Wolves’ Leonard Miller is the development story of G League Ignite’s dreams, and he’s just getting revved up

NEW YORK — On the morning of the 2023 NBA Draft19-year-old Leonard Miller performed the position of sage veteran. Within the weight room on the Nationwide Basketball Gamers Affiliation headquarters, earlier than the latest members of the G League Ignite bought on the courtroom for a observe, Miller educated them about what they’re in for.

“You are taking part in within the G League, taking part in in opposition to grown males, so it is not the identical as what you had been used to earlier than, like in highschool and different locations that you simply guys had been at,” Miller instructed them. “So you possibly can’t allow them to exit and punk you. You gotta struggle again. Punch them earlier than they will hit you.”

Miller joined the Ignite, the NBA’s developmental group, after testing the waters within the 2022 draft course of. Now he is a poster boy for this system. Earlier than he arrived, the teaching employees had seen gamers like Dyson Daniels and MarJon Beauchamp enhance enormously in a single season, nevertheless it hadn’t seen a change like Miller’s. “What he did was nothing wanting superb,” Ignite coach Jason Hart stated. By the tip of the yr, the 6-foot-10 ahead was a strolling double-double, repeatedly dropping 20-plus factors in opposition to execs.

His message to the Ignite’s subsequent class was easy. “Coach likes canine,” he stated, “so that you gotta go on the market and provides it your all, give a whole lot of effort on the market. You gotta be actually coachable. He will push you on a regular basis.” He urged them to push one another in observe, too, and to do not forget that they should earn their minutes. On this atmosphere, pushed gamers can not help however enhance.

“I simply need you guys to know that the expansion that you simply guys are going to make from the begin to the place you guys find yourself in the direction of the tip of the yr goes to be like no different,” Miller instructed them. “You guys are going to all get higher.”

Miller wished them good luck. Slightly greater than 13 hours later at Barclays Middle, he heard his title known as, bought emotional and gave NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum the longest on-stage hug of the night. The The Minnesota Timberwolvesby means of a commerce with the san antonio spursdrafted Miller with the No. 33 choose.

“Teammates are going to love him, coaches are going to love him, trainers are going to love him, followers are going to like him, my household loves him,” Ignite basic supervisor Anthony McClish stated, including that Miller had taking pictures competitions with staffers after video games and performed poker with them on the street. “He is the kind of particular person that you simply’d need voluntarily to hold with in your life.”

He is also the kind of participant that makes entrance workplaces look silly for passing on him.

“I feel again to the previous couple of drafts that I used to be part of and the gamers at his place that had been drafted within the lottery, and I simply bear in mind how I felt about them versus how I really feel about Leonard now,” McClish stated. “It is not even shut with a few of these guys.”

The reigning Finals MVP however, it’s uncommon to seek out gamers with actual star potential within the second spherical. If Miller’s transition to the NBA is something like his transition to the G League, although, then the Wolves struck gold.

Miller might wind up being the steal of the draft

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Everybody who indicators with the Ignite arrives together with his personal thought of who he’s as a participant. That concept is normally dismantled.

“In most of those guys’ case, it is, ‘I am the perfect ballhandler, rebounder, defender, blah blah blah ever,'” McClish stated. “After which they arrive in and so they say, ‘Ooh, effectively, possibly I am not the perfect shooter, possibly I am not the perfect no matter.’ After which you possibly can work out, ‘OK, what am I really good at?'”

Miller “did such a good looking job of that final yr,” McClish stated. Till he bought to the Ignite, he performed level guard, even after his development spurt midway via highschool. Miller was not going to start out on the level over Scoot Henderson, his blue-chip teammate, and it wasn’t going to be his NBA place, both.

“Loads of children, they suppose they know all of it,” Ignite assistant coach Hakim Warrick stated. “He is not considered one of ’em. He listens.”

Initially, the employees needed to encourage Miller to be extra aggressive. “We had been attempting to get him — as humorous because it sounds — to go dunk,” Ignite efficiency coach Ernie DeLosAngeles stated. Hart wished him to make use of his athleticism to provoke contact. In early March in opposition to the Capital Metropolis Go-Go, Miller threw down a driving dunk over 7-foot-1 heart Jay Huffa part of a 30-point, 12-rebound efficiency.

“As soon as he had that poster and like flushed on him, OK, he is turning into the man we wished him to develop into,” DeLosAngeles stated.

Performs like that, nevertheless, weren’t only a results of an attacking mindset. “My physique’s totally different,” Miller stated. “I’ve gotten greater, stronger, faster.” The objectives of his strength-and-conditioning program had been so as to add mass, keep his mobility and enhance his lateral quickness. DeLosAngeles wished him to have the ability to take up contact with out falling and to face up to a 50-game season in opposition to extra seasoned gamers with out getting harm.

Since Miller joined the group final September, DeLosAngeles solely had about six months to work with him. Across the G League Winter Showcase in December, DeLosAngeles challenged him to return in for further exercises, away from the remainder of the group, in an effort to take advantage of the time that remained. Miller, who grew up within the suburbs of Toronto and spent the earlier season towering over the competitors within the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Affiliation, had already gotten a really feel for G League physicality, so he was all about it.

