Recently it was revealed that Brandon Miller got a hockey assist on a fatal shooting where he drove the gun to teammate Darius Miles, who gave it to shooter Michael Davis, who then killed Jamea Jonae Harris.
Based on descriptions it seems like Miller should be an accessory, but he isn’t being charged and coach Nate Oats said he was merely at the wrong spot at the wrong time.
What’s not clear is how naive Miller was to the situation. It is not clear whether he is avoiding charges because he was going to pick up his teammate without being aware of the situation vs getting preferential treatment for being a star basketball player and cooperating with the police.
Twitter seems to err on the side of this being nefarious, as most people believe this should lead to a significant decline in his draft stock:
Subverting Expectations On the Court
Miller entered the season as #11 RSCI, and seemed to fit a good NBA mold as 6’9 defensive oriented wing. But his upside seemed limited, as he was sophomore aged turning 20 in November, and averaged 13 points per game on pedestrian shooting percentages in AAU.
Most of the bigger freshman surprises tend to come in younger players. For instance– it is less surprising that Ja Morant ended up at Murray State considering that he was a year younger than his peers, and it is difficult to stand out as a 16 year old competing with 17 year olds. But as a 18 year old competing with a 17 year old, it is hard to *not* stand out as a future NBA player.
OJ Mayo was hyped as the next LeBron in high school, but had a lackluster NBA career after getting picked 3rd overall. Shabazz Muhammad was #1 RSCI and completely flopped as the #14 overall pick in the draft. Like Brandon Miller, both of these guys turned 20 in November of their freshman seasons. They built hype based on dominating younger competition at a developmental age where one year makes a huge difference, and it is incredibly difficult to live up to that hype as the younger peers catch up and surpass the older prospects in college and the NBA.
It is difficult to think of older prospects who have crushed expectations like Miller has. Chet Holmgren lived up to the hype last year, but he entered as a strong #1 overall candidate and was 6 months younger for his class than Miller. Prior to that, Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs were pleasant surprises, but they were both 7 months younger than Miller. Joel Embiid might be the strongest recent example, as he was only 4 months younger than Miller as a freshman and absolutely smashed expectations. But Embiid was also slightly different in that he had a late start, and an obviously huge upside.
There’s not enough information to draw firm conclusions that he will be an Embiid level overachiever in the NBA, but Miller’s performance thus far hints that he may have special off court intelligence.
Learning to Score Inside
Miller didn’t enter the season with much hype, but he was able to build it with hot 3 point shooting in his early games. However, he was not reputed as a shooter coming into college, and he also showed some nasty warts in his first 3 games against high major competition at the Phil Knight invitational, as he shot 8/34 (23.5%) inside the arc against Michigan St, UConn, and UNC.
He had a knack for driving directly into shot blockers, and even when he found space at the rim he did not seem to have the body control to finish. He followed it up with 0/3 @ Houston shortly thereafter, and it seemed that he may be another overhyped old guy who was getting overrated based on unsustainably hot shooting.
But in 18 major conference games since then (counting Memphis + Gonzaga), he is 67/112 (59.8%) inside the arc to raise his 2P% on the season to a solid 50.6%. This is in part due to beating up the weaker SEC teams, but if you limit the sample to top 100 kenpom teams he is 43/76 (56.6%) in 13 games. This is in part because he has been attacking a lower volume, but has nevertheless been an impressive adjustment from early season where he looked woefully bad attacking off the dribble.
Further, he has continued to shoot well, making 43% 3P, 83% FT thus far on good volume. And perhaps most impressive has been his impact on Alabama, who has been a major overachiever in the midst of their best season ever. And Miller seems to be the primary driver of their success, especially when you look at his on/off splits per hooplens.com:
College on/off splits are extremely noisy, and that team defensive 3P% with Miller on the court is benefitting from a significant chunk of luck. But it is a nice bonus that not only is Alabama bigly overachieving, but all of their success is coming when Miller is on the court.
