Pelicans hope to see more aggressive Miller
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
New Orleans Pelicans small forward Darius Miller is often praised for his unselfishness and team-first mindset, traits that endear him to basketball coaches everywhere. As a senior at the University of Kentucky, he willingly accepted a move to a sixth-man role, helping set the stage for the Wildcats’ 2011-12 NCAA championship run. In 2012-13, he may have become the first rookie in NBA history to go an entire season without forcing up a single bad shot.
As Miller prepares for his second pro season, however, the Pelicans are asking the 23-year-old to adopt a bit more of a me-first approach. In one statistic from Miller’s rookie campaign that at first glance looks like a misprint, he attempted only eight foul shots in 694 minutes of playing time. By comparison, teammate Lance Thomas made 59 trips to the charity stripe in 646 minutes.
“Yes, we’ve talked about it,” Miller said of his lack of aggressiveness on offense. “There were times last season I had opportunities that I really didn’t take advantage of. The coaches talked to me. Obviously, you don’t want to be selfish or anything like that, but I need to be in more of an attack mode at times.”
“He just needs to assert himself a little bit more,” said Pelicans assistant Bryan Gates, Miller’s player development coach on Monty Williams’ staff. “But (last season was) kind of the way he’s played. He’s always been that ‘fit-in’ guy. He did that at Kentucky for four years. All those Kentucky guys came through there who were drafted and went on to the NBA. Not a lot of people noticed that Darius actually played more games in a Kentucky uniform than anyone else.”
Gates is encouraged by Miller’s superior conditioning this summer. As many young NBA players will attest, there is a night-and-day difference in the kind of shape you must be in compared to college. There are about 50 more games than in NCAA basketball, the games themselves are 48 minutes instead of 40, and the shot clock accelerates to 24 from 35.
“The biggest thing is he’s improved his body,” Gates said. “He’s lost some weight. He’s toned his body a lot, which makes everything easier. His twitch is a lot faster. His shot is a lot better because he’s rising much better. He’s getting the ball over the front of the rim, which has really helped him.”
Miller has not been obsessively tracking his weight this summer, but believes he has lost somewhere between 12 to 15 pounds since the NBA season ended.
“It’s way easier to do intense conditioning during the summer than the season,” Miller said. “During the season, you can’t do as much, because you have to be ready to play in games. You can’t overdue it, especially when you have back-to-back games and things like that. In the offseason, you have a lot of time to work on your game. I definitely feel way better than I did during the season.”
Given the roster changes that have taken place in New Orleans, there’s no guarantee that Miller will get the opportunity to make a larger contribution in 2013-14. Sandwiched around a month-long stint in the D-League, he averaged 13.3 minutes in 52 appearances. Gates views summer league and the remainder of the offseason as a chance for Miller to begin building a case to be a bigger part of the team’s plans next season.
“It’s a big summer for him,” Gates said. “He’s a guy who went down to the D-League, showed some improvement there. Obviously his competitive nature means that he wants to play more, but he needs to earn those minutes. He can do that starting off here in summer league.”