I believe this post makes, roughly, 17,000 times I’ve written something about Darius Miller this season. His assertiveness–or lackthereof–on offense is something that I, along with just about everyone else, have noticed from day one (the game he scored zero points against Morehead State). The guy’s become a complete afterthought offensively, which isn’t what we were expecting from someone who came on strong at the end of last season and was supposed to be among those who’d benefit most from Calipari’s new offense.
He’s playing like a player with little confidence, and as much as I hate to say it, he’s the one player out there that’s keeping us from being scary-good. Everyone else–Wall, Bledsoe, Patterson, Cousins, even Dodson, when he’s in there–seems to be much more comfortable with their role in the offense than Miller. Which is fairly easy to understand because, really, what is Miller’s role in our offense?
He’s not a shooter. His shot’s gotten better, but it’s still a ways off from being his bread and butter. Percentage-wise (43%) it’s there, but his shot’s still slow and even has a slight hitch at the top, so it’s not something he’s able to make his living off of like Meeks did or Dodson’s currently doing (and I’m not trying to imply that Dodson is a shooter of Meeks’ caliber, just that both of them were primarily jump shooters).
And he hasn’t been an exceptional slasher, which has surprised a lot of people (including me). Everyone said that he and Liggins would be the two guys who’d benefit most from the Calipari hire, since their games were far better suited for the DDM than they were Gillispie’s high-low offense. But Miller hasn’t shown much quickness with the ball in his hands and, what’s worse, he hasn’t shown any offensive assertiveness at all. He’s become content to just hang around the three-point line and wait for kick-outs via Wall or Bledsoe, which is fine for some players (say, Ramon Harris, if he had a better shot), but it absolutely limits Miller’s offensive potential.
Notice, I didn’t write that Miller isn’t an exceptional slasher, I wrote that he hasn’t been an exceptional slasher. And I think there are a couple reasons why he’s had some trouble:
1) Confidence – I’m not the first person to write this, I know, but Miller is the kind of player whose confidence visibly comes and goes. When he’s feeling good, it practically radiates off him; when he’s not, he’s as tentative as any player on the team.
When Miller’s confidence is up, he’s capable of getting into the lane on anyone. He’s not super-quick, but he’s quick enough, and he’s crafty enough with his ball-handling to get past most defenders, regardless of their size or speed. He has a pretty floater he breaks out from time to time (he did it once today), and elevates well enough that he should be able get his shot off over most defenders and finish strong at the rim. Plus, as we’ve already mentioned, his outside shot is solid. Defenders have to respect it, which, you would think should open up more opportunities for him to penetrate. The point of all this being: Miller has the tools, he just rarely has the confidence. Calipari’s prime objective right now should be to bring that out of him, because if Miller’s clicking offensively, there’s not a team in the country that can score with us player for player.
2) Miller’s the odd man out – Kentucky now has five players capable of creating their own shot: Wall, Bledsoe, Patterson, Cousins, and Dodson. Occasionally, when things are going right for him, you can toss Miller into that group. But for the most part, he’s a guy who relies on others to create looks for him. This sort of goes back to my (and everyone else’s) lack of confidence argument, but it’s slightly different. This one is more about Miller having a more passive personality than the rest, which results in fewer touches and shots. It’s one of those things that anyone who’s ever played in a pick up game where all the best players somehow end up on one team should understand. Despite the fact that any one of them could score on any given play, obviously, only one can; as a result, one or two of those good players become glue guys, the ones out there grabbing rebounds, playing smart defense, deferring to the ones demanding the ball, etc. You could argue that Miller’s become that guy for Kentucky this season. I mean, there’s only one ball out there. Not everyone can shoot the thing. Maybe Miller’s doing the self-less thing and deferring to his teammates not out of a lack of confidence, but for the simple fact that if he didn’t, it wouldn’t give Kentucky the best chance of winning. Is this possible? Or am I just being optimistic for Miller?
The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Miller’s jump shot has probably made him a little more content to hang around the outside, Wall and Bledsoe’s emergence probably made him think he shouldn’t worry about beating people off the dribble as much, and it very well may be in the best interest of the team for Miller to not be the egomaniac I want him to be.
But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t start being more aggressive. As I said earlier, if Miller starts being more assertive with the ball in his hands, Kentucky instantly becomes undefendable. There’s not a team in the country that matches up with us offensively. Right now, we have three players who are borderline unstoppable (Wall, Cousins, & Patterson), another who’s outside shot is as quick and pretty as anyone’s (Dodson), and one last guy (Bledsoe) who’s getting better and better as he learns a new position (shooting guard). If Miller can become the guy to fill in those gaps, the guy who can get in the lane and knock down mid-range jumpers, as well as the occasional three-pointer, then Kentucky becomes scary-good on offense.