Brad Miller is not a good defender. I think we all accept that as fact (if not as a fact of life). Over the last two years, he has become slow, he has lost all lift in his legs, and he frankly has little business even trying to guard the better bigs in the West. His rebounding has become inexcusable for a man his size. His lack of blocks, while not surprising, is a constant drag on the team's overall defensive efforts. You'd be pressed hard to find another point guard/center combination unable to passably guard a pick-and-roll -- Mike Bibby is too
slow lazy ineffectual to get over the screen, and Miller could make the right decision every time and still not make a difference due to his lack of athleticism.
So we accept all of this. Then how do we square with the fact the team was much, much better on defense when Miller was in the game?
When Miller was on the court last season, the team's defensive efficiency was 106.4 -- which is roughly league average. When he was not on the floor? The team's defensive efficiency was 111.2, an extremely terrible mark. When Brad played, the team had 48.9% rebounding rate. It was worse when he was gone, 47.5%. The Kings also blocked more opponent shots when Miller was present (4%) versus when he was not (3%).
All this squares to give Miller the best on/off on the team. (Ron Artest shares the honors -- both had a net on/off of +7.4. Maurice Taylor's figure was higher, but he barely played.) On/off tells us about a player's impact on the game beyond scoring and rebounding... but it also includes noise regarding both the player's substitute and his competition. This noise is where our answer about Miller's quizzical import lays.
Miller played 44% of the team's minutes at center. Shareef Abdur-Rahim, of course, took over center duties during Miller's injuries, and logged 33% of the team's center minutes. Corliss Williamson (?!) logged 8%, and Justin Williams had 7%. Others divvied up the rest.
About two-thirds of Reef's minutes were at center. Overall, the team with Reef on the court had a defensive efficiency of... 110.7. Ouch. Without him, it was 107.3. Again: We know Miller is not a good defender. We suspect Reef is also not good, but not god-awful... as a power forward. Defending centers? He's god-awful. I repeat: The team's defensive efficiency with Miller on the court was 4 points per 100 possessions better than with Reef on the court. Kind-of astounding, isn't it?
(Note: Only 25% of Reef's total minutes came with Miller on the floor. The team was actually decent on defense in that time -- not great, but decent.)
So why does any of this matter? Because the team has height now. We know Miller sucks on defense, and we know his replacements last season were active but small players. (Reef is 6'9.) But the team played better defense with the tall, crappy guy than the short, OK guy. Enter a few new 'tall, OK guys' -- Mikki Moore and Spencer Hawes. Moore is said to be an active defender, certainly not a shotblocker of note or a deft rebounder. But he's 6'11 with long arms. Shawes likewise won't be great shakes at a defensive pivot. But he's big, Lord is he big. And I think he'd beat Brad in a footrace. Of course, Justin Williams is also present... something that wasn't the case during Miller's early season injury a year ago. Williams is not pleasant to watch working the screen-roll, but his ecstatic shotblocking makes up for it in spades (or at least clubs).
Signing up tall dudes isn't the answer, of course. But when the other option is to go super small (with these non-Ben Wallace players at least), height is the better option. With Miller back and legitimate center options in place, the team defense could actually improve and maybe slip into the top half of the league. (It was 22 out of 30 last year.) The team offense was 15th of 30 last season, perfectly average. We all fret 60 losses like a plague, trying to cure our cries with dreams of Derrick Rose. But playing for the ping pong balls doesn't work. Let this give us hope...
WE CAN BE A PERFECTLY AVERAGE TEAM THIS YEAR!