For whatever reason, there are certain players whose games are constantly being given the benefit of the doubt. By that, I mean these players are more often judged on what can do, with almost complete and total neglect towards what they can’t. At this point in his career, I think John Wall falls – with tremendous force – into the darkest pits of this category. The same can be said for Eric Bledsoe, and, to a lesser degree, DeMarcus Cousins. They fact that each of them exudes such an obvious excess of talent makes it easier to ignore their faults. For Wall, it’s turnovers and shot selection; for Bledsoe, it’s decision making in general; and for Cousins, it’s that he barely elevates enough to fit a notebook between his feet and the floor, and, you know, the fact that he’s a hot head.
That’s not to say that any of these guys’ cons outweigh their pros. Wall is probably the most athletic point guard prospect ever; Bledsoe isn’t too shabby an athlete himself, and he plays with a chip on his shoulder that few can match; and Cousins, for all the talk about his skill once he gets the ball in his hands, has an raw, innate ability to rebound that can’t be taught.
My point is, there are some guys that you make more excuses for more than others. We overlook the fact that John Wall shot 30 percent from the floor, turned it over five times, and let his man score 20 because the positives he brought that night – 15 points, six assists, and three highlight-reel dunks – are impossible to ignore.
The flip side of that argument is that there are certain players you make no excuses for. There are certain players who, for whatever reason, tend to be noticed more for what they don’t do, rather than what they do.
Enter, Darius Miller.
Miller’s been something of a whipping by around these parts for the vast majority of the season. Lots of people – but nobody more than myself – have said that Miller’s inconsistency in the aggression department has been a source of weakness for this Kentucky squad. And to a degree, it has. Just not as much as I’ve made it out to be.
It’s easy to forget that, after seeing Wall and Bledsoe dominate the ball the way their Iverson/Marbury-influenced hoops upbringing has taught them to, that there are some players whose games aren’t conducive to such a lead-guard mentality. Miller, at this stage in his basketball career, doesn’t have a game that’s ready to be an offensive centerpiece, and it’s to his credit that he’s accepted this the way he has. There’s only one ball out there, and when you have to share it with John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson, and DeMarcus Cousins – three lottery picks and another first-rounder – it might be to your and your team’s benefit to worry about other things besides dominating the ball. Look at it this way: This team averages almost 60 shots (1663 for the season) per game, of those 60, the Wall-Bledsoe-Patterson-Cousins quartet puts up 40, or 60 percent (1133 of the 1663 for the season). Of those 20 leftover shots, how many can we really expect Miller to take? After taking Liggins, Dodson (who is sort of a gun), Harris, Orton, and Stevenson’s shots into account – and I’m of the belief that if you’re going to give a guy minutes, you’ve got to give him the green light to shoot – I think a realistic expectation for Miller would be 4 to 6 shots per game. His average? Five.
And considering the fact that he doesn’t get to handle or shoot the ball much at all, Miller’s numbers are actually kind of impressive: 6.3 points, 2.4 rebounds (almost half of which are offensive), 1.6 assists, and – maybe most crucial to his role – just one turnover. It’s a shame he doesn’t get to the line more (which goes back to his whole lack-of-aggression thing), because he shoots an impressive 81 percent. His 3-point shooting is respectable (just under 40 percent), as is his FG percentage (just over 40 percent), when you consider the fact that most of his shots are perimeter jumpers. And he’s the fifth option. And he’s just a sophomore, which I don’t think I’ve heard anyone mention when they talk about Darius Miller. It’s almost like after this insane influx of youth over the past off-season, we decided to label all the guys who were already on the team as old-timers.
So to recap, Darius Miller is a sophomore with NBA potential (okay, that may be a reach, but time will tell), playing with four future (read: this summer) NBA draft picks, who has quietly accepted his back-burner role by allowing the superstars to do their thing while not forcing the action for himself, yet has still managed to score 6+ points on just five shots per game, and does it while hardly ever turning it over. He’s not a defensive liability, and he’s about the furthest thing from selfish or a headcase that there is. Sure, he’s not going to play in many all-star games with those numbers, but that’s not the point. He’s not supposed to be All-SEC, he’s supposed to be a role player. He is the fifth option on this team, and when you think about some of the former fifth options (Michael Porter, Ramon Harris, Bobby Perry) we’ve had in recent years, I think it’s safe to say that Miller blows them all out of the water.
So, please, a little love for my man Darius Miller. I’ve been trying to tell you guys about him all year.