Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

In a 2023 draft class headlined by No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama, everyone, relatively speaking, is going to be something of an afterthought. After Wemby, No. 3 overall pick Scoot Henderson has gotten the most buzz, if only as an innocent bystander through all the Damian Lillard drama. 

Meanwhile, the guy who got picked between Wemby and Henderson, Brandon Miller, who was almost immediately relegated to the shadows of the rookie conversation this summer, has looked awesome

A lot of people believed the Charlotte Hornets made a mistake by drafting Miller over Henderson at No. 2 overall. Admittedly, I was one of those people. While no conclusions can be drawn about any player a week into his rookie season, I’m already thinking I might’ve been a little too caught up in the Scoot hype to fully appreciate everything Miller brings to the table. 

On Monday, Miller continued what has been a sensational start to his rookie season with 22 points and nine rebounds, albeit in a 133-121 Hornets loss to the Brooklyn Nets

Through three games, Miller is averaging 17.3 points with an elite 61.3 true-shooting percentage on better than five 3-point attempts per game — and he’s already an impact defender with his seven-foot wingspan and top-end athleticism, both of which were on full display with the monster block above the square that you’ll see in the reel below. 

Miller isn’t starting yet. I’d bet it won’t be long. Part of Charlotte’s rationale for taking Miller over Henderson is the former’s fit alongside LaMelo Ball, where Scoot would’ve been somewhat redundant. Ball, who hasn’t yet found his stroke this season, and Miller make for a super long, athletic tandem in a league that punishes small backcourts. 

Terry Rozier feels like a perfect sixth man when Miller’s starting number gets called, or perhaps it’s Gordon Hayward bound for the bench. Either way, sooner or later, Miller is going to be the guy next to Ball, because he’s a flat-out difference-maker in a variety of forms. 

Knockdown 3-point shooter? Check. Attack closeouts for pull-up jumpers over smaller defenders? Check. Smart cutter? Efficient off-ball mover? High-flying athlete in transition and stronger-than-you-think finisher? Check, check and check. It is all there for Miller physically, and this is to say nothing of how competitive he clearly is, and how poised he has looked after just one year in college. 

“He is not like most guys his age,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Miller following an impressive NBA debut. “If you watch him, he’s got great self-confidence.”

Three shots in that debut stood out, beginning with his first regular season shot as a professional, a deep catch-and-shoot triple from the left wing. 

Guys can say whatever they want about how the NBA is “the same game I’ve been playing all my life,” but that first shot in the league does not come without a little extra juice flowing. And Miller cashed that thing in the coolest fashion. No hesitation. From well beyond the arc. 

That was one of Miller’s three 3-pointers in his debut, and the other two came with the game hanging in the balance: the first a gorgeous corner 3 off an escape dribble that pulled the Hornets within one, the second a catch-and-shoot to give Charlotte the lead inside the final five minutes. 

Those are big-time shots for anyone, let alone for a 20-year-old playing in his first career game. On top of that, Miller had been in foul trouble after a couple questionable calls before coming back in to drain these shots. Out of rhythm, he easily could’ve hesitated to pull the trigger in such high-leverage moments. 

But he didn’t. The guy is a pure shooter, but he’s got some guts and nerve, too. The Hornets have started the season 1-2 and it’s going to be a while before they’re competitive, but Clifford has called this team the most talented he’s ever coached. 

Miller — who in the early going has the highest single-game scoring output and highest scoring average of any rookie, as well as the most total 3-pointers of anyone from the 2023 class (shout out to Chet Holmgren) — is already proving to be a big part of that statement. And when you hear Clifford talk about his work ethic and what a quick study he is, you get the impression that Miller going to make big strides throughout his rookie season. 

“Brandon Miller, you show him something in the afternoon and he can do it tonight,” Clifford told reporters on Monday. “He has a super high IQ, and it comes easy to him. He sees what has to happen, whether it’s a technique thing on defense or you change something, and you don’t teach that. You don’t teach that, any of that. He learns quickly.”

The Hornets are not a good team. It’s going to be easy to forget about them as the season goes on; they will only be on national television one time, on Jan. 12, and that’s only because they’ll be playing against Victor Wembanyama’s Spurs. But keep your eye on Miller. While we’re all going gaga over Wemby, it may well be Miller, just like on draft night, who ends up right behind him on the Rookie of the Year board. 

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