In what many deem to be a make-or-break year, the Toronto Raptors have long desired a way to space the floor and improve their three-point shooting.
Different options have been suggested: A possible free-agent signing, targeting a buyout candidate, and of course, a trade. But perhaps overlooked by some, and even written off by others, is that the Raptors’ missing piece may have actually been on their roster this entire time.
During a buzzer-beating 111-109 victory over the Phoenix Suns Thursday night, shooting guard C.J. Miles showed a rare glimpse of Masai Ujiri’s original off-season blueprint.
Block out the noise, do what you do pic.twitter.com/9Drt4i4zjv
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 18, 2019
After missing the last two contests with a sore hip, Miles put forth arguably his best performance of the season, finishing with 13 points on five-of-seven shooting from the floor and, most importantly, three-of-four from beyond the arc — albeit against one of the league’s worst defences.
“It felt good, you know?” said Miles after the win Thursday. “That’s the biggest thing. Just to go out there and play and trust in your work and trust in what you do everyday, everything else will take care of itself.”
Whether Miles is able to go out there every day and actually play though is a different story.
The veteran shooting guard has struggled through injuries and is battling for minutes, having recently lost his spot in Nick Nurse’s rotation to emerging fourth-year guard Norman Powell.
Dubbed "C.J. Kilometers" after his move north of the border, Miles has failed to find his rhythm in his second season with the Raptors. He’s averaging just 5.0 points, 1.7 rebounds and 0.6 assists in only 14.3 minutes per game and, maybe most troubling of all, the 31-year-old is connecting on barely 31 per cent of his shots from the floor — the worst field-goal percentage of his 14-year NBA career.
More than anything this year, Toronto, who ranks 22nd in the league in three-point percentage, has missed Miles’ generally consistent stroke from long range that has made him a valuable asset throughout his NBA career.
Drafted out of high school, Miles sits 63rd on the NBA’s all-time threes made list and currently ranks 21st among active players — one spot ahead of Chris Paul and one behind Paul George. Coming into this season, Miles shot an effective 36.1 per cent from long distance, but this year, the sharpshooting guard has gone dull — and when you’re capable of filling a void that your team needs and you don’t, you often stick out like a sore thumb.
In 34 contests, Miles ranks dead last among qualified Raptors players (aside from the newly signed Patrick McCaw) in shooting the three, connecting on a woeful 28.7 per cent of his attempts — the worst he’s shot the ball in over 12 years.
Knocking down a three has never been a problem for the Dallas native; for Miles it may be like forgetting how to walk.
But with his jumper not falling, Miles has resorted to simply attempting less of his shots from long distance. He is taking a career-low 31.4 per cent of his shots from beyond the arc, down from 45.2 per cent last season. He’s opting instead to put the ball on the floor more often than usual to try and create something for his teammates.
When you ask Miles, though, he’ll tell you he’s doing the same thing: He’s just playing basketball.
“Just read the defence,” said Miles when asked why he’s putting the ball on the floor more. “Get a chance to play on the catch without the closeout guys. You know, they’re closing out hot still, just to kind of keep me from getting open looks — and I just play basketball.”
By all accounts, Miles’ presence within the locker room is exactly what Raptors fans crave for a long playoff run: A person who is liked amongst his teammates, coaching staff and others within the Raptors organization; a person who was an outsider who embraced the city of Toronto and made it his home.
The moment the GoDaddy curse ended pic.twitter.com/iGcCfLkCh0
— Vivek Jacob (@VivekMJacob) January 18, 2019
On top of his ability to shoot the basketball, Miles’ long NBA resume heralds years of experience — including 44 playoff games under his belt. But with the trade deadline less than a month away, and playoff expectations at their highest in Toronto, how much of a leash does experience grant?
Whether through his on-court performance or as a trade asset, Miles remains an X-factor for Toronto and their quest for a deep playoff run.
If he regains his shooting stroke in the second half of the season, he will provide the Raptors with a boost where they need it most. If not, Miles and his $8.7-million player option for next season could be traded along with future assets to a rebuilding team willing to take on his salary.
Regardless of the outcome, “C.J. Kilometers” will always carry a little piece of Canada with him wherever he goes.