The Wolves Should Find Minutes For Leonard Miller

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves selected Leonard Miller 33rd overall in the second round of the 2023 NBA draft. Miller put his on-court ability on full display at the NBA Summer League, showcasing his versatility by averaging 15 points and 8 rebounds while shooting 37% from three-point range. But 30 games into the regular season, Miller is averaging only 3 minutes per game, all of which have come in garbage time. After a decent showing at the end of Tuesday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, it might be time to see what the 20-year-old rookie can offer at the game’s highest level.

Miller has spent most of the season playing for the Iowa Wolves in the G League. Through 11 games, Miller has averaged 18 points per game, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block per game. Before entering the draft, Miller spent one year playing with the G League Ignite, a team in the league that’s unaffiliated with an NBA team and launched in 2020. In 14 games, Miller averaged 15 points per game, 9 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block. In the G League, Miller showed he’s more polished than many one-and-done college players.

The Timberwolves will prepare Miller for a larger role by introducing him to the rotation. It would be a way to think ahead and prepare for the inevitable player exodus that comes with Minnesota’s cap crunch. For example, Kyle Anderson may leave in free agency next year and has been a valued member of the rotation over the last two years, especially during Karl-Anthony Towns’ 53-game absence last season.

The Wolves could make re-signing Anderson a priority this offseason, but it wouldn’t take much for another team to price Minnesota out on the open market. If the Wolves need Miller to replace Anderson next year, occasionally playing NBA minutes this season will only help his acclimation to the role. With Minnesota’s uncertainty regarding the ninth spot in the rotation, the regular season would be a great time to test how NBA-ready Miller is because Chris Finch will naturally shorten the rotation during the postseason.

The Denver Nuggets dealt with a similar situation. After being a part of their championship run, Bruce Brown signed with the Indiana Pacers in the offseason. The Nuggets didn’t sign a replacement for Brown during the offseason. Instead, they gave those minutes to Christian Braun and Peyton Watson, two players entering their second season.

Toward the end of last season, the Nuggets gave Braun and Watson occasional minutes in the rotation. They impressed by making hustle plays and bringing maximum effort, traits that Brown also had. Denver’s strategy paid off when Braun earned playoff minutes. Michael Malone and his staff appreciated Braun and Watson’s effort in 2022 and trusted those two with an increased role this season. So far, it’s safe to say the pair have repaid the faith.

Miller’s versatility is one of the primary reasons the Timberwolves traded up to acquire him. He brings playmaking and on-court awareness, and he’s an underrated shooter. In his lone season with the Ignite, Miller averaged three 3-point attempts per game and made one.

With the Iowa Wolves this season, Miller is attempting five threes per game and making two. Miller’s shooting was a point of emphasis in the pre-draft process, and his 6% increase in 3-point percentage from year one to year two in the G League shows Miller has worked attentively on improving as a shooter. The fact that he could identify a weakness in his game and work at it is a good sign for Timberwolves fans who may not know much about the rookie.

It’s well-documented that Minnesota’s identity is their defense, and they still lead the league in defensive efficiency. As impressive as he can be on offense, they can also trust Miller defensively. Miller has impacted the defensive end with 21 combined blocks and steals in 11 G League games. His ability to frequently generate turnovers can only complement a Timberwolves team that opposing players and coaches have regularly acknowledged for their length and athleticism.

Given his work ethic, there’s no doubt Miller would develop quickly if the Timberwolves allowed him to play alongside the abundance of defensive talent on their roster. We’ll see what the coaching staff has in store for Miller’s ongoing development this season. But make no mistake, his future is bright in this league.

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