Assistants who could join Tom Thibodeau’s staff: Mike Miller
Mike Miller has many fans within Madison Square Garden and is a strong bet to be brought back, given his performance under challenging circumstances this season. He took over a Knicks team that was 4-18 under David Fizdale and gave them life, going 17-27 under Miller. He was the only Knicks representative to speak on Fizdale’s firing and handled himself exceptionally well with the media storm.
Miller is a grinder and had paid his dues to earn consideration for the Knicks’ head coaching position. He was Leon Rose’s first interview, and although his head coaching candidacy was an uphill battle from the start, Miller had support within the Knicks. The organization hopes to keep him in New York under Thibodeau.
Miller began his coaching career as the head coach of Texas State and Eastern Illinois. His NBA coaching career began with the San Antonio Spurs’ G League affiliate, Austin Toros, and Knicks President Phil Jackson hired Miller as the head coach of the Knicks’ G League affiliate, Westchester Knicks. Miller won the G League Coach of the Year in 2018, and shortly after, earned a seat on David Fizdale’s bench.
An NBA executive who watched Miller in Westchester lauded his coaching:
"“Very good teacher, poised on the sidelines. His team was prepared every night. He did a really good job in the G League,” said one veteran NBA executive who watched Miller with Westchester. “He put in the triangle [offense] when he got there. They actually ran it better than the Knicks did.”"
The “basketball-lifer” made a strong impression on the Knicks as an assistant and earned the interim head coach’s title when it seemed that Keith Smart and Kaleb Canales were the frontrunners. His X’s and O’s, knowledge of the game, and straight-shooting persona calmed the bleeding. Miller had an albatross of a roster playing competitive basketball, something that eluded Fizdale his entire tenure in New York.
The Knicks’ offense looked much more polished and efficient under Miller. The Knicks’ isos per game went down dramatically, and Miller preached more ball movement and screens to open up the offense. The Knicks were second in the league in points in the paint under Miller, and they significantly reduced their mid-range shots per game.
The Knicks averaged 5.8 points per 100 possessions more under Miller than with Fizdale, and the Knicks’ defensive effort increased on a nightly basis. The Knicks fought past screens and limited their switching.
RJ Barrett looked more comfortable under Miller, and Mitchell Robinson’s fouling issues were no longer issues under Miller. He also used Frank Ntilikina as a combo guard and utilized his versatility to an extent no Knicks coach has so far. Those three are seemingly the only sure-fire keepers on the Knicks’ roster, and Miller’s success coaching them bodes well for him.
Miller also has a big fan in former Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy, who had Miller on his 2018 USA World Cup Qualifying Team coaching staff:
"“Give him a lot of credit for all the work he has put in to get to this point. He’s a no-nonsense, straight-shooting, not-looking-for-any-limelight guy. He just wants to coach basketball and do the best job he can to help the players.”"
Miller is simply a good coach and did a phenomenal job as the Knicks’ interim head coach, something few can do. His coaching acumen and knowledge would be a tremendous boost to Tom Thibodeau’s bench.