Andre Miller has handed out 8,153 assists in his 15-year career, the ninth-highest total in NBA history, so it would be nearly impossible to rank the best pass that he has ever dished. Reduced simply to his time in Washington, the task is much easier.
Of the 97 assists that Miller has recorded in two months with the Wizards – and several have been head-turners – none was better than the full-court beauty he whipped out in the second quarter of Washington’s 114-93 rout of the Miami Heat last Monday.
After grabbing a rebound underneath the Heat basket, the 38-year-old Miller turned and fired a pass ahead to Bradley Beal that would make Peyton Manning ask for pointers. Beal caught the ball and made a layup in the same motion, then the former high school football player jokingly wondered if he should pursue another career.
“It was a post route. The safety bit on the ball fake, so I was able to beat the corner and I got free for the touchdown,” Beal said with a laugh. “Hopefully, the Redskins will pick me up.”
Just three months ago, Miller was home in Denver, working out on his own and waiting for the Nuggets to trade or release him. Golden State, Minnesota and Washington were in the mix, but the Warriors nabbed Steve Blake and the Wizards swooped in with an offer of Jan Vesely to get Miller, a move that allowed him to reach the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 years.
“This was my first option, just looking at the roster, previous history with Martell [Webster], Nene and Al [Harrington],” Miller said. “This was my first choice. It was granted and I’m just happy to get here and try to get comfortable with the situation. It’s been a good experience so far. I’m going to enjoy my time here for as long as they want me here. I’m just happy to be in the playoffs, happy to be able to contribute to this team.”
The Wizards have a player option of the final year of Miller’s contract next season. Miller can be bought out for $2 million of his $4.6 million salary but he has helped solidify the Wizards’ bench and completed the team’s long and frustrating search for a backup to John Wall.
Whereas the Wizards once dreaded when Wall sat, they can now expect Miller to maintain or lead a ignite a rally with one of his patented point guard clinics.
“He has that high IQ and he’s been in the league for a long time,” Beal said. “He knows everything.”
Coach Randy Wittman has credited Miller’s presence with helping Wall understand how to better push the tempo and open up the floor with a pass instead just the dribble.
“I had him as a first year guy and it’s a process,” Wittman said of Miller, who was a rookie in Wittman’s first year as a head coach in Cleveland. “A lot of people in the media ask me about John’s growth in that and it is a process, and John has got to get better with having an understanding with that, and he will. John’s growth since he’s been in the league has been good. That’s what ‘Dre brings with his 15 years of doing it. It was a process of learning. Having him here is good, not just what he can do for us on the floor, but sitting down with John and talking to him on the bus and on the plane and that’s going to be beneficial, too.”
With Wall making his playoff debut on Sunday against the Chicago Bulls, the easy-going Miller didn’t come up with some spirited pep talk to get him ready. “Just go out there and so the same things he’s been doing,” Miller said he told Wall. “Just enjoy the moment, regardless of what you’re going to do out there, you’re still going to be criticized, whether good or bad. The ball is in his court and just go out there and enjoy his first time being in the playoffs.”
Though he has taken this path before, Miller admits to still getting nervous in anticipation of the playoffs. That may not have been evident last year, when he led the Nuggets to a 97-95 win over Golden State in Game 1 by scoring a playoff-career high 28 points and recording the first game-winner of his career.
“It was cool,” Miller said. “I’m worried about this year. I’m worried about how this team is going to play, how we’re going to approach the first game. That first game is always important, establishing the tougher team, the team that’s going to play the full 48 minutes.”
But Miller also knows that a series isn’t over after one game. Denver lost the next four games to the Warriors last season, continuing a disappointing career trend for Miller.
“We had a little sit down and it ain’t too much experience that I have, I’ve never been out the first round,” Miller said. “I just kind of talked about that a little bit, but at the same time, I see an opportunity for the team to get out of the first round. It’s a good matchup. We’re going to be challenged.”
Possessions are valued more in the postseason, and the slightest mistake can come back to haunt teams. So, Miller said he doesn’t plan to attempt to duplicate his perfect outlet pass to Beal against the opportunistic Bulls: “No gamble plays.”