There is some downside to all of this surprise goodness– namely that he could be due for regression, especially in his shooting with his NCAA sample size still being limited. Cade Cunningham and Jabari Smith are two high profile prospects who recently surprised with elite NCAA shooting and have struggled to make 3’s early in their NBA career. They still may become good or great 3 point shooters, but it’s always a bit scary when a player has so much stock hinging on his shooting ability without a limited sample of success.
But the upside is that he seems to have some unique level of intelligence and work ethic. And for a guy who fits such a coveted NBA mold of 6’9 athletic shooter, he seems like a good bet to be a useful NBA player.
What does this incident mean for Miller’s future?
It’s difficult to say. Some people may argue that criminals have lower intelligence, which give them lower odds of long term success on top of bad optics that may not make them worth rostering.
The Spurs recently released Josh Primo after allegations of sexual misconduct, and Miles Bridges turned himself from a hot free agent target to out of the league (for now) with his domestic violence charges.
This would present multiple layers of risk in drafting somebody with higher risk of criminal behavior. They may lack the intelligence and focus to reach their upside, and even if they become good they can nuke their value at any moment with a big enough mistake.
But the trouble with applying this logic to Miller is that he is not a criminal. He is neither being charged with anything nor punished by his team. And his off court intelligence certainly does not seem subpar based on his outlier exceeding of expectations for an older freshman.
The simplest answer here is that he is only getting prosecuted by people with limited information on social media, and this should not heavily price into his NBA valuation without any clear evidence he did something wrong.
But since so many people seem to believe he is an accessory to murder getting preferential treatment, let’s put on our tinfoil hats and assume the worst by seeing how he compares to past athletes who have been connected to a killing.
Between NFL and NBA, there are 5 players who have been connected with killing somebody
But Crittenton and Hernandez were highly erratic guys in a way that does not seem consistent with Miller. Carruth killed his girlfriend who was 8 months pregnant with his son, which is the opposite behavior of Miller showing up to support his teammate. OJ Simpson killed his ex-wife who he obsessed over (he was acquitted but if you watch ESPN’s excellent documentary “OJ: Made in America” it’s clear he did it), again the opposite behavior of Miller.
Ray Lewis is probably the most similar situation to Miller, where him and his two companions got in a fight with another group of people resulting in two stabbing deaths. All three were indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges, but Lewis got his charges dismissed in exchange for testifying against his friends (who were eventually acquitted) and a guilty plea to misdemeanor obstruction of justice.
This was Lewis’s only legal issue in a hall of fame career as one of the best defensive players in NFL history. He was elite value for the #26 overall pick in his draft, and makes a strong case against doubting an athlete who hangs out in a group capable of killing. Imagine if this happened pre-draft and caused him to slide— lots of teams would be feeling silly down the road.
This is not to say that Miller’s involvement should be seen as a positive. But it is a reminder that a player doing something morally wrong is not always predictive of failure. Miller’s incident was far more mild, as Lewis was actually charged and a victim’s blood was found in his limousine. Further, Lewis’s white suit he wore that night was never recovered. Even if Miller should have been charged as accessory, his involvement seems significantly more limited than that of Lewis who went on to win numerous accolades in a hall of fame career.
The most similar NBA incident to Miller was perhaps Tyreke Evans being the unwitting driver in a drive by shooting. He wasn’t charged and went onto a decent NBA career, although it was underwhelming for a #4 overall pick and ended prematurely when he was suspended for 3 years for violating NBA’s anti-drug program. Evans showed immense potential early in his career winning rookie of the year over Steph Curry, but then failed to progress. Between his underwhelming development and suspension, he is an example of how being present but not culpable for a shooter could be a badge signal.
