NBA analyst and three-point-launching legend Reggie Miller attended CBS and Turner Sports NCAA Media Day and The Shadow League sat down with the five-time All-Star and picked his brain about his beloved UCLA Bruins program, age restrictions on college basketball players turning pro, the NBA playoffs, and of course, March Madness.
Gambler: I asked Charles Barkley this same question. Is “lack of offense” a trend you’ve noticed over the last decade in college basketball?
Miller: Well the lack of offense is because of all of the one-and-dones. There’s no team continuity. Really over the last six to eight years there’s no familiarity with certain teams, franchises and schools. Yes you still have schools like Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina, because when you think of college basketball, you think of those teams. I’m used to guys staying two, three, four years and becoming solid contributors to a well-oiled offensive machine.
To me that would be the difference over the last 10 years. I would love to see players stay at least two or three years with their respective schools and make those schools powerhouses like back when I was growing up. You had St. John’s and Georgetown and DePaul and they had guys who played four years with their school so you had universities who were vetted and vested in their players and developing teams.
Gambler: Is that realistic though? Many people who support education and value
Miller: I can see both sides of the coin, because you never know a young man’s situation growing up, their family circumstances or where they came from and if we’re asking 18-year-olds to go off to war and protect our country…they should have every right to go and be able to make money in the NBA. Same thing as being a child prodigy who is able to go to Carnegie Hall and make money. You should be able to do that as a young basketball player. So I do see both sides of the coin.
Gambler: But it only happens for a select few and when you generalize it you forget about all the kids that fall through the cracks, right?
Miller: Absolutely and that’s the problem. There’s only so many Kobe Bryants, Kevin Garnetts and Tracy McGradys --great young talents. However, there’s probably two dozen more that have tried and failed and probably looking back on their careers, wish they had the opportunity to go back to college, get their education, secure a degree and then try the pros.
Gambler: Who impresses you this year in college basketball?
Miller: I like Karl-Anthony Towns at Kentucky. I think his ability to pass the basketball at his size…he’s good around the basket, but what separates him from Jahlil Okafor is Towns’ ability to move the basketball and find teammates. Frank Kaminsky obviously. The big guy from Wisconsin is in the running too.
Gambler: So Towns is a better fit than Okafor for The Knicks right now?
Miller: Ohhh…Uhhhhh...I don’t know about that. It depends on what style the Knicks are going to play. Are they using The Triangle? You see, in the Triangle offense you need good passing big men. If you go back to the Jordan-Bulls and then Lakers days with Coach Jackson, Shaq was an unbelievable passer. Even though the offense ran through him down low, when he went to that pinch-post, he was good at dumping passes off. Not to say that Okafor couldn’t be successful in that situation, but I can see Towns in that situation. You certainly need good passing big men.
Gambler: How do you feel about the current state of UCLA basketball? The UCLA men's squad has earned a No. 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament’s South Region and will face No. 6-seed SMU in a second-round game on Thursday at Louisville's KFC Yum! Center.
(UCLA will be making its 47th NCAA Tournament appearance, third consecutive and fourth in the last five years, receiving an at-large bid.)
Miller: Well obviously you would want your team to be a little bit better. It’s Steve Alford’s third year with The Bruins. What has hurt him is Zach LaVine and Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams going pro. If those guys were there this year, UCLA would be a Top 3 team in the country. It’s unfortunate, but the good thing about UCLA and all of the legendary universities is that they’re able to recruit top notch players. And who wouldn’t want to play in Westwood under 75-80 degree weather everyday and walk one of the most beautiful campuses in the world? I have faith in my Bruins and Alford. They’ll be back among the elite (and they made the NCAA Tourney this season) so it will be interesting.
Gambler: Are the lethal shooters in today’s NBA game on your level yet? Do the defensive limitations imposed on today’s NBA defenders give the newbie bombers an advantage?
Miller: Steph Curry is one of the best shooters arguably ever as we speak today. Just because of what he’s shown over his first six or seven years. He’s shown a consistency and I think the next step for him will come playoff time, on the biggest stage, when it’s money time. He will get the chance to show that lethal shot in a very meaningful game.
Overall, I think him and Kyle Korver and Damian Lillard…all these guys are fantastic guys that can stretch the floor and knock down big shots. Every era of basketball is different. In my era of the 80s and 90s the rules were different. In the 60s and 70s the rules were different. All of these guys are carving their own niche. Rules are always evolving. You gotta’ roll and adapt to the new rule changes just like everybody else did before you.
Gambler: Is Cleveland once again the favorite to win the Eastern Conference?
Miller: Look… They’ve got a tough road ahead of them. Atlanta is still playing well and is well-coached. The Hawks don’t have a true superstar, but they have a collection of talent that plays well within their system. Chicago’s success depends on the health of Jimmy Butler even if Derrick Rose even comes back this year from the knee injury. They’re big and that’s something that Cleveland really doesn’t have—size. When you have Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah and guys that are going to pass the basketball and score down low, that can give any team problems in the playoffs. But Cleveland has the best player on the planet in LeBron and the pickups of Tim Mosgov and JR Smith and Iman Shumpert added to the two other young stars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have helped them get back into the mix. It’s still going to take some work for them to find that perfect championship chemistry. So that remains to be seen.