Darius Miller was an all-time fan favorite during his four years at Kentucky. He experienced a tumultuous freshmen season when Billy Gillispie was head coach, which eventually ended with a third round NIT loss. Coming off his senior year of high school, where he led his team to a Kentucky state championship along with winning the Kentucky “Mr. Basketball” award, Miller wasn’t used to losing. Lucky for him (and an entire fanbase worth of people), Gillespie was fired following the season to end a two-year coaching run that felt like 100. Coach Calipari took over in 2009 and Miller saw his production take a leap over the course of the next three seasons. He became one of the deadliest shooters in the SEC (shooting 44.3 percent from three in his junior season on 131 attempts) and all-around player who was notorious for making plays on both ends of the court when Kentucky needed him the most.
*My favorite Darius Miller moment. I still remember the exact moment it happened and the days that followed where I couldn’t and wouldn’t stop watching it, even if my life was in immediate danger.*
The 2012 Kentucky team was unbelievably good, but most importantly, Rupp Arena doesn’t proudly hoist the University’s eighth national championship without everything Miller did in his four seasons. He was a homegrown Kentucky hero who was treated by fans and media as such. Not many University of Kentucky players receive the praise and recognition that Miller did and still does. Current and former players still receive plenty of glory, but not many to the extent of Darius Miller. He is a Kentucky icon. The first Kentucky born player to win Kentucky “Mr. Basketball”, a Kentucky state championship and an NCAA national championship. He exemplifies what young basketball players growing up in Kentucky idolize.
Miller was never an elite NBA prospect. He was lost in the shuffle, in that regard, to his Kentucky counterparts. The one-and-dones began to dominate college basketball and the NBA draft. Miller was always an excellent player, but not a high-enough caliber talent. He was no John Wall, or DeMarcus Cousins, or Brandon Knight, or Anthony Davis. He was a four-year college player, and the reality of the situation is that 22-year olds won’t make it to the NBA as often as 19-year olds. Miller spent his rookie season with the then New Orleans Hornets and then his second year in New Orleans when they rebranded to the Pelicans. During those two years, however, Miller could never separate himself from the pack. He played 97 games during his first two seasons in the NBA, starting nine of them. He averaged 14.6 minutes per game during that span, but his 3.3 points per game were never going to be enough. His third season in New Orleans saw him play a total of 43 minutes across five games. He was constantly in and out of the D-League in his first three seasons and it wasn’t long into his third that the Pelicans ultimately decided to waive him in late November.
He then decided to try his luck overseas. He went to Germany where he signed to play for EuroLeague team Brose Bramberg. Bramberg plays in the highest level of basketball competition in Germany, known as the BBL (Basketball Bundesliga). He played there for about two and a half seasons, returning to his college form as an elite shooter. He joined the team during the season in 2015, but that didn’t stop him helping his team to a Bundesliga title where he averaged 12.4 points per game during the Finals. But the championships didn’t stop there.
Per basketball-reference, Miller averaged 9.4 points per game on 40.3 percent shooting from deep (31-77) in 24 games during his first full season in international play. Miller was a key proponent on a Bramberg team that won their second consecutive league title, being named Finals MVP as he averaged 18 points per game. Miller and Bramberg would win the Bundesliga title once again the following year. He averaged 12.2 points per game during his 2016-17 campaign shooting, 41.1 percent from deep (62-151) in 27.1 minutes per game. Not even three full seasons in international competition and Miller already had three league championships, adding to an already impressive trophy case. Miller was a proven winner in high school, college, and in overseas play, now there was only one place left to return, the place where winning eludes him. The NBA.
Miller was a college basketball rarity. He played four-years in college, but with an almost entirely different set of teammates every season. He proved he could adapt, but when he returned to the NBA and signed once again with the New Orleans Pelicans this past summer, he looked around and saw he was surrounded by family. The Kentucky atmosphere was all too familiar. He played with Anthony Davis in 2012 and DeMarcus Cousins in 2010 at Kentucky, who now form the best frontcourt in the entire NBA. Point guard Rajon Rondo played for Kentucky from 2004-2006, not long before Miller arrived. The Pelicans are the only team in the NBA who have at least four players from the same college on their active roster. Miller is once again surrounded by the Kentucky effect, even years after leaving the state he accomplished so much in.
So far, Miller’s 2017 NBA campaign has gone better than anyone would have expected. Much better, in fact. Through 24 games, Miller is averaging 7.7 points per game on 47.5 percent from three. He takes 4.1 threes per game and is an impressive 47-99 on the season. Miller is fourth in the entire NBA in three-point shooting percentage. He’s scored in double digits in 10 games, including a 21-point outburst against the Atlanta Hawks where he shot 5-8 from deep.
Miller’s most valuable asset is his deep threat and he’s become a legitimate concern for opposing defenses. The NBA is becoming a league filled with versatile big-men and elite shooting. Miller isn’t the former, but he’s definitely the latter. Per Cleaning the Glass, Miller ranks in the 100th percentile in percentage of shot attempts that are threes and ranks in the 97th percentile in terms of percentage of three-pointers made. This is across the entire NBA. Continuing with the flood of stats, Miller ranks in the 98.7 percentile on spot-up attempts, according to NBA.com, where he averages an absurd 1.56 points per possession. He also ranks in the 85.1 percentile in shot attempts where he comes off a screen. All these stats do is help reemphasize what has already been stated a few times before, Miller is currently an elite shooter and one of the most efficient in the NBA.
*Above is Miller’s shot chart for the current season. That is a tonnnn of green, folks.*
Miller is 27 years old now, in the early stages of what is considered to be a basketball players prime. The Pelicans are playing solid basketball and are poised to make a playoff run, especially if Davis can get back to full strength. Davis and Cousins will surely handle most of the dirty work, but Miller’s value will not be underestimated. He hit plenty of big shots in college and will likely do the same this season. He’s been a winner his entire life and winning on this stage is the last test for him. He’s finally found a home in the NBA, and it’s not too much different to the home he will always have in Kentucky.
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