Pelicans' Darius Miller proving his NBA talent after paying his dues in Europe

Pelicans' Darius Miller proving his NBA talent after paying his dues in Europe

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Pelicans' Darius Miller proving his NBA talent after paying his dues in Europe

Humility and perseverance have defined New Orleans Pelicans forward Darius Miller’s basketball journey.

From ballyhooed high-school prospect to attending a basketball powerhouse for college, then to the NBA before a two-year stint in Europe, and now back in the States, making an impact off the bench for New Orleans, Miller’s story is about as wild as it is improbable.

After an impressive prep career which garnered a bevy of offers from all over the country, Miller chose to remain in his home state and attend the University of Kentucky.

Teaming up with the likes of Anthony DavisEric BledsoeMichael Kidd-GilchristDeMarcus Cousins and John Wall, among others, Miller blossomed into one of the best role players in college basketball. Over his final three seasons as a Wildcat, the 6-foot-8 wing averaged 9.1 points and 3.3 rebounds per contest while, more importantly, spacing the floor for his superstar teammates by hitting 38.5 percent of his three-pointers.

Throughout Miller’s final three years at Kentucky, the team boasted an absurd 102-19 record, reaching the Elite Eight in 2010, the Final Four in 2011 and winning the national title in 2012 – their eighth overall, and their first since 1998.

Following his time in Lexington, Miller was selected 46th overall by the then-New Orleans Hornets in the 2012 NBA draft.

But he spent only three seasons in the NBA post-Kentucky, seeing action in merely 102 games. After spending some time in the G League in both 2012 and 2013, Miller opted to head overseas, joining Brose Bamberg of the Basketball Bundesliga – one of the biggest clubs in Germany – before the 2015-16 season.

It was there that the Pelicans forward was able to begin his NBA comeback.

“I had a chance to grow,” Miller told HoopsHype about his time with Brose Bamberg. “I played a lot of minutes on a really good team so it really helped me on and off the court.”

And grow he did.

Now, back in the NBA as a well-traveled 27-year-old, Miller has taken the complementary traits that made him so vital on multiple elite Kentucky squads and brought them with him to the Pelicans.

Through 33 games, Miller is averaging 7.7 points and 1.6 rebounds per outing while converting an obscene 45.7 percent of his three-point baskets. His 1.9 nightly makes from beyond the arc are the third-highest clip among players averaging fewer than 21 minutes per contest (minimum: 20 appearances on the season).

What’s more, according to Synergy Sports Tech, Miller is the league’s most accurate spot-up shooter among men with at least 80 such opportunities, scoring a ridiculous 1.38 points per possession (PPP) on those looks.

When told about his mightily impressive marks, the sixth-year pro was quick to give a lot of the recognition to his teammates.

“I get a lot of open looks here with all of the attention that our star players bring to themselves,” Miller told HoopsHype. “[Davis and Cousins] are two of the best big men in the league. And I’ve known them for a while, so they’re good friends of mine. It’s just always fun to be in an environment like that when you’re trying to play basketball.”

As a Wildcat, Miller was able to see Davis and Cousins up close back when they were just young up-and-comers – big men chock full of brimming potential to be sure, but still growing into their bodies and figuring it out.

“It was obvious [early on] they were going to have great careers,” Miller said. “But the way that they all improved is pretty crazy. I mean, they’re some of the best players in the league. I don’t think you can really predict that at such an early age, especially since they were 17 and 18 coming in. You could definitely tell they were going to have great careers, but the way that they’re playing now is pretty amazing.”

The blend of getting to play off of two superstar talents who amaze on a nightly basis, who also happen to be close friends of his, has given Miller the confidence to become such an excellent role player.

However, when discussing his form thus far this season, the floor-spacing wing was also quick to credit his time with Brose Bamberg – both in terms of getting coached up, as well as with keeping him focused on the task at hand.

“The coaches did a good job of helping me grow and develop on the court,” Miller told us. “We’d get a lot of practice time over there, so I just took it day by day. That’s something you definitely have to do when you’re that far away from home for so long. You just gotta take it day by day and try to get better every day.”

As a member of Brose Bamberg, Miller helped the organization win back-to-back Basketball Bundesliga titles while teaming up with another current NBA player: Boston Celtics big man Daniel Theis.

Though Theis arrived to the States without much pub, Miller says he knew his former teammate had the requisite skill to make an impact in the world’s toughest league.

“You definitely could tell [Theis had NBA-caliber talent]. He’s athletic, he plays hard and he knows the game, so I figured it was just a matter of time before he got his opportunity.”

The same descriptors could be used for Miller, who grinded away while overseas to earn his place in the NBA again.

Pelicans point guard Rajon Rondo recently gushed to the media about his teammate, saying, “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…. 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.”

Despite Miller’s success this season, and his growth into becoming one of the league’s top three-point marksmen, he would still rather talk about his team and their overall goals as a unit than heap (deserved) praise on himself.

As far as what those exact objectives are, the Pelicans sharpshooter believes his team has what it takes to legitimately compete at a high level in 2017-18.

“I think everybody’s goal should be to win it,” Miller told HoopsHype. “So that’s what we’re trying to do – just try to get better every day and grind to be the best team we can.”

You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_. 

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