With the benefit of hindsight, as with most things, it is easy to connect the dots and get a pretty good idea of what went wrong for C.J. Miles this season.
The man worked his ass of in the summer to come back and be the player the Raptors thought they were signing in July of 2017 to a three-year deal that will conclude next season with a third and final year at $8.33 million.
His first season with the club was hampered by injuries and never really had a flow to it from the beginning. Off the court there were some life developments like the arrival of his new child that played into the up and down season as well, though no one, and certainly not Miles would ever suggest that was a hardship.
But after an initial season in Raptors’ colours in which his shooting numbers took a dive from 43.4 % (shooting) and 41.3% (from three-point range) a year earlier to 37.9% and 36.1% respectively, it was clear Miles wanted and expected to deliver more.
There were whispers about his weight and conditioning in that first year even before the injuries began. This past off-season he tried to put those question to rest came into camp looking leaner and more toned than perhaps ever previously in his career.
Then the ball just stopped going through the hoop for him.
Pre-season was an mishmash of up and down games but once the regular season started the good nights got more and more scarce.
Worse, every good one seemed to be followed by a very rough one which makes it tough for a guy to build any confidence.
In October he had a decent night at home in a win over Dallas shooting 4-for-6 and a perfect 2-for-2 from distance. Three nights later in Milwaukee he was 1-for-7, all of them from behind the arc.
In early November he had a nice game against the Phoenix Suns going 3-for-7 from the field and 3-of-5 from long range. He followed that up with an 0-for-6 night in Los Angles.
By mid-December when things were looking rather bleak for the three-point specialist he seemed to find something in Portland going 5-for-10 from the field and 3-for-4 from behind the arc. After this one even his head coach was envisioning this being the start of something for a guy in the locker room everyone was pulling for. Two nights later in Denver he was 2-for-12 from the field, both makes from distance but seven others from long range missing the mark.
Over the next 14 games, he sat out seven (some due to a hip injury, others a coaches DNP) and in those contests he did play, he didn’t have more than a make in any game.
The injury played a part, no question, but bottom line, and Miles admits this, he was just trying to do too much to make up for the bad nights.
“The biggest thing with me is I care about my job,” Miles explained. “I take a lot of pride in the amount of work that I put in and wanting to play well for my team, and I think a lot of people thought that it was outside stuff that was bothering me. That was coming from inside, it’s me. I put a lot of pressure on myself because I want to play well, I want to help my team. And all the work that I put in since I got here and through this past summer and through camp and day-to-day now, I want to transfer it so badly and I tried to do everything at once and then I got a little bit behind and I got even faster.”
Faster sounds like a good thing but in Miles case it was not. He was rushing and trying to force things that weren’t there because he wanted so badly to turn this personal slump around.
“I think the one thing the injury (a sore right hip) did, it helped me slow down a little bit,” he said. “It helped me clear my head, it allowed me to be in the gym days I was able to work and help me focus on back-to-the basics, taking a chance to take a breather and not having to try and figure out how I was going to get out of this. That was the biggest thing.”
For really the first time this year Miles has now put together two decent games. He had 13 points on Thursday, including three triples and then had another 13 with two triples on Saturday, a game in which he also had a season high five steals.
It’s a small sample size but something Miles hopes he can maintain and build on.
It was just two years ago that Miles was a 41% three-point shooter for the Pacers, jacking up corner threes like they were going out of style. Right now he’s a 28.9% three-point shooter and just a 31.9% shooter from the field. That’s not Miles.
Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse says the game has changed in the two intervening years and those corner threes — the shortest threes and therefore presumably the easiest threes — are no longer there for the taking like they once were.
“I think defences have pretty quickly started to take away the corner a little bit more,” Nurse said. “We’ve looked at the tape and tried to figure out how to get him some more corner threes, but again, defences have gotten a little more complex to take that stuff away.”
But it’s not like Miles is incapable of hitting those three-point shots from anywhere else. Nurse recalls him being very effective in his Indy days from the deep right slot.
Most of all Nurse just wants him to let the game come to him. Shooters don’t forget how to shoot. That’s not the way the game works. Miles just needs to accept that and contribute however he can until the shots start falling for him like they have in the past.