With the First Pick: Brandon Miller is Pretty Good at Basketball

By Luke Scotchie

Brandon Miller is pretty good at basketball.

That’s it. That’s the column.

Okay, you got me. There’s still several hundred more words to go before you finish reading. But I could just say the seven words of the first sentence, leave it at that, and provide a very accurate analysis of college basketball right now. Because Brandon Miller is indeed pretty good at basketball. 

The numbers back me up. Miller is currently averaging 18.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists. He’s putting up those 18 points on astounding efficiency, shooting a 57% effective field goal percentage and an elite 61.2% true shooting percentage (both stats per Sports Reference), with a very strong 83.5% free-throw percentage to suggests that all of his other percentages are sustainable in the NBA. That scoring has propelled his team atop the SEC standings. The Alabama Crimson Tide have lost just one game since the new year began, and are undefeated in their conference. The stats and games won both show a simple, easy-to-deduce fact: Miller plays winning NCAA basketball.

But his game wasn’t made just to win college basketball games. What excites me the most about Miller is that his game is tailor-made for the pros. Teams will always covet good shooters, and Miller is among the best shooters in all of college basketball. But Miller has an additional advantage: his height. 

Miller is 6-foot-9 with incredibly long arms. This additional height means that he can shoot over smaller defenders with relative ease, making him so much more difficult to guard, but he’s not just a catch-and-shoot threat. Miller is more than capable of creating his own shots too. He can fire at will from beyond the arc, regardless of whether the ball is in his hands or not.

The AP Player of the Year candidate is a threat on both ends of the floor, as Miller’s height and length make him a defensive pest as well. He’s quick on his feet and projects to be very switchable in the NBA, making him a Swiss Army Knife defensively. Miller’s floor is a very good 3-and-D player, which will contribute to any NBA team, but that’s just his floor. If Miller taps into his shot creation a little bit more, there’s no telling how dangerous he can be on offense.

What makes Miller such a valuable draft pick to me is his ability to fit into multiple schemes. Outside of the top few picks, I care more about a player’s ability to complete a team than his ability to control one. Basketball is a team sport, meaning that each team needs a diverse range of players that complement each other’s weaknesses. In a league where just about every team has a primary scoring option, it’s far more important to surround him with fit rather than talent, especially if you’re not picking at the top.

Thankfully, Miller has both.

Plenty of teams could use a player like Miller to fill out their rosters. His spacing pairs nicely alongside talented playmakers, such as Cade Cunningham in Detroit, Tyrese Haliburton in Indiana and LaMelo Ball in Charlotte. His off-ball scoring gives several offenses added versatility, such as Oklahoma City and Orlando, teams that rely heavily on a player to put buckets in the hoop. And for the teams that desperately need shooting, such as San Antonio and Toronto, Miller’s got that covered and then some.

All of that, combined with his NBA-ready defense that no team could refuse, makes Miller this draft’s most easy-to-implement player and an important piece no matter where he goes.

This column has largely been me professing my love for Miller’s game, but that’s for good reason. I believe that Miller is absolutely the best prospect currently in the NCAA, and he’s neck-and-neck with Overtime Elite star Amen Thompson for the third-best prospect on my personal big board. Miller is going to be good, and whoever drafts him is going to have a lot of fun with him.

Miller isn’t the only player I’ve had my eye on as of late. After a turbulent freshman year at the University of Memphis, sophomore Emoni Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan University and reminded the world why he was so highly touted as a high school prospect. Bates is one of the best on-ball offensive prospects in this draft, currently averaging 21 points per game on 45% shooting from the field and 41% from three, but what’s really impressed is how those buckets are getting in. 

Bates is gifted at getting separation from defenses and he has a beautiful shooting form – one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. But his biggest weapon is his height (6-foot-9). Like I said about Miller, being a great scorer is made even easier when you have incredible height and length. Bates is already one of the best shot creators in this draft, even without his height. And because of how tall he is, there aren’t a lot of players who can adequately defend him. This combination is turning scouts back onto Bates, and is putting him back into first-round consideration, when such a projection seemed far-fetched at this time last year.

A couple of things prevent me from fully buying into Bates, however. For starters, his offensive output is weighted significantly by how often he has the ball in his hands. Because of the lack of talent around him, Eastern Michigan has him on a very long leash and pretty much allows him to do whatever he wants. That long leash is quantified by his comically large usage rate of 31.2%, per Sports Reference. All of this is to say his impressive stats should be taken with a slight grain of salt, considering he has all of the opportunities in the world to put them up. He will not have those same opportunities in the NBA, where he will be surrounded by players who are better than he is and against significantly stronger competition than the aptly-named Mid-American Conference.

Most importantly, I don’t know what Bates does at an NBA level other than score. I don’t love his playmaking ability, I definitely don’t love his defense and I’m not even sold on his ability or willingness to score off-the-ball. He can score the lights out, but that’s really all I’m confidently in. He’s one of the best creators in this draft, but he’s also one of its most one-dimensional. And that’s going to be a clunky fit on any NBA team.

If Bates concedes that he needs to play more off-ball to be successful in the Association, then I can see a firm role for him. But as of now, Bates’s specific skillset takes away from his team, not adds to it. The very nature of his game takes the ball out of his teammates’ hands, and that’s not conducive to winning basketball. So while I’d bet money on him to win a game of H-O-R-S-E, I wouldn’t bet my career to pick him in the lottery if I were a GM.

But I still like Bates, and I think he’s got NBA potential. I don’t think he’s on the same caliber as Miller, but I can see him going in the first round if a team needs a spark plug scoring threat. Will that happen? Well, we’ll find out in June if a team takes the risk and selects him with their first pick.

*all stats are per ESPN unless otherwise specified