array of fancy footwork, head fakes and a soft shooting touch. Nearly 19 percent of his offensive plays with the Wizards were post-ups, via Synergy Sports (subscription required), which he converted at a rate of 1.06 points per possession (11th-best in the NBA).

Now, Wall has gifts Miller never had at his disposal. And barring injury, Wall should have those in his arsenal for years.

Why, then, would Wall need to worry about adding any of Miller's tricks? Because, as Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb explained, adding more gears would make Wall's engine even more powerful:

[Miller] can also help Wall slow the game down some. That's always a challenge for a player who's relied so heavily on his speed and athleticism, but it's been a necessity for Miller, who's never really been blessed with either. Good as Wall has been these last couple of seasons, it's scary to think about what he'll do with improved patience and basketball IQ.

Wall is a lot further along on his point guard learning curve than the masses give him credit for.

His 721 total assists were the most in the NBA this season—his 8.8 assist average trailed only Chris Paul's 10.7—yet even that figure fails to capture the full impact of his passing. Add in his setups that led to free throws and his secondary (or "hockey") assists, which NBA.com's player-tracking data allows, and Wall generated 21.3 points a night off his passing alone (third-best in the league).

Vision clearly isn't an issue, but Miller could help pull back the curtain on the secrets to team leadership. As the veteran explained to The Oregonian's Jason Quick, he was playing the game the right way long before he stepped foot on the NBA hardwood:

I think I've been surrounded by friends and family that actually understand how to play basketball and actually follow basketball and are not selfish.

You know, I've been told a couple times, 'Man, shoot a little bit more, and be more selfish,' ... But my family, they think team first, and these guys, some of them never played organized basketball.

So just being able to have those types of people around me; we all understand and talk basketball the right way. I think that helped me develop.

It's hard to teach someone how to lead. Some subscribe to the theory that people simply have the ability or they don't.

It has proven to be a difficult message to get through to Wall, a former star on the AAU circuit and the top overall selection in 2010.

"Before Wall became an elite player, he had a world-class attitude problem," Jonathan Abrams, then with The New York Times, wrote in 2010.

When Wall struggled to see consistent minutes during a rough patch late last season, he, along with some of his teammates, openly complained about their playing time to coach Randy Wittman. It wasn't until former Wizards center Emeka Okafor confronted the miffed floor general that Wall began to see the error in his ways, as he told Lee last April:

It was just me being young and very frustrated. I wasn’t making anything, turning the ball over, and we lost a lot of games that we should’ve won and I put the toll on me. A lot of frustration was coming out. As a veteran and being a leader on the team, [Okafor] stepped up and said something.

...It wasn’t nothing bad. I felt like, what he said was right. It was all the right things at the right time. 'You’ve got to learn how to control your anger more.' Ever since that day forward, I became more focused.

Surely, Wittman had tried to convey the very same message that Okafor delivered. But sometimes words carry a different meaning coming from a co-worker instead of a boss.

"There's nothing like when a peer (explains and inspires) you where to go," Nuggets assistant Melvin Hunt said, via Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post. "It's great when coaches do it, but it's incredible when peers do it."

Miller can provide a similar guiding light for Wall.

The elder statesman has hit his own rough patches during his playing days. The bridge he burned on his way out of Denver this season might still be smoldering.

However, he kept those personal problems from reaching the court.

Nick Wass/Associated Press

"He loves to make people better, he loves to make his team better," Karl said of Miller, per NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper.

Miller has never walked a foot in Wall's shoes. The former has never been seen as a building block like the latter, let alone one with a superhuman combination of quickness, speed and agility.

But Miller has taken some of the same missteps—and, like Wall, recovered from them—so any teaching he does is validated by experience.

While a lot of his lesson plan might center around the strategic aspect of the sport, Miller can also share what he's learned from staking his claim in the basketball world.

He can show Wall that there is life after athleticism. Or that an inconsistent shot, which Wall is notably improving with career marks in three-point makes (108), attempts (308) and percentage (35.1), doesn't have to dictate the impact a point guard can have on his team's offense.

Wall can (and should) make the most of his natural gifts now. Those are unbelievable assets in the bigger, faster and stronger world of the NBA.

But he can accentuate those gifts by incorporating different elements of Miller's old-man game. It's a transformation that should have started this season and one that could renew when these two hopefully reunite for the 2014-15 campaign.


Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.


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