By: Cole Shelton
The Saint John Riptide was supposed to be led by Gabe Freeman, an NBLC veteran and one of the best players to ever play in this league. Freeman did lead them for the first part of the season, while Malcolm Miller was the second option. However, Freeman left halfway through the season to sign a contract in Iran and play pro basketball over there. With that, the Riptide turned to Miller and he stepped up in a big way.
Miller has played professionally for a couple of seasons, as he was overseas and spent the last little while with the Maine Red Claws of the G League — then the D-League — where he was coming off the bench. Miller was one of the only returning players for the Red Claws in training camp, but ultimately was cut, which was a surprise to many. After getting cut by the Red Claws, and many overseas teams already having rosters set, Miller had to look elsewhere when a former coach always told him about the NBLC.
"Well, I was playing in the G League, and (my) first-year I was playing in Maine, — one of the assistant coaches named Ryan Thompson, I got real cool with him, — I was always working with him a lot and he is from Toronto I think, but he was always telling me he was going to work out here in the NBLC," said Miller in a recent phone interview. "He was like if you ever want a bigger role Malcolm you should come play with me, and I was always like 'uh, I'll think about it,' I was always focused on the G League and playing for the team I was on, and didn't think I was going to end up getting cut like I did. In October, I was in training camp in Maine, I thought I was going to make the team but they ended up cutting me, so I called Ryan because I knew he came up here and watched practice and stuff, I just called him and he told me 'yeah' so I came out here."
When he came out here he latched on with the Riptide and was supposed to be a second-option next to Freeman and make a dynamic one-two punch, which ultimately happened. Miller played in all 40 games for the Riptide and averaged 18.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting an impressive 47.6% from the field and 42.1% from three. His numbers also got a lot better after Freeman left as he became the go-to option for Saint John's. "I don't think Malcolm has stepped up anymore then he was before, I think he has been doing what has been asked of him," said Riptide head coach Nelson Terroba in a recent phone interview. "The game dictates where the opportunities will arise, and he has been ready. The good thing about Malcolm is he plays both sides, he is a two-way player and on defence is normally guarding the teams strongest wing, big wing on the other team. While, he can play the 3 or the 4 both offensively and defensively, and his versatility both defensively and offensively has been really key for our team."
Being able to play multiple positions like head coach Terroba said is huge for Miller's success in this league. The NBLC is a very fast-paced game with lots of switches on defence, and if a player can guard multiple positions and play multiple positions it makes the job of a head coach that much easier. "It is super important, real important. The league here is a real athletic league, and a very versatile league," head coach Terroba added of how important it is that Miller can guard and play multiple positions. "The 4 position is someone between 6'6" and 6'9", sometimes guys who can shoot and drive it. For Malcolm to be able to stretch the floor out as a shooting guard, also stretch the floor out as a 4-man for us, and defend both sides of that. He can defend the post, he can defend the perimeter, he can defend screen-and-rolls so that versatility is so important for our team and all teams in this league. Especially, the way our team fits together that versatility is big because he can kind of help plug some holes on our needs for certain games."
While Miller can guard multiple positions, he also does it really well. Miller is a plus offensive and defensive player. On the offensive end, Miller can shoot from three, make shots in paint, mid-range shots, and also collect offensive rebounds and make superb passes which result in assists. Miller is an all-around player which helps him so much on the court. "Defence is real big for me, I feel like that is a big part of my game, too," Miller added of how he is an all-around player. "I take real pride in my defence, I don't like to be scored on, I like to do all the scoring really. Any matchups that I have, I try to take pride in shutting down my defender and also helping my team scoring the ball and being a good team player. I know I can score at any time, but I know if my teammates aren't involved the game ain't gonna go how it is supposed to. That is how I have always been though."
Miller has always been an effective player on both ends of the court, but where he helps the Riptide's offence is his shot. Miller can shoot from anywhere on the court, and more times than not he knocks them down. Having a good shooter in Miller creates double-teams on him which result in another Saint John player open where Miller will find him open for an easy shot. His shot has improved throughout his career and even throughout this season, as he appears to have more faith in his shot.
"Oh, it is real important, that is a big part of my game that I work on," Miller added of how important his shot is. "I feel like you have to be able to score the ball from every spot on the court that you are at. I feel like if you can't shoot the ball you can't be effective on the court, so that is something I work on. Shooting, and catch-and-shooting shooting off the dribble shooting off screens, making the right reads."
With Freeman gone, Miller has stepped up in a big way for the Riptide and helped them capture the three-seed something no one thought was possible when Freeman left. Miller and the other players have really kept the boat rolling into the playoffs, facing the Moncton Magic in the first-round where Saint John and Miller are hoping to create an upset. For now, it was a great year for Miller in his first-year in the NBLC.