Soft-spoken away from the court, new Timberwolves point guard Andre Miller becomes a man transformed on the practice floor.
That’s a good thing for a team that signed him, Kevin Garnett and Tayshaun Prince last summer primarily because of their veteran presence.
“It’s kind of funny,” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said after Friday’s fourth training-camp workout. “You go all day and you don’t hear a word out of him, but then we get on the basketball court and it’s just constant chatter.”
At 39, Miller has more left in his lungs than his legs, not that a guy always known more for his savvy and smarts was ever the fleetest of foot. Mostly earthbound even early in his career, he is the NBA’s oldest player — roughly a month older than Tim Duncan and Garnett’s senior by exactly two months — and has remained in the league all these years because of his strength, footwork, instincts and body control.
There’s a reason he has been nicknamed “Professor,” even if he looks like somebody else once famous.
“I mean, it doesn’t matter,” he said about that nickname. “I’ve heard all kinds of stuff. I guess this one has finally stuck. Richard Pryor and that one, those two have stuck.”
Like Garnett and Prince, Miller was signed in good part to help guide a team built around eight players 24 years old or younger. He is back for his 17th NBA season for that reason and, as strange as it might seem, to prove himself all over again, this time with his eighth different team.
“I enjoy it,” he said when asked why he keeps on keeping on. “I like earning the respect of my peers and the coaching staff and the GMs and the people around the league. I just want to be known as a guy who comes in, works hard, doesn’t take days off. I enjoy definitely meeting younger guys and helping them get better.”
He is here now as much to help fellow point guards Ricky Rubio and rookie Tyus Jones as he is here to help himself.
Jones was 3 years old when Miller played his first NBA game. Rubio had just turned 9.
“I’ve been following his career a lot,” Rubio said. “He has a high IQ, my type of player. I’m going to him ask him a lot of questions. I already tell him, every time out I want to know what he thinks in any situation. He has been in the league so long he probably knows the right answer every time. So I’m going to be able to ask a lot of questions.”
Miller’s mind is willing, even if he acknowledges the rest of him sometimes questions.
“My body always asks me what I’m doing,” he said. “It’s mind over body. What my mind tells me to do, I’m going to do it. I definitely like being on the court and being competitive.”
Two seasons ago, Miller yelled at Denver coach Brian Shaw in the middle of a game, berating him for the disrespect he felt Shaw showed by scratching Miller from the lineup for the first time in his career. He was exiled from the team for the next seven weeks until he was traded to Washington.
Likely a backup to Rubio at least until Jones adjusts to the NBA game, Miller said playing time won’t be an issue.
“I’m not worried about that right now,” Miller said. “I know this is a young player’s league, and I respect that. I know where I’m at in my career. Whatever Coach wants from me, I have to be prepared.”
Mitchell professes he just wants Miller to be who he always has been.
“He’s just valuable for our team,” Mitchell said Friday. “I think he took only one shot today, but his team won because he just makes the right plays. He’s always the first to pass. He can still get by you, I’ll tell you that much. You put him in a pick-and-roll and he’s clever.”
And on Saturday …
The Wolves took Saturday off after they had practiced for 3 ½ hours each of training camp’s first four days and bused to Mankato, to have their annual lasagna dinner at owner Glen Taylor’s house. They are expected to hold a shorter practice Sunday morning and will finish in time to watch the Lynx’s WNBA Finals opener at Target Center if they so choose.