Former Kentucky forward Darius Miller has been garnering more and more attention during his second stint in the NBA with the New Orleans Pelicans this season.
Entering Friday’s action Miller ranked fifth in the league in three-point field goal percentage at 46.6 with 65 makes on 143 attempts. And that’s more attempts than the four players ranked ahead of him.
The Maysville native and Mason County star has become a consistent contributor off the bench, prompting one of his doubters in the media to confess to being completely wrong about him.
“’You’re sleeping on Darius Miller,’ was the message I received.
My glib response? “’I’m not just sleeping, I’m comatose on Darius Miller. I’ve seen Darius Miller play for three years and if he’s what you’re counting on, I don’t get it.’”
Kushner has changed his mind: “Miller has since erased any skepticism, becoming one of the unlikeliest shooting stars of this revved-up Pelicans’ offense. After two seasons of redeveloping his game in Germany, the team’s former second-round pick has transformed his identity in a triumphant return to the NBA.”
Miller is averaging 7.7 points in 20.8 minutes per game. He’s also chucking 5.6 three-point attempts per game. All of his stats are NBA career highs.
He scored a season high 21 points against Atlanta on Nov. 13, going 5-of-8 from the three-point line, including the game-winner and was 8-of-11 from the field overall.
He hit at least one three-pointer in 22 consecutive games. And has started another streak of three games since, including going 3-for-5 in a win against Miami on Dec. 23.
After a UK career that culminated in a national championship in 2012, he was drafted in the second round of the NBA Daft, 46th overall, by New Orleans and signed a multiyear deal. After playing parts of three seasons in the NBA, he decided to sign with a professional team in Germany and became a three-time Bundesliga champion as a key player for Brose Bramberg.
Rajon Rondo, a fellow UK alumnus, NBA champion and Pelicans teammate, praised Miller in a recent interview.
“Darius has been in the league before. I think what got him back here was his work ethic. He’s one of the hardest workers we have on our team,” Rondo said. “A guy like Darius, I’m very happy to be his teammate. I’m proud to be playing with a guy like that. He’s very unselfish, really quiet guy, he just wants to come in and get his job done.”
He’s also said he’s chided him not to take half-court shots at the buzzer, which hurt his percentage. “We’re trying to get him into the three-point contest. He needs to be there along with DeMarcus (Cousins) and AD (Anthony Davis),” Rondo said in a postgame interview on Nov. 24.
After Rondo’s team-record 25 assists against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, Miller returned the favor.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Just the way that he reads the game. He studies the game like nobody I’ve ever seen before,” Miller said ahead of Friday’s game against Dallas. “His basketball IQ is crazy. He just knows where everybody’s going to be. He’s taken our offense to the next level.”
Part of the team’s success and his success from beyond the three-point arc this season is a credit to how the Pelicans play, Miller said.
“We get a lot of great looks. That goes to our players moving the ball, especially our key players. They do a great job of getting us open, getting us in position, so most of our shots, most of our threes are good threes. I don’t think there’s anybody on the team that takes bad shots,” he said.
Nearing the midway point of the season, the Pelicans are hanging on to the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference with an 18-16 record.
“I think we can continue to get better,” Miller said Friday. “I don’t think we’ve reached our peak by any means.”