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Brad Miller was one of "those" guys last season. Thought to be one of the safest picks last season, Miller's production unexpectedly dropped off the planet. That's not what kills fantasy owners, though; everyone drafts some busts. What kills them is when there is no single discernible reason why, so you hold on to the struggling player and wait for the progression to the mean, for the true talent level to shine through.
And wait. And end up with nothing.
The more easily one is able to decide whether to cut bait on a struggling player, the quicker they can repair the damage. But when a player tears an ACL, it's obvious he's done. When a player is struggling and there's not an obvious cause, and their malaise continues for the entire season, they transcend bust and become one of those.
While you could pick out a couple of reasons for Miller's decline, Miller was bad enough where it is hard to believe one single thing could explain such a sudden and precipitous drop off. There's no need to sugarcoat it: Miller was horrible. He failed to average double-digit points, had his worst field-goal percentage in six years and his free throws per game were the lowest in his nine-year career. While Miller was a starter, it was more by title; he averaged just 29 minutes per game in his 56 starts.
Miller is now 31 years old at a position where sudden declines can often mean the end of a career and not just a bump in the road, and no matter how nice and consistent his previous three or four seasons were, to not be skeptical of Miller's potential performance this upcoming season would be foolish. Fortunately for fantasy owners, most indications are positive, pointing toward a bounce-back season.
First, and most importantly, is Miller's health. Miller is a big man (7-foot, 261 pounds) who is not athletic relative to his peers. It becomes easier to get out of shape, and then injuries can and often do take over from there. Miller battled plantar fasciitis for most of last season, which caused him to miss 19 games and limited his ability when he did play. The problem was also exacerbated by the fact the Kings ran a lot (fourth in possessions per game), not a salve for an out-of-shape 260-pounder with a bum foot. But Miller got in much better shape over the summer and lost 25 pounds, and heretofore the foot problems have been nary worth a mention.
Assuming decent health for Miller -- to be sure, if you're drafting any 31-year-old 7-footer with prior injury concerns, you are taking on some inherent risk -- the combination of talent around him and opportunity is exactly what you want to see. The Kings' frontcourt is crowded, but that crowd is full of mediocrity and injury concerns, so Miller is in full control of his destiny. And in terms of talent, assuming a bounce-back season from Mike Bibby, the Kings have three 20-point threats in Ron Artest, Kevin Martin and Bibby.
Center is a deep position, though; where's the upside? Let's not forget that Miller was a second- or third-round choice entering last season. The thing that makes Miller special is that he achieves the same value as an Emeka Okafor in a totally different way. The things a center usually struggles with -- free-throw percentage, assists and steals -- are things Miller does better than nearly any other center, and he is respectable enough in the traditional big-man categories (career 49.2 field-goal percentage and 0.8 blocks per game) to not kill you. The rarity of Miller's production -- he has averaged more than four assists during the past four seasons -- and his versatility makes him a gem among an increasingly crowded and redundant group of centers.
While you have to depress some optimism regarding Miller due to age and injury concerns -- for example, Miller likely won't come close to 37 minutes per game this season -- for the most part, you're getting 85-90 percent of the 2005-06 rendition of Miller, pocketing the extra value you receive due to his down year. In terms of bounce-back players, there isn't a safer overall bet than Miller.
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball and baseball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Adam@TalentedMrRoto.com.