When the writers of At the Hive decided to do player profiles/season previews on our 2013 roster, there were three guys on my wish list to write about as we divvied up the players: Ryan Anderson (nikkoewan did a great job in his Anderson piece), Jason Smith (in case you haven't read it yet, enjoy) and Darius Miller.
The allure of Anderson is pretty evident to most Hornets fans: he was our biggest offseason acquisition, is coming off a career-year (Most Improved Player award, best player on Magic not named Dwight Howard), he brings a 3-point shooting ability not seen on the team since Peja was traded, and his pairing with Anthony Davis gives the Hornets potentially the best young frontcourt duo in the league. Smith is not only one of my favorite Hornets, but one of my favorite players in the NBA. His hustle, mid-range game and energetic style of play make him a very easy guy to like. But why Darius Miller? Why a late 2nd-round pick who was the 6th best player on Kentucky's national championship team and doesn't possess an elite NBA skill, isn't super-athletic, super-long or a great shooter or scorer?
The first awesome thing about Darius Miller is that as a senior he accepted a 6th-man role at Kentucky playing behind two sophomores and three rookies...and then kicked ass in that role. His perimeter defense and 3-point shooting were both crucial assets on a young team (even one as talented as Kentucky's young fab five) not to mention the leadership and maturity he added as the only upperclassman to play significant minutes.
The fact that Miller ceded a bigger role to his teammates at Kentucky and yet still had a successful senior season showed a lot about him as a player. It also means (as is typically the case with most 2nd-round picks) that Miller would not only be more comfortable, but probably be better suited to a lesser role in the early stages of his professional career. The caveat in all of this is that players in a similar mold to Miller, like San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard (granted Leonard is more athletic than Miller and was more heralded going into the draft) are usually better fits on already established teams and thrive as bench guys whose roles grow as they learn from the vets surrounding them. This is no surprise because they usually get taken later on in the draft when playoff/contending teams are on the clock.
Miller fell to the late 2nd round (45th overall) where he was snatched by the Hornets, who had only one other option at small forward, another young player fighting to justify his starting spot on the team. And unlike Al-Farouq Aminu, a lottery pick trying to live up to the high expectations he's carried since he entered the league, Miller was simply adding depth to an already young team at a position of need. Xavier Henry hasn't stayed healthy or given consistent production, so minutes for him at the 3 look less and less likely.
With Aminu unable to grab the job outright, all of a sudden Miller is staking a claim to serious minutes at the small forward spot, as highlighted by the Times-Picayune's John Reid in a recent article. Suddenly Darius Miller's role on the Hornets has gone from 12th man/end of bench towel waver (or even D-Leaguer) to potentially getting a look as the starting small forward. What does this mean for his contributions this season?
My best guess is that Aminu will hold onto his starting job, and Miller will not catapult past him on the depth chart. But that doesn't mean Miller's role won't be a significant one. At 6-foot-7, 240 pounds (with a 6-foot 9-inch wingspan) Miller can be an effective defender at his position, and in the preseason he has already shown his ability to spot up and hit the corner 3. Aminu's inconsistent play (especially on the offensive end) opens the door for other players on an offensively challenged team, and although Miller is by no means a "true" scorer, his ability to make threes consistently when he gets them should play a role in Monty's rotation. He's of the (increasingly) rare breed of professionals that spent all four years in college and thus should have a better basketball IQ than most rookies. And as I mentioned before, he has the 2nd-round chip on his shoulder as motivation as well.
Nobody expected much out of him coming into the league, especially with Miller as the 3rd rookie drafted by the team that also took Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, two of the higher profile rookies in the recent memory. And yet Darius Miller has a real shot to make an impact on this Hornets team, both this year and in the future. Some nights, Miller might get a DNP-CD in the box score, some nights he might play 20 minutes, and other nights closer to five. No matter what his contributions are, Miller, like his more famous college (and now pro) teammate, will be eager to win another championship in the city of New Orleans.