I love Miller. He seems to be exactly the kind of guy the Pels want in their locker room. Over the summer I believe his game will expand by leaps and bounds. He and Rivers are going to be the surprises of next season.
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Season in Review: Darius Miller
When the New Orleans Hornets were miraculously able to swap both Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza’s contracts – two players who were owed a combined $43 million over the 2012-13 & 2013-14 seasons – in exchange for a $13.7 million buyout of Rashard Lewis’ contract, that deal was more than enough for most. Therefore, it was hard to do anything but laugh after hearing that the Washington Wizards included the 46th pick in the draft as well. That mid-second round draft pick was used to draft Darius Miller, a four-year member of the University of Kentucky basketball team, reuniting him with college teammate Anthony Davis. Second round draft picks in the NBA draft are never guaranteed NBA success, or even a prolonged NBA career, and Miller is no different. Even after one season, he still has a lot to prove in order to stick in this league long-term. That being said, let’s take a look at where Miller started, his strengths and weaknesses throughout the season, and where the team can reasonably expect him to go from here.
Different scouts may view Miller’s basketball skills in various ways, but there’s one way to describe him that no scout alive would disagree with – the guy is a team player. Darius saw tons of teammates head to the NBA - Meeks, Wall, Cousins, Bledsoe, Orton, Knight, Harrellson, Liggins – while he remained at Kentucky. He easily could have left after his junior season, in which he posted a true shooting percentage of 60.1% (thanks to making almost 45% of his threes and over 85% of his free throws). Instead, he stayed for his senior season, and as Draft Express put it, “he has consistently put his team’s aspirations for a National Championship ahead of his desire to showcase his own talents in front of scouts.” When picking in the second round, isn’t that exactly the type of player for which most teams will be looking?
In terms of his actual basketball skill set, Miller showed promise at the collegiate level as a shooter (career 38% 3-point shooter) and as an above-average athlete. Even one of his weaknesses, being too passive at times, could be spun as a plus to a certain extent in terms of his ability to avoid taking away possessions from more talented scorers. In addition, he improved his ball-handling later on in his playing days at Kentucky. He has close to ideal size to be able to play at either wing position, and while he struggled to stay in front of quicker players on defense, he displayed the potential to improve on the defensive side of the ball with increased focus and dedication.
Above the break 3-point shooting
Miller attempted 32 three pointers from either the wings or top of the key this season, making 14 of them (43.75%). Though a small sample size, it’s important to note how strong this percentage is; the league’s best 3-point shooter, Stephen Curry, made 44.6% of his above the break 3-point attempts. Granted, Curry shot 505 of them, but the point is that Darius has shown he can be a potential floor spacer for the team, especially as he continues to develop his game in other areas. Another favorable shooting stat for Miller is that he was the team’s only non-front court player besides Roger Mason Jr. to maintain an eFG% over 50% this season.
Among qualifying small forwards, Darius Miller’s assist rate was second best in the NBA this season. His low usage rate makes that number not quite as impressive, but there’s no getting around the fact that Darius sees the floor pretty well and has some solid passing skills. He is particularly good when he attacks the paint at finding the open man, both around the rim for dunks/layups and out around the perimeter for 3-pointers. Out of his 23 turnovers, only nine of them came as a result of errant passes (though it could be argued that two of them were due to the stone hands of Lopez and Aminu). Hopefully, the coaching staff encourages him to attack the rim more frequently in the future given his ability to be a dual threat when he gets into the lane. He was also one of the team’s better in-bounders as well.
Overall, Miller took very good care of the ball when he put it on the floor. Reviewing all 23 of his turnovers on the NBA.com stats tool showed that only five of his turnovers came as a result of poor ball-handling. The coaching staff appears to have similar confidence in his strength in this aspect of the game, as he even assumed a “point forward” role from time to time when injuries depleted the team’s arsenal of guards.
Defense – preventing easy points
A possible reason for this may be due to playing too far off of his man at times (discussed in greater detail in the weaknesses section), but the fact of the matter is that Miller simply does not give up many points in the paint. Per Synergy Sports, opponents only shot 40.5% against him from inside the arc, and most of these points came from jumpers. If Miller can keep preventing his match-ups from driving into the lane while better contesting three-point shots, he will become a plus defender for the Pelicans.
