NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 29: Head coach Mike Miller of the New York Knicks directs his players in the first half against the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden on February 29, 2020 in New York City.NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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Mike Miller might not say much, but he’s quietly leading the New York Knicks forward in spite of all the outside noise.

Danny Small

Mike Miller‘s rise to the sidelines of Madison Square Garden is no secret by now. He went from grinding in the college ranks to the G League (formerly the D-League) before making his way to the New York Knicks bench as an assistant.

But after a 4-18 start for David Fizdale, the Knicks needed to make a change. In stepped Miller and it’s impossible to deny that things have turned around under his leadership. Is everything perfect for the orange and blue? No, not by a longshot, but the team is finally pulling in the same direction for the first time in a long time.

With Leon Rose taking over as team president, the future is uncertain for Miller, but one thing is evident: He deserves a long look from the Knicks. And if New York decides to go another direction, other teams would be wise to put him on their coaching shortlist.

Since making the change, the Knicks are 15-25 with a handful of impressive wins over legitimate contenders like the Miami Heat and most recently, the Houston Rockets. Miller’s current record prorates to 30-plus wins over an 82-game season.

Under Fizdale, the Knicks were dead last in net rating (-10.5), 24th in defensive rating (112.6), and last in offensive rating (102.1). The team has improved in every metric during Miller’s 40-game tenure. During that span, New York is 23rd in net rating (-4.3), 19th in defensive rating, (111.9), and 25th in offensive rating (107.6)

Of course, there were other factors that played into these numbers. Elfrid Payton was hurt for all of November. But on the flip side, the Knicks traded their best player—Marcus Morris Sr.—exactly one month prior to Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

For the umpteenth season in a row, the Knicks’ post-All-Star break focus is on player development. The youth movement includes the likes of RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, and Frank Ntilikina—with Allonzo Trier and Damyean Dotson somewhere on the fringes of the rotation.

Knox and Ntilikina have shown flashes, but both remain inconsistent. At times, Knox can look like a baby deer trying to learn how to walk. Sure, it’s frustrating to watch the talented forward ride the pine in crunchtime minutes, but the coaching staff has to balance his need for reps against the possibility of decimating his confidence.

Ntilikina’s defense is consistent enough to warrant consistent playing time, but his offense comes and goes. His nagging groin is another issue that has slowed him down over the last two seasons.

But it’s unfair to criticize the slow development of Knox and Ntilikina without acknowledging the tremendous growth from RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. Barrett is finally starting to break through the rookie wall. His 27 points and clutch moments down the stretch keyed New York to its impressive win over Houston. As the No. 3 pick in last year’s draft, big things are expected from him.

Robinson, on the other hand, came into the league as an unknown quantity and he’s blossoming into a star. Miller deserves heaps of praise for developing a potential franchise cornerstone. Robinson’s stats have seen a slight uptick under his new head coach, but this story of development goes back even further.

Miller spent part of the 2019 summer in New Orleans working with Robinson on his game and now, the charismatic 7-footer is challenging Wilt Chamberlain’s record for highest field goal percentage in a single season.

You won’t hear Miller tout his extensive work with Robinson very often. In fact, you won’t hear the tight-lipped head coach say much to the media. He joked after a practice in February that his biggest adjustment from the G League to the NBA was that he gets to talk to reporters every day now.

Jokes aside, the cameras and bright lights don’t seem to be his thing. The basketball lifer prefers to focus on—and this may shock you—basketball. After about three months on the job, it’s hard to find a single time he’s put his foot in his mouth with the media. That’s almost unheard of in New York.

And at a turbulent time for the Knicks, that’s exactly what they needed. Through all the nonsense of this season (Fizdale’s firing, Steve Mills’ reassignment, Steve Stoute’s disastrous television appearance, etc.), Miller has been the one front and center with the media.

The front office has used him as a shield and he’s taken that role in stride. It says a lot about his ability to block out the outside noise and focus on what’s really important—coaching.

Every year, the NBA’s head coaching carousel spins. Front offices around the league are taking notice of the turnaround Miller is leading in New York, according to a source. It’s far too early to know what the future might hold for him in New York or elsewhere, but he is acquitting himself well in his first crack as a head coach in The Association.

It’s unclear exactly what Rose’s plan is for his coaching staff going forward. SI.com reports that Tom Thibodeau is the favorite to land the job, but the team could try and keep Miller on in some capacity.

Again, it’s too early to predict the future and Miller still has 20 games left to pad his resumé before the summer. But one thing is clear, any teams looking for a coach who can develop young talent should keep Miller in mind. The fact that he stays calm, cool, and collected while the world burns around him is an added bonus.

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