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Brandon Miller’s Elite Scoring, Size Could Make Him a Play for Blazers

It took Brandon Miller just one season to make his case for the 2023 NBA Draft’s best collegiate prospect. Should the Blazers take the chance?

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San Diego State v Alabama Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Despite owning a 10.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft — and hopefully some added fortune from the “basketball gods” — the Portland Trail Blazers will have some stiff competition in the selection process. With Victor Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson taking over the overseas and G-League circuits respectively, the spotlight has shone brightly on this draft class. Around them, a number of incredibly-talented NCAA prospects have worked, vying for spots among college hoops’ most prestigious talents. As a mere freshman, Brandon Miller, the talented Alabama Crimson Tide wing, has risen high.

Here’s how his numbers and intangibles stack up.

Brandon Miller

Height: 6’9”

Weight: 200

Wingspan: 7’1”

Shooting Hand: Right

Position: F

Age: 20

Projected draft range: Picks No. 2 through No. 6

2022-23 Statistics:

PTS: 18.8 | Per 40: 23.0

AST: 2.1 | Per 40: 2.5

REB: 8.2 | Per 40: 10.1

BLK: 0.9 | Per 36: 1.1

FG%: 43.0

3P%: 38.4

FT%: 85.9

If you were making a list of traits that were among the “most valuable” in today’s NBA, it’s likely that size and perimeter shooting would be at the top. Few players in the 2023 NBA Draft max out those premiums quite like Brandon Miller does. With a 6-foot-9 frame to go along with one of the smoothest shot profiles of any high-value prospect, Miller’s game has already drawn comparisons to the likes of Paul George, Brandon Ingram and Khris Middleton.

Without even thinking of how he’d fit in the Blazers’ plans just yet, you can never have too many perimeter threats. Miller’s mixture of volume (7.5 attempts per game) and efficiency (38.4 percent) are both elite marks among the projected top-10 prospects.

Some have even gone as far as to say that Miller could be the best off-ball scorer in 2023 NBA Draft. Using an assortment of pindowns, “zipper sets,” drag screens and Horns sets — all Blazers staples — among others, Nate Oats was able to guide Miller and the Crimson Tide to a No. 1 finish in the AP Poll and the nation’s No. 7-ranked offense (81.8 points per game). With just two double-digit scorers and an avoidance of midrange shots, and that success largely hinged on the back of Miller’s play.

Miller was able to get those types of looks when on-balance, off-balance, in transition, seemingly everywhere. With a smooth, low-energy-like release similar to say, Saddiq Bey, he proved comfortable getting to his shot against almost anyone, and it led to one of the nation’s more versatile shot profile charts.

It’s unclear as to what the Blazers would do if they don’t get the No. 1 pick, the closest thing to a surefire slam dunk, but in the event that they did acquire Miller, it’s fun to think about how he’d fit on a Portland offense that ranked No. 5 in points per possession on “off-screen” plays (1.04) and points scored on those designs (397).

That said, it isn’t long before your eyes drift to Miller’s “below average” mark in isolation and as a pick-and-roll ball handler. Consensus is that Miller still has some work to do with tightening that handle. He won’t blow you away, or his defenders for that matter, with athleticism or a lightning-quick first step. This hits on one of his weaknesses.

Miller wasn’t the always same player against the most elite competition. According to Draft Dummies, he shot a whopping 63 percent on 2-pointers against teams that weren’t top-50, but just 38.5 percent on 2-pointers against the top-50 teams. His 3-point percentages diminished as well.

The Phil Knight Invitational Game against North Carolina comes to mind. In a 4OT game, Miller shot 4-of-21 from the field, including 2-of-13 inside the arc, prompting Bill Walton to declare that it was “an eye-opening experience” for him. The top-seeded Tar Heels forwards and bigs got 10 blocks, defending Miller at every angle with strength, athleticism and size.

Miller will add to his frame in the NBA, making life a bit easier. Most Draft experts note that many of the perceived flaws in his game eventually became strengths for him. This speaks to both his own self-awareness and work ethic, the ability to adjust in-season as a freshman.

The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie perhaps put it more eloquently:

“The first question scouts had revolved around Miller’s shot creation off the bounce, particularly going forward toward the rim. Over his first nine games, Miller shot a disastrous 32.8 percent from inside the arc, displaying difficulty getting all the way to the rim because of poor footwork on his drives and an ability to get bumped off balance. Throughout SEC play, Miller nearly doubled that mark, shooting 61.6 percent from 2-point range. In large part, that came from having better plans on his drives.

Instead of aimlessly driving and predetermining his move, Miller is now reacting to what defenders present to him and maneuvering around them to get cleaner pathways toward the basket. His last step acceleration has really improved to be able to separate from defenders for that last instant, and he’s done a better job of using his frame to shield defenders from his path with the ball to the basket.”

Defensively, comparisons to Paul George comparison could end up overzealous. But Miller’s hustle, feisty mentality, and his knowledge of how to use that frame and wingspan seems to give him a fighting chance against almost anyone that doesn’t have blow-by speed or an incredibly-bulky frame.

As a playmaker, Miller’s troubling turnover (81) to assist (77) ratio isn’t appealing. He’s still making enough high-level reads — such as here and here — that those who’ve analyzed him more closely believe in his ability to translate at the next level.

The elephant in the room, and largest caveat comes, in Miller’s off-court situation. Court testimony claimed that he delivered a teammate a handgun that killed 23-year-old Jamea Harris on Jan. 15. Miller hasn’t been charged, and reports say that the following background checks on him have been positive.

Miller’s forgettable performance in the 2023 March Madness Tournament — hampered by a groin injury — has caused some hesitance regarding his standing in this year’s draft. Per Bryan Kalbrosky of USA Today’s For the Win, he became the only player “since at least 1960” with at least 40 field goal attempts while shooting under 20 percent from the field. He shot 8-of-41 (19.5 percent), many of those coming on contested looks.

Assuming all goes well, though, Miller’s body of work as arguably college basketball’s premier freshman and the best collegiate talent in the 2023 NBA Draft should be reflected in his draft position. Miller may only be available to the Blazers should they get the No. 2 or No. 3 spot, if recent mocks are accurate. If they’re faced with that choice, chances to both add size and shooting are always a plus, and the Crimson Tide forward brings this by the boatload.