While January hasn’t been especially kind to Indiana Pacers swingman C.J. Miles thus far as he struggles a bit through a shoulder injury, the fact is that through the first 36 games of this season, Miles is playing better basketball in a larger role than he ever has in his entire 11-year career.
“I’m more important to this roster than I have been to any other roster, but solely because I’ve been put in the position to play more than just a little piece of a role,” Miles told Basketball Insiders. “I’ve been given the green light here, and I’ve been able to help more with what we’ve been trying to do. Confidence-wise, to know that, makes such a big difference.”
Before last season in Indiana, Miles had spent the majority of his career playing mostly bit roles in Utah and Cleveland. He’s been part of the main rotation for a good chunk of his professional life, but it wasn’t until he landed with the Pacers that he really was forced to be a bigger part of the offense, and even then it was out of necessity because of Paul George’s essentially season-ending injury.
“I came here from Cleveland right before LeBron James came back and right when Paul George got hurt, but sometimes those things turn out to be blessings in disguise,” Miles said. “I don’t wish injury on anybody, and I didn’t know anything about LeBron in Cleveland, but with how things worked out in those two spots, I ended up having to play more and step up my game some. That allowed me to do the types of things I’ve been doing this season to help Paul and Monta (Ellis) and George (Hill). That just helped me take steps forward in my game.”
Those steps have resulted in Miles playing career high minutes (26.8 MPG) and scoring a career-high points (13.9 PPG), both of which are a huge jump from his rookie season with the Jazz, where he didn’t even get nine minutes a night in the 23 games he saw the floor.
That lack of playing time for a guy who had been used to being an elite player for his entire life was frustrating for Miles as a rookie. To this day, he says his stint in the D-League that first season made a tremendous impact on the pro he turned out to be, simply because it gave him the opportunity to play and stay fresh rather than languish at the end of that Utah bench.
“I was excited (to be assigned to the D-League) because I hadn’t played in months, not since training camp and preseason,” he said. “Going into my first year in the league, I had played a lot the first couple of games of the preseason, and then I didn’t play at all. The last three games I just didn’t play anymore. I was just, like, done.
“I really thought that I had showed enough to give myself a shot that year, but no… You spend every day doing all these workouts, but you don’t get as much game time or scrimmage time as the season goes on, but in the D-League there’s a target on your back. When you’re an assigned guy, everybody’s watching you. It raises the game play of the other guys, too, so the defense was better than people realize.”
A lot changes in a decade, of course, and Miles has carved out a role for himself on a team that has presented itself as one of the more promising in the Eastern Conference.
“We believed in the guys we had in the locker room, and with all the new players, coming off the injuries and stuff, we knew there were guys that were going to have to step up,” Miles said. “I feel like myself and Rodney Stuckey both have done that. George Hill has stepped up, we’ve worked faster with Paul back, we’ve added Monta. Ian (Mahinmi) has been so much better. We knew with that style of play anything was possible.”
Now, Miles very much hopes he’ll get his first taste of the postseason since 2010.
“It’s been a while since I played in the playoffs. It’s been years, and I’m definitely hungry to get back there,” he said. “With this team, I feel like we have the opportunity to do some damage, not only in terms of how this season goes, but we’ll keep building. Next year, and the next year. I’m excited about it.”
And he should be. He’s playing a significant role for a significant team, and that’s something the rookie version of C.J. Miles probably wasn’t sure would ever happen.
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