Corner 3-point shooting
While Miller shot very well on all other 3-point attempts, he struggled from the corners, making 8 out of 24 over the course of the season. The good news is that with practice, this shot is certainly one that he can learn to make. Making a third of your corner 3s isn’t good for someone who aspires to be a knock down three-point shooter, but it’s certainly not irreparable, especially given his efficiency from other areas.
Miller’s total rebound rate of just 6.7% placed him within the bottom 10 of all qualifying NBA small forwards, largely thanks to his brutal 1.4% offensive rebound rate. If Miller expects to play more shooting guard as a pro, this number wouldn’t be as worrisome, but as a small forward this is an area in which it would serve him well to improve.
Though this early in his career, Miller is one of the less talented players on the team, his shooting ability was an attribute that could have helped the second unit immediately. At times, he capitalized on this, but more often than not he deferred to others. This point is evidenced by his usage rate of just 8.9%, tied for second lowest with Hasheem Thabeet in the entire NBA among qualifying players (only Miami’s Joel Anthony’s usage rate was lower). In Anthony’s case, it makes sense given the other talent surrounding him on the floor and his relative lack of an offensive game. For Miller, while understandable given the fact that he is a rookie, these are also some of the same tendencies he often displayed at Kentucky, so his assertiveness is something he is going to have to work on. Out of all of the team’s reserve players last year, Miller arguably has the best jump shot out of any of them, and he should work to learn how to take better advantage of this in the future.
Defense – close-outs & when to help
Miller had his ups and downs on defense this season, and clearly has things to learn individually on the defensive end (as any rookie does). Per Synergy Sports, opponents shot 50% (27-54) from beyond the arc on either isolation or spot-up attempts against Miller this season. After reviewing some of the film, it’s pretty clear that the team’s defensive rotations as a whole were so bad sometimes that players got caught out of position and not knowing who to defend, so Miller’s individual defense is not entirely to blame. That being said, he sometimes displayed a tendency to drift too far away from his man when playing help defense, and often sagged too far off of his man, making it difficult to get a hand up and close out when defending a shot. Both of these areas come down to defensive positioning, which is something that coaching should be able improve. However, it’s on Miller to gain the necessary confidence and court awareness to play his match-ups tighter and prevent so many open long-range looks.
Though Miller’s 1.2 turnovers per 36 minutes hardly looks bad, it resulted in a 12.9% turnover rate given his low usage rate. The most frustrating thing about his turnovers is that a large chunk of them are easily preventable, but this also means that they’ll be very easy to fix. Five of his 23 turnovers came from stepping on the sideline, and three more came from setting some pretty blatant moving screens. If Miller would have simply paid more attention to where the out of bounds lines are, his turnover rate wouldn’t have even been a concern.
Darius Miller has one more year on his contract worth about $800,000 which is fully unguaranteed. If Miller is still with the organization by July 28th, however, that money becomes guaranteed. Unless that small amount of cap space is desperately needed in free agency this offseason (unlikely), Darius will probably be brought back for another season. Next season will be key in terms of his NBA future; if he doesn’t continue to grow in his areas of success while learning from his mistakes, he could find himself looking for work after next season. Conversely, if he takes some more steps in the right direction and proves that he can be a legitimate NBA rotation player, he may very well be someone who the Pelicans decide to keep around for the long haul.
Darius Miller’s overall performance was pretty close to what one would have expected from a second round pick with a college career such as his. For the most part, the best parts of his game through one pro season were the same as the areas in which he excelled at Kentucky. If there is one thing that Miller needs to focus on in his second NBA season, it’s becoming a more assertive and active player on both sides of the ball. Between his shooting, passing, and ball-handling, his strengths come in some of the more finesse-related areas of the game. Upon reviewing his weaknesses, many of them could be at least partially remedied by simply becoming a more aggressive player. If Darius continues to play as passively as he did in his rookie season, he could be out of the league after not too long. However, if he starts to display more confidence in his own abilities and makes his on-court presence felt, there is a chance that he can make a positive impact on this Pelicans team, perhaps even as early as the 2013-14 season.
Check out the entire Season in Review series here at Hornets247.com.