Darius Miller didn't get to enjoy an 82 game schedule in his sophomore campaign. A foot fracture, revealed back in September, cost him all of preseason and a little more than the first month of the regular season. For a player with under 700 career NBA minutes, that's no bueno. It was especially disappointing considering the showing he had in the past Summer League. Next to Austin Rivers, Miller's performance was the second most talked about item from Las Vegas as he displayed a nice scoring touch, culminating with an efficient 35 points in the final two games.
Once Miller was able to return to the court, his minutes were intermittent for the month of December. But after Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson went down with their respective injuries in early January, Miller was able to enter the rotation. Unfortunately, he was unable to do much with the 210 minutes of playing time. His 54 points scored versus 29 personal fouls told most of the story. Reflecting his rookie season, he remained passive on offense and was being whistled for too many infractions on the other end of the floor. Thus, when Luke Babbitt joined the team in early February, it wasn't all that surprising Miller lost his spot in the rotation.
Darius Miller, that was certainly unexpected! 16 points on 7-9 shooting. He was acting like he had done this before. Oh, and the ball handling? Got any more secrets??? Miller didn't pick up his first turnover until the waning moments of the game. Quite impressive considering his lack of run and usual lack of usage.
No Eric Gordon, Brian Roberts and Austin Rivers forced Monty Williams to give major minutes to the seldom used Miller. In that game, he not only picked up the scoring slack but also assisted Tyreke Evans in the ball handling department. It really felt like New Orleans had gone out and added a new player to the roster just a few hours before tip-off.
Over those final games, Pelican fans were treated to an entirely different Darius Miller. Just have a look at some of his per 36 and advanced numbers in January compared to the final 12 games.
|Points||Threes||Steals (PG)||FGA||% of FGA from three||Personal Fouls||AST%||USG%|
|January (210 minutes)||9.3||1.8||.8||6.9||59.3%||4.9||7.5%||10.4%|
|Final 12 games (334 minutes)||12.0||1.2||1.7||9.7||37.3%||3.6||9.9%||14.9%|
In the span of several months, Miller went from foul-prone 3 point specialist to a significantly more rounded player. His assists, steals and blocks, or also known as ASB, went up by a decent margin. During his January stretch his per 36 ASB was approximately 2.85. In the final 12 games, it rose to 4.4. That number was buoyed by the sizable increase in steals, leading one to ponder how much of it was due to a small sample size. Nevertheless, the fact that his assists and blocks also went up gives a good deal of hope his improvement may be for real.
Darius Miller finished the season on a positive note, but it remains difficult to get excited about his potential upside. His rebounding is nearly non-existent; his playmaking, not that much further along. He will be 24 next season, and unlike Austin Rivers, his peak is rapidly approaching. There have been "quiet" producing 3 or 4 year college players to go on and have much improved performances in the NBA. Most recently, Chandler Parsons looks primed to have a solid career, after showing little potential coming out of the University of Florida. However, he should be viewed clearly as an exception rather than any rule.
DraftExpress likened Miller's ceiling to Danny Green, but it still remains difficult to see that comparison. Green always exhibited nice defensive numbers (steals and blocks) at the University of North Carolina. Until the final 12 games of the season, none of Miller's defensive numbers have ever stood out. Green's athleticism and quickness are easily several notches above him.
Miller's best weapon, and similar to Parsons, has been his offensive efficiency he has displayed at every level. Next to Anthony Morrow, Miller had the best TS% (55.0%) of any wing or guard on the team. His 3FG% dipped a bit in his sophomore season, but I suspect it was because he struggled with his release point on more than once occasion over the final few months of the season.
Another positive was the improvement in Miller's defense. For much of last year and the start of this season, Miller had difficulties guarding his assignment while finding the right balance with help defense. Thus, it wasn't a surprise his personal foul rate was too high. However, during the final set of games, the foul rate dropped. In addition, he was singled out for playing excellent defense against several opponents including Kevin Durant in the second to last game.
Miller's best case scenario seems to be a hybrid player of Brandon Rush/Stephen Jackson. He'd learn to become as proficient as Rush from the perimeter and an above average-to-good defender, but develop a savvy similar to Jackson, using his size and ball handling abilities to overcome quicker and more athletic opponents. For this to materialize, Miller needs to continue to work on his competitiveness and game IQ. I suspect one reason for his usual mediocre lines across a number of categories was partially due to a taking-the-back-seat mentality he developed at the University of Kentucky. He was always surrounded by more prominent athletes, plus coming off the bench as a sixth man, subdued his nature.
At this moment in time, Darius does not appear to be the long-term answer at the shooting forward slot. Yet, considering his finish to this season, after always taking a secondary role in prior years, does offer hope he will return next season with a spot in the rotation on day one. It is assuring that Monty Williams does see a lot of positives in his game.
''Darius is a guy who just didn’t get an opportunity,’’ Williams said. ''When he gets a chance to play, he’s been able to defend and shoot the ball well. We’re looking for consistency from Darius. He’s a guy that does a really does a good job with the ball for his size. He always seems to have the right attitude and make the right plays.''
Although Aminu's status is up in the air (for the record, I doubt Dell Demps re-signs him), I suspect Miller will be back either way next season. He showed enough improvement during the 2013-14 campaign which makes his qualifying offer seem to be an affordable figure. Secondly, the Pelicans need to start developing continuity among the core. Replacing one of the closest friends to our franchise player with some economical retread makes little sense.