TORONTO — The NBA’s shift toward three-point shooting has a big fan in C.J. Miles.
The Toronto Raptors swingman has developed into one of the league’s elite sharp-shooters, and the three-point trend has breathed "new life" into the 30-year-old’s career.
Team president Masai Ujiri officially introduced his newest player, who should be a big offensive boost to a team that struggled in the playoffs against the long bombs of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"We just signed a sniper, so we’re happy," grinned Ujiri.
The six-foot-six, 225-pound Miles, who reportedly signed a three-year deal worth US$25 million, is coming off a career-best 41.3 per cent shooting from three-point range last season with Indiana. That’s slightly better than team leader Kyle Lowry (41.2), and 12th in the league among players who attempted at least 200 threes last season.
"It’s basically given me greater opportunities to be able to play this game, to be able to hone in on that and that to be one of the things to make my niche on a team and allow me to be a greater weapon on a team," said Miles, who went straight from high school to the NBA.
"It’s been exciting to watch… It allows for tempo and scoring and everything fans want to see but it’s also a great weapon to have a basketball team. You’re talking about three possessions being a 10-point run."
The Raptors were 14th in the league in three-point percentage, and the weakness was particularly glaring against Cleveland in the post-season.
Miles holds career averages of 9.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 715 games through 12 NBA seasons with Indiana, Cleveland and Utah, and is a career 31.6 per cent three-point shooter.
He developed his three-point shot, he said, because of "maturity," and at the suggestion of former Cleveland coach Mike Brown.
Brown told him "You’re always in the gym but I don’t see you really honing in and working on that with it being such a weapon that you have," Miles said. "I accepted that challenge and I’ve taken pride in it over time and I’ve been able to use to my advantage, obviously, and my team’s advantage."
"Having the challenge put in front of you of something you want to add to the team and they felt like, the coach and the staff felt like I could do and I took on the challenge to become even a better shooter."
Miles, who was dressed in an avacado green suit to meet the Toronto media on Tuesday and will wear No. 0 for the Raptors, said he’s excited to play for team with one of the league’s best fan bases. He recalled Toronto’s first-round playoff series against the Pacers in 2016, when hundreds of Raptors fans travelled to Indiana.
"One of the games in our building feeling like we were on the road, so many of their fans being there," Miles said.
Other positive memories he has of the Raptors?
"The challenge of competing with these guys, DeMar (DeRozan) and Kyle being who they are, but how well they play together," Miles said. "How much their bench is into the game. You see everybody stand up on the court for almost every guy. Every guy cheers for every guy the same amount.
"Even when DeMar or Kyle are out of the game, they cheer for the guys the same way they cheer for them. That’s fun to be a part of."
DeMarre Carroll didn’t entirely see it that way, sniping at the Raptors’ playing style after he was traded to the Brookyn Nets. Carroll said he expected to the Raptors to be team-oriented, but claimed they weren’t.
"Honestly, we’ve had our ups and downs as a team, every team does, and I think we treated DeMarre here the best possible way a team can treat a player," Ujiri said. "Players are going to comment sometimes and if that’s the road he chooses to drive on, that’s his choice. I know what’s within here, and I know our culture…I honestly have no comments but to wish him good luck."
The Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the second round of the playoffs, and Ujiri talked a couple of days later about the need for a new culture and playing style. The addition of Miles, he said, is a big step in the right direction.
"We are going to try to a little bit. I am not asking for a dramatic change," Ujiri said. "If that is what anybody is looking for, well, maybe this isn’t the team to watch for that.
"C.J. is a player who can space the floor a little better for us and make DeMar and Kyle have a little bit of room to operate," he added. "We are going to pay attention to the development of our young players. They have to play so I think collectively we will try and do that and the style of play I think will matter."
Miles’ introduction ends a busy stretch that saw Ujiri ship Carroll to the Nets and Canadian point guard Cory Joseph to Indiana to pave the way for Miles.
The Raptors also signed Kennedy Meeks on Tuesday. The six-foot-10 forward averaged 11.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 15.5 in four NBA Summer League games with the Raptors. Meeks played four seasons at North Carolina, helping the Tar Heels win the NCAA title this past season.