The rise of Brandon Miller - and why the best has yet to come

Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets
Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets / Jacob Kupferman/GettyImages

June 22nd, 2023. Brooklyn, New York. Slightly after 8 p.m. on the east coast. National media headlines were littered with stories surrounding the second overall pick in the NBA draft - the pick that belonged to the often-forgotten Charlotte Hornets.

Flashback to a month prior. Possessing a mere 12.5% chance of receiving the first overall pick, the Hornets miraculously made the final round of cuts at the NBA draft lottery. It seemed too good to be true. The all-too-familiar feeling of hope crept back into the minds of Hornets fans everywhere. Was Charlotte about to receive reparations for missing out on Anthony Davis in 2012? Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum revealed the deciding card, and the realization set in that the Hornets had fallen just short yet again. Missing out on the first pick stung, but that disappointment quickly transformed into optimistic conversations about the pool of prospects waiting at the number two slot in June.

It was a foregone conclusion that the top pick in this year's rookie class would hail from France – Victor Wembanyama's bags had been packed for San Antonio since the draft lottery. Following the 7'4" generational talent, it was a toss-up between G-League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson and Alabama one-and-done Brandon Miller to be the second player selected. Conflicting draft night tweets from Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski had Buzz City entirely in the dark about which way their team was leaning. Scarred from years of draft busts and illogical front-office decisions, Hornets fans knew they couldn't squander their lottery luck this time around.

The fanbase was divided on which direction the franchise should take. Henderson seemed like the better overall player, but Miller fit the position the team needed the most. Henderson played the same position as Charlotte's best player, LaMelo Ball, and many people doubted their ability to co-exist in the backcourt. However, the Hornets' front office couldn't be trusted in the draft, and the team could not afford to pass up on the best available player to draft based on positional need. Around and around the arguments went in a seemingly endless cycle between two sides who ultimately wanted the same thing: a successful Hornets draftee who would be wearing the teal and purple for years to come.

When the dust settled, the consensus seemed to be that the Hornets should stop overthinking it, take the best available prospect – Scoot Henderson – and figure the rest out later. The Charlotte front office did not oblige. The collective groan of Hornets fans could be heard all the way from the Barclays Center as Brandon Miller was announced as the second overall pick. Nightmares of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist seeped into the minds of the Buzz City faithful. This can't be happening again, right?

Brandon Miller, Adam Silver
Adam Silver, Brandon Miller / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

Brandon Miller's adjustment to the NBA style of play was supposed to take time. It was widely understood that the assimilation period would be filled with plenty of growing pains and rookie mistakes and that Hornets fans should practice patience. The hope was that Miller would show flashes of potential and a solid foundation that could be built upon as the season progressed. At the bare minimum, it needed to feel like the franchise made the right decision and avoided yet another monumental draft mistake. Hornets fans have been holding their breath since June, hoping for the best yet preparing for the worst.

Good news - it's time to let out a sigh of relief. After an underwhelming NBA Summer League and a mediocre stretch of preseason games, Brandon Miller has officially arrived. Through 15 games this season, Miller has posted averages of 14.4 points, four rebounds, and two assists while shooting 46.4% from the field and 37.3% from distance. These are stellar numbers for someone playing their first month of professional basketball, and he's only getting better. Over his last five games, Miller has averaged just above 18 PPG and shot over 53% from behind the arc. He's looked increasingly more comfortable during this stretch and has cemented himself as a vital part of the Hornets' rotation.

Brandon Miller
Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets / Elsa/GettyImages

While he's been solid so far, the best of Brandon Miller has yet to come. We're only one month into his professional career, and his development is ahead of schedule. Very few rookies possess his aggressiveness on offense, and his decisiveness when catching the ball is impressive for a player of any caliber. Plenty of multi-year NBA veterans still have that moment of delay when catching the ball in scoring position. That half-second spent deciding whether to shoot, take your man off the dribble, or swing the ball allows defenders to recover and rotate, which can ruin an offensive possession.

I'm not here to run through a film session, but there are multiple instances per game where Miller catches the ball, makes a quick decision, and either scores or sets someone up for an open look. He doesn't shy away from contact and is not afraid to challenge defenders at the rim. It also helps that Miller has an excellent shooting form with a lightning-quick release – traits that will allow him to enjoy a long career in this league.

Perhaps the most surprising part of Miller's game has been his defense. It's not perfect, but the tools are there, and the effort is undeniable. He hasn't backed down from tough matchups and has a knack for disrupting shots with his length. Standing at 6-foot-9 with a wingspan of over 7 feet, don't be surprised if Miller develops into a defensive force in the association. Plus, he cares about every possession – a refreshing sight on a team with a long history of finishing near the bottom of the standings.

Brandon Miller, Jrue Holiday
Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets / David Jensen/GettyImages

Miller's role on this team is only expected to grow as the season continues. With LaMelo Ball sidelined indefinitely due to an ankle injury, Miller will continue to see his name in the starting lineup. There's also a strong chance that Charlotte eventually moves on from a few veterans on the roster, which would expand Miller's role even more. Whether it's injuries, trades, or performance, one thing is sure: Brandon Miller's minutes and usage will continue to rise in the coming months.

The Hornets have the foundational pieces to build around. The young core of Miller, Ball, and defensive anchor Mark Williams is among the league's most promising. It may not be this year, it may not be next year, but the blueprint is there for the Charlotte Hornets to compete in the Eastern Conference. For now, it's time for Hornets fans to briefly let down the walls and allow themselves to feel some happiness. Appreciate a good thing. Cherish a successful decision. At the very least, among the inexcusable losses, devastating injuries, and general turmoil surrounding the team, take solace in the fact that the franchise made the right call by drafting Brandon Miller back on June 22nd, 2023. Brooklyn, New York. Slightly after 8 p.m. on the east coast.