Mike Miller Utilizes Flare Screens

At the age of 34, Mike Miller knows his illustrious basketball career is winding down. That’s a huge part of why Miller hitched his wagon to his friend LeBron James and decided to sign a two-year, $5.5 million deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers this offseason. Miller clearly wants another championship, and LeBron is capable of effectively prolonging careers of NBA veterans with his own transcendent skill set.

Even with a body that doesn’t quite function at the level it used to, Miller remains one of the sharpest shooters in the entire NBA. When given the slightest pocket of space, he will do what he does best, which is let it fly.

The problem for Miller is that everyone knows he’s looking to shoot on the perimeter, and that his teammates are looking to find him. When you have played 14 seasons in the NBA like Miller has, you can bet your opponent knows the scouting report on you.

Although it is difficult for coaches to diagram something to free up Miller for a three-pointer, it’s far from impossible. Last season, the Grizzlies and head coach David Joerger had great success utilizing flare screens, a simple action, to create ample space for Miller to get a shot off. The NBA is a copycat league, and David Blatt, the Cavaliers’ new head coach, would be wise to steal this action from the Grizzlies and implement it into his own offense.

This first example starts with Miller throwing an entry pass to Marc Gasol in the post:


Proper spacing is crucial to the success of a simple play like this, and the Grizzlies are already set up perfectly. Tony Allen (#9) and Mike Conley (#11) are on the weakside perimeter, allowing Gasol to receive the ball easily, without threat of a double team. There’s also enough room for Mike Miller and Ed Davis (#32) to perform their actions without running into a teammate’s defender.

As soon as Gasol catches the ball in the post, the flare screen is triggered. Davis spots the opportunity quickly when Miller’s man, Marcus Morris (#15), gets caught ball-watching. Notice Davis motioning for Miller to slide behind him to the top of the key. That’s exactly where Miller heads.


Once Miller is far enough behind Davis to make it difficult for his defender to recover, Gasol recognizes that the sharp-shooter is open and the pass is delivered. When the ball leaves Gasol’s hand, Morris turns to scramble back but runs directly into Davis:


Miller, as he always does, catches the ball ready to shoot. Morris can’t fight through Davis’ flare screen fast enough to contest the shot, which signifies that Davis set a perfect screen. The aforementioned proper spacing makes it unwise for Goran Dragic to help off of Mike Conley to contest the shot, because if Dragic does help, then Miller will just deliver the ball to Conley on the wing for a wide-open three.

It’s a simple play, but it’s very effective when executed properly. All Miller needs is an inch of space to hurt a defense, and on this play he got a lot more than an inch:


Imagine how this play would look with a Cavaliers lineup featuring LeBron James and (presumably) Kevin Love. Either LeBron or Love could be playing the role of Marc Gasol as the post man, and they are both dynamic enough as post threats to cause a defense to overcommit to stopping them. That’s how such a simple action like a flare screen could free up an elite shooter like Miller.

Another example of the Grizzlies using a flare screen to free Miller comes on the following hammer action. The set begins when Conley crosses halfcourt, which cues a James Johnson (#3) sprint to the opposite wing to receive the ball.


Once Johnson receives the ball, Miller makes a cut from the weakside elbow to the opposite wing:


Next, Gasol steps up to set a screen on Conley’s man to initiate the pick & roll. Conley uses the screen and explodes off of it hard to his left, towards the wide-open side of the floor:


Now the Grizzlies are set up perfectly from a spacing perspective to execute the play for Miller. Johnson serves as a mere decoy near the top of the key, and Zach Randolph and Miller are on the weakside patiently waiting to perform their actions on the play.

As soon as Conley rounds the corner and begins his baseline drive, Randolph steps up to set a hammer screen on Miller’s man. Miller uses the screen and sprints to the corner to free himself. Much of this play is about timing. If Randolph sets the hammer/flare screen on Miller’s man before Conley makes his move towards the rim or Miller moves before the screen is set, the Blazers likely foil the play.


Notice how the Portland defense is completely focused on shutting down Conley and Gasol. The defense has collapsed into the paint to eliminate an easy look at the rim. This is exactly what the Grizzlies want. It leaves Miller’s defender on an island on the weakside to fight through a tough screen by Randolph and recover to Miller in the corner.

Just as Miller emerges on the other side of Randolph’s screen (solid arrow), Conley delivers a bullet pass (dotted arrow) to the corner:


The Portland defense turns to see a wide-open Miller receiving the ball behind the 3-point line, but at this point it is too late to recover:


The Grizzlies utilized flare screens to free Mike Miller sparingly, but they worked a good percentage of the time when they were used. Even though Miller misses some of these shots, those misses came from a good process that earned him high-percentage opportunities:

Picture this play being run with Kyrie Irving and either LeBron/Love on the pick & roll with either LeBron/Love as the screener on the weakside. That would be an excellent play call that would be extremely hard for a defense to shut down. There are simply too many good options to monitor them all.

With James, Irving, and Love, the Cavaliers don’t need a lot of scoring from Miller. Miller’s role on the Cavs will be space the floor and knock down a couple threes a game. Those threes might be needed late in games when defenses are keying on the new “big three,” and that’s when something simple like a flare screen to free Miller could be just the right call.


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