Memo to a deep but callow team aiming to move up: Be like Mike
By L. Jon Wertheim
Team Page | Conference ranking: 9 | Overall ranking: 15
A native of Mitchell, S.Dak., small forward Mike Miller played his high school games in the Corn Palace, a 3,500-seat amphitheater whose exterior murals are made from 300,000 ears of maize. While the arena is popular with tourists traveling on I-90, it is also a favorite haunt of the local fauna. "Don't get me wrong, it's a cool place," says Miller, "but it seems like there are always birds and rodents eating the outside."
That said, the 6'9" Miller might not deem gym rat a term of endearment. Still, how else to describe Miller, who spent most of the summer wearing a second skin of sweat as he worked out frenetically at Tracy McGrady's place in Orlando and at Rhodes College in Memphis, where the Grizzlies practice? Sometimes logging three practice sessions a day, Miller alternated among shooting all manner of jumpers, working on his ball-handling skills and developing a repertoire of low-post moves. He did take a week off to get married, but even while on his honeymoon in the Bahamas he played pickup at the Atlantis resort. "Once the season starts," says Miller, the 2000-01 Rookie of the Year, "there's not much time to work on your game."
He learned that last season. Traded from Orlando to Memphis in February, Miller had to adjust on the fly to a different system, a different set of teammates and a vastly different coaching style. Miller performed well enough in the first 16 games he played for the Grizzlies to earn a six-year extension for a reported $48 million, but he sat out 14 dates with back spasms. Healthy, if not rested, he harbors high expectations for the new season. "I'm looking to create for my teammates," he says. "We're going to put up a lot of points and, I think, surprise a lot of people."
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Grizzlies
"This is an example of how you build a franchise. The Grizzlies have a lot of young assets who will not only help them move up in the standings this year but also can be traded if Jerry West decides to go in a different direction.... You'll see their defense improve after a full training camp with Hubie Brown, who was brought in after an 0-8 start and led them to a club-record 28 wins. A lot of coaches don't want to risk making a bad situation worse by demanding a lot from players when things are going south, but Hubie confronts guys and expects that they show improvement. And the way they played last year illustrated the benefits of his approach.... Jason Williams responded by finishing tied for second in the league in assists. He still needs to focus on completing the simplest plays -- rather than the glitziest -- and on game management, which means knowing when to risk the pull-up three in transition.... James Posey can defend the one, two or three positions, and he'll be really effective in the open court with Williams pushing the ball.... It looks like the plan is to build around their young scorers Pau Gasol and Mike Miller. Gasol has shown resiliency in the paint against the bigger, stronger guys in the West, but he is still maturing. The arrival of center Jake Tsakalidis will take some of the physical burden off him. Miller can do a lot of things offensively and is becoming a better defender.... Memphis will be a tough opponent, because the team's deep enough to play hard for 48 minutes. Earl Watson is one of the best backup point guards in the league, Wesley Person gives them perimeter shooting, and Bo Outlaw fits in with Hubie's ball-pressuring style. Then there's Shane Battier, who's smart and does a lot of things well. He may never be an All-Star, but good teams need guys like him."
Issue date: October 27, 2003