“I fell in love with the method as a result of I trusted him,” Miller stated. “He knew — and I knew as effectively — that doing the additional stuff goes to organize me for these video games. Fifty video games is a whole lot of video games, so, getting my physique proper, ensuring I am in the proper form, situation, getting stronger … I wanted it.”

Defensively, Miller “got here a good distance,” Warrick stated. “He actually struggled early on with the terminology.” The bodily instruments and energy had been all the time there, and, over time, he was higher capable of modify to totally different coverages and matchups. This was essential, for the reason that Ignite requested him to protect each place.

McClish stated that, across the All-Star weekend in February, the gamers have sometimes gotten in sufficient video games and reps for all the things to click on. “We name it the All-Star bump,” he stated. Miller had some robust showings proper earlier than the break, and within the 11 video games afterward, he averaged 20.7 factors, 13 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.2 blocks and a steal, whereas taking pictures 56% from the sphere. “All of it got here collectively,” Hart stated. “So now the one time we had been taking him out was when he bought drained.” Miller performed 38 minutes in a late-season win in opposition to the Texas Legends and completed with 18 factors and 21 rebounds.

“That is loopy, like 20 rebounds in a sport,” Ignite wing Babacar Sané stated. “He is him. He is that man. For actual, he is that man.”

If you happen to signal with the Ignite, anticipate to be coached laborious

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“I feel Leonard Miller must be right here,” Henderson stated throughout media availability on the eve of the draft, which was reserved for the prospects with a spot within the inexperienced room. “His sport could be very, very loopy. He is a 7-foot guard that may do all the things.”

Miller is just not fairly 7 ft tall and is extra of a playmaking 4 today, however that is not far off. He has a 7-2 wingspan and humongous fingers. He is additionally ambidextrous, has unreal contact and is very coordinated for his measurement.

“I am not being biased,” Henderson stated. “He was my teammate, he was my boy, however Leonard Miller is a particular expertise. A particular expertise that the world hasn’t seen earlier than. And when he will get in there, he is gonna shock lots of people.”

In Henderson’s view, Miller’s manufacturing with the Ignite has been unfairly neglected. “They anticipate a lot out of us simply because we went professional,” Henderson stated. “However I feel all of us simply put within the work, twice as laborious as all people else.” The NBA was validated by Miller not being drafted till the 30s — 25 prospects bought green-room invitations — however Henderson has a degree. Miller hadn’t even turned 19 when the season began, and he scored effectively, on excessive utilization, repeatedly overpowering guys of their mid-20s.

Miller stated he thought he’d finished greater than sufficient. His lesson, although, is that he ought to’ve finished much more, so it could’ve been a no brainer. “I simply gotta get higher,” he stated, “and clearly give them no cause to miss me.”

For a participant so typically labeled as “uncooked,” Miller is extraordinarily expert. His imaginative and prescient, steadiness, velocity and exercise degree all stood out within the G League, notably because the season went on. Hart typically compares his sport to Lamar Odom’s and has introduced Odom up with Miller — even when taking part in with superstars. Odom did issues no person else on his group might.

“Like I inform NBA folks on a regular basis, folks slap the phrase ‘versatile’ on a participant as a result of they do not know the best way to articulate what they’re good at, after which typically it means they don’t seem to be good at something,” McClish stated. “Leonard is actually versatile. He can win rebounds; he can dribble the ball up the ground with each fingers; provoke offense; get to the basket; facilitate, excessive submit, low submit; right-hand, left-hand finishes.”

Miller has loads of upside and his shot, particularly, is a piece in progress — he made 30.4% of his 3s with the Ignite — however he’s now not the mystery man he was the primary time he put his title within the draft. “He is greater than uncooked,” McClish stated, as a result of he has already been uncovered to NBA terminology, NBA actions, a 24-second shot clock, defensive three seconds, 48-minute video games and back-to-backs.

Warrick, who performed 4 years of school earlier than a 14-year professional profession, stated he “could not think about” being in Miller’s place at his age. “In faculty, typically you may get an opportunity to play in opposition to folks that can by no means play skilled basketball, however on this degree they’re all professionals. All of them just about killed faculty.” Warrick known as him a “mild large,” a “sponge” and an “superb child.”

To grasp Miller’s growth, it’s not sufficient to see what he did as soon as he bought the grasp of the G League. It’s essential to see what he did not do. “Generally in life it is not about including one thing, it is about subtracting one thing,” McClish stated. He’d catch the ball in semi-transition and, as an alternative of launching a path 3, like he would have in November, he’d faux it, then provoke a dribble-handoff to get the Ignite into the circulation of their offense.

In 12 months 1 as a professional, Miller bought sturdier, bought sharper and discovered the best way to use his level guard mind as an enormous man. Requested what sort of participant he could be in 12 months 5 or 6, he smiled and his eyes went large.

“I envision me utterly totally different,” Miller stated, laughing. “You’ll be able to see that I am a very totally different participant now than I used to be final yr. And 6 years from now, that is six instances the quantity of labor than only one yr that I’ve finished and proven. So I feel I’ll be a beast.”


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Printed : 2023-06-24 15:05:35

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