It would be tough to find a better redemption story in the NBA than what Darius Miller did in the 2017-18 season.
After spending a little over two seasons in the NBA with the New Orleans Pelicans from 2012-2014, Miller made the move to Europe to play in Germany after being released by the club, five games into his third NBA season. He’d spend three seasons overseas before getting another shot in the NBA.
This time around he didn’t disappoint. Not that the first time around was disappointing, Miller just never really got the opportunity.
He got his chance this year though and showed what he’s capable of. The Mason County and University of Kentucky graduate appeared in all 91 games the Pelicans played this season, averaged nearly 24 minutes of game action off the bench and solidified his role in the rotation by becoming an efficient 3-point shooter and providing much needed defense.
Miller knocked down 41 percent of his 3-point attempts during the regular season, good for 26th in the league, eighth among shooting forwards. His 147 makes from long distance put him in the top 50 for what has become a heavy 3-point dependent league.
Things didn’t start off easy for the KHSAA (2008-Mason County) and NCAA (2012-Kentucky) champion. His first eight games of the season, Miller scored 15 points and looked to be slipping out of the rotation with four straight games of six minutes or less.
Then on November 3, in a game against Dallas, things started to click and Miller found his rhythm. He’d tally nine points against the Mavericks, starting a string of 16 of the next 17 games knocking down multiple 3-pointers in a contest and getting at least 13 minutes worth of run in 16 of those 17 games.
His high mark of the year came just 10 days later in a home game against Atlanta where Miller went for a career-high 21 points, including four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and 14 fourth quarter points.
“I feel like I’m finally getting into a shooting rhythm,” Miller said after the game. “This is the best league in the world. To perform here, it feels really good.”
Pelicans All-star Anthony Davis took notice of Miller’s change in his game.
“That’s what we need from him,” Davis said. “Last time he was with (the Pelicans), he was always pump fake, pump fake, pass or wasn’t as aggressive. Coming back, he had that two years in Germany where he played his butt off … and the last couple games he’s been playing very aggressive and he’s been helping us.”
He’d continue to roll from there, enduring a stretch where he hit double-figure scoring for eight of the next 10 games. He’d knock down 56 percent of his 3-point attempts in November and even at one point, led the league in 3-point percentage.
The original player Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps had drafted in the second round in 2012 started coming to fruition. Now in his second NBA stint, the 28-year-old proves to be a perfect fit with New Orleans, a team that needed to surround Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins with as much outside shooting as possible.
Halfway through the season, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry was pleased with Miller’s play.
“We thought he had the potential to do what he’s been doing for us now,” Alvin Gentry told Scott Kushner of The New Orleans Advocate. “But, obviously, it’s been the best case scenario you can think of. And he’s probably accomplished that. He’s been that spark we needed off of the bench.”
Miller would hit the 20-point mark twice more in the second half of the season, January 26 against Houston and March 9 against Washington. Everyone needed to step up when Cousins went down with a season-ending achilles injury the same game Miller went for 20 against the Rockets.
At that point the Pelicans were 27-21 and just took a major blow to their playoff hopes in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. But the Pelicans never wavered, they’d perservere, finishing 21-13 without their star in Cousins and earning the sixth-seed. Miller would get his first taste of playoff action.
“They gave me a great opportunity here, and I’m just glad I was able to take advantage of it,” Miller said following the Pelicans clinching a playoff berth late in the season.
The Pelicans opened up with the Portland Trail Blazers. Not expected to win the series, the Pelicans not only did that, but swept Portland in doing so, the third best team in the West.
They’d then run into the Golden State Warriors, a team expected to win the title again this year. Although the Warriors knocked off New Orleans in five games, the postseason experience for Miller and the Pelicans was a valuable one as they move into next season with a lot of optimism.
Miller is expected to be a part of that, entering the second year of his two-year contract. If he continues his productive play off the bench for a team who could be a free agent signing or two away this offseason from being a legitimate title contender, expect another payday to come for Miller, who will be 29 when his contract runs up.
To quote a Miller tweet prior to his start of the playoff journey:
“From German BBL Playoffs to NBA Playoffs. What a difference a year makes.”
A year in which Miller proved he can play in the league with the best in the World.