Also similar was Tony Allen’s involvement in a shooting where a member of his entourage shot a man twice. Allen was never charged, but the victim’s lawyer claimed that Allen urged the shooter to “fuck him up” shortly before the shooting. Even though the victim survived, Allen was more directly involved in the altercation. It is difficult to say what is worse between his situation and Miller’s.
Allen had a solid NBA career and was a good return on a late 1st pick, and provides a positive counter example to Evans. And when you factor an outlier success case in the NFL such as Ray Lewis, it’s difficult to conclude that this incident is any sort of clear negative signal for Miller.
Now some may argue the above section misses the point, and that it is not a matter of whether Miller is likely to succeed, but that somebody even loosely involved in a murder is not fit to play in the NBA.
But the irony of killing is that even though it is arguably the worst crime, it is also the most commonly portrayed as badass or cool in pop culture. It’s difficult to think of any TV show or movie that ever portrayed a rapist or wife beater as a likable protagonist, but it happens all of the time with killers, especially when it comes to mobster or gangster culture.
Of course this isn’t the case with the majority of murders. There is nothing redeemable about an OJ or Carruth killing a loved one, and an erratic thug like Hernandez or Crittenton at best gets portrayed as an entertaining side character who eventually dies due to lack of intelligence.
In this instance, there is nothing redeemable about Miles or Davis who are actually being charged. They somehow let getting rejected by a woman escalate into a beef where they killed a single mother, which is ridiculous and not cool in any way. But Miller had nothing to do with the altercation, and likely was not privy to the details. He wasn’t even out partying. He was just down to get his teammate’s back when he needed help.
The worst thing that can be said about him is that he *might* be somewhat of a gangster. This may be a turn off to some NBA fans, but it resonates with another large subset of fans. Players such as Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, and Zach Randolph all portrayed gangster images and were all time fan favorites. Would their fans turn on them if any of those guys were there when one of their friends killed somebody but they weren’t charged? It’s extremely unlikely given that their fans never expected them to be choir boys to begin with.
As mentioned earlier, nobody cared when Tony Allen was directly involved in an altercation that led to a non-lethal shooting but didn’t get charged. He later got in a fight with teammate OJ Mayo where he punched him in the face and was considered the protagonist of the story. Even though he was merely a defensive role player for the Grizzlies who never averaged double digits scoring, he remains one of the franchise’s all time fan favorites as he embodied the team’s grit and grind culture.
Even assuming the worst about Miller’s involvement, it’s highly unlikely this prevents him from being beloved by NBA fans. And in reality, most people will not care, forget about this, or never even know it happened since he’s a 20 year old who was neither charged nor punished by his team.
While Miller’s involvement with the shooting looks a bit shady, people are currently overreacting to the situation.
Most importantly, there is no clear evidence he did anything wrong. He isn’t being charged, his coach says he did nothing wrong, and his lawyer insists that he has exonerating video evidence.
Social media is an inherently judgmental environment, and to tank his stock people are making the judgment that the details are much worse than law enforcement and his coach are letting on as well as the judgment that this is predictive of turbulence in his NBA future.
Given his surprising NCAA performance, it’s hard to buy any narrative that he is prone to underachievement. The biggest concern would be this makes him more likely to have legal issues in the pros, but this is not a significant enough concern to drastically affect his stock.
It’s really difficult to spin this in a way such that it’s a major concern. The most common outcome will be that this quickly becomes a distant memory of the past, and that teams will feel silly if they pass on him for prospects like the Thompson twins.
Personally I was leaning toward him being the #3 prospect in the draft before this news broke, with Gradey Dick and Anthony Black being right behind him. The news did not affect my rating, and then he followed it up with a monster performance against South Carolina that suggests that he is cool under pressure and adds further evidence that he is very good at basketball.
It makes sense for teams to have some minor apprehension about future legal issues, and do their due diligence on Miller before drafting him. But given that his coach and AD are going out on a limb for him, and his outlier progression, odds are that the intel on him will be good enough to draft him so long as he is the best player available.