From scrub to sub: Pelicans’ Darius Miller is a bench weapon

Published: November 30, 2017

As if he were the protagonist in an ancient epic, small Forward Darius Miller was released from the New Orleans Pelicans on November 30, 2014 and has now emerged as a top reserve player in his first season back with the team that let him go.
Miller struggled to crack into the rotation in his first two seasons in New Orleans, and often was unable to seize opportunities on the court. He averaged 2.3 ppg in 13.3 average mpg, and only saw his scoring increase to 4.4 ppg in his second season while playing an average of 16.1 minutes. At times, Miller looked incredibly indecisive on the offense end of the floor, leaving his NBA future in doubt.
After his release, Miller signed with Brose Bamberg of the German top-tier level Basketball Bundesliga and the Euroleague. It was during the course of this hero’s journey that Miller found his strength. In his two years in Europe, he averaged 10.9 ppg while shooting 40.8 percent from 3-pt. range and 52.2 percent from inside the arc. More specifically, Miller averaged 15.1 points per 36 minutes in those two seasons. Miller also ranked sixth best in 3-pt. percentage during the 2016-17 Euroleague season.
Miller’s Euroleague numbers indicated that he could a perfect candidate for a solid bench role for an NBA team willing to give some minutes.
Since returning to New Orleans, Miller overcame a rocky start to being absolute fire from the bench. Being patient with Miller has paid off for Alvin Gentry and the staff as he jumped up from shooting 14.3 percent from the field in October to around 60 percent in November. The improvement has many, including starting point guard Rajon Rondo, advocating his inclusion in the 3-pt. shooting contest come All-Star Weekend.

As Miller captures the heart of New Orleans, many fans are advocating a starter’s role for him. However, starting him would be to remove the Pelicans’ fiercest punch in the second unit when Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins or both have to leave the floor. What Miller’s shooting does is give the reserve offense a different complexion after opposing defenses have keyed into denying the paint and mid-range jumpers.
At age 35, it should not be backup point guard Jameer Nelson’s job to be the top scorer from the bench. With Nelson, his experience should be applied to being a game manager that can get the ball where it needs to be, plus some outside shooting on kick-outs. Having Miller in the second unit makes Nelson’s role a lot easier considering he is both a threat from deep, and has shown an ability to score off the dribble as well.
Recently we have seen the first unit either start slow and catch up for comeback wins, or build sizable first quarter leads that eventually fall apart. While fans may want to see a position balance in the starting unit, which is likely why there is a call for Miller, the true issue for lack of consistency is the turnover rate. This is an issue that Miller the starter would not alleviate. Cousins currently leads the league with 109 turnovers. If the Pels want to address the issue, working with Boogie would be a place to start.
For Miller, it is not unreasonable for him to have goals of winning the Most Improved Player Award or Sixth Man of the Year at this point. Since the Pelicans’ roster has been a work in progress even after the season began, there is room for change, but leader of the bench is where Miller belongs at this time.
For now, Pels fans may just want to enjoy that Miller has faced all challenges and flashes the promise of a strong career.