Not too long ago we learned that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist told Coach Cal that he would gladly come off the bench so that senior Darius Miller could start. At the time, Doron Lamb was actually playing the role of sixth man and Cal never took MKG up on his request. Instead, Lamb remained on the bench while Miller started four games early in the SEC schedule. For the last two games, though, Miller has returned to being UK’s sixth man, and if they’re any indication of how he plans on playing out the remainder of his games at Kentucky, I hope Cal continues to ignore Kidd-Gilchrist’s lineup suggestions.
Against Georgia and LSU, Miller has been arguably UK’s best overall player, and he’s done it from the bench. In a game at Athens where offense was hard to come by, Miller managed to tie his season high in scoring in one of the most efficient games I’ve ever seen. He was 7-8 from the field and 4-4 from outside, scoring 19 points to account for 1/3 of UK’s total in only 23 minutes on the floor. Against LSU he wasn’t as close to perfect but still went for 13 and hit 3-5 threes in a game that was much more balanced for the Cats. Over the last two games Miller has shot 12-17 (70.6%) from the field and 7-9 (77.8%) on three-pointers, making him by far Kentucky’s most efficient player. If you include the two prior games in which he started, he’s shooting 63.3% from the field and 62.5% from outside over the four game stretch. That’s ridiculous.
It’s not just the numbers that have been impressive over the last two weeks, though. Starting with his desire to take big shots and free throws down the stretch against Alabama, Miller has seemed to begin to take ownership of the team. He has been more vocal and energetic than we are used to seeing him, and has appeared to be locked in and looking for his shot in a way that makes him a different player and the Cats a different team. All season they have tried different players off the bench to find the best rotation, and with what Miller offers he is the perfect piece to the puzzle if he continues playing like this. He can come in for any of the four non-Anthony Davis starters, and in a pinch even for Davis if Terrence Jones slides to the middle. He can defend any position and is versatile enough to be a matchup problem for anyone guarding him. In short, he’s exactly what the team needs in a sixth man.
I know that people will tell me to hold my horses because Darius has had stretches like this before only to leave us wanting more in the end. However, I think that this situation is different because he’s being asked to do it off the bench. That takes some of the pressure off of him and allows him to just play his game when called upon. The last two years he was inconsistent while starting 69 of the 76 games, but with a more well-defined role as the sixth man I believe he can be more comfortable and excel as a result. That comfort, combined with his likely realization that this is the home stretch of his career at UK, leads me to believe that we will see a lot more of the Darius Miller from the last two games than the one that has frustrated us in the past. If I’m wrong you can all yell at me. If I’m right? Kentucky has one more thing separating itself from the rest of college basketball.