Following a four-year career at one-and-done factory Kentucky, when Darius Miller entered the NBA in 2012-13 with New Orleans, he had a whopping 15 former college teammates on NBA rosters. However, unlike Miller – the 46th pick in the ’12 draft – many of those ex-Wildcats weren’t forced to scratch and claw to earn a roster spot. Among Miller’s 15 fellow UK products in the league, the group included 10 first-round draftees and seven lottery picks.
While several of his collegiate colleagues made instant millions, on Nov. 30, 2014, Miller was waived by New Orleans after just 102 games played. The 6-foot-8 forward had to go overseas, signing with a team in Germany, where he made dramatic improvements, matured and regained his confidence as a player.
Miller’s circuitous journey is one reason why it was so gratifying for the 29-year-old to re-sign with New Orleans this summer. The husband and father of two young children inked a two-year contract that will pay him more money in 2019-20 than he’s made in his entire NBA career, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
“Our journey was a little bit different than others,” Miller said, reflecting on his adversity-filled path to carving out a permanent NBA role. “It definitely meant a lot to my wife and I (to be able to return to New Orleans). We’re just blessed to be in the situation that we’re in now. We definitely appreciate it.
“I was very excited (to re-sign). It was huge for my family obviously, just being able to come back to a place we’re familiar with. We love being here, so we were more than happy to come back.”
Miller wasn’t conscious of it at the time, but the area where he showed his biggest improvement in Germany – three-point shooting – helped make him a considerably more valuable asset in the NBA. The average number of three-point attempts across the league has increased in every season of this decade, making floor-spacers like Miller (38.8 percent on treys since ’17-18) vital to offenses.
“It’s not something I really thought about when I was over there (in Germany),” said Miller of how that specific skill has paid off so well for him. “The experience I had, the game reps I had over there, the amount of time I got to play against good opponents, high-quality teams, that was the main factor in me developing a better shot. I didn’t really think about (the importance of threes in the NBA). I just tried to improve my overall game.”
Much like his ever-shuffling roster in his Kentucky days, Miller re-signed with a Pelicans team that will have a slew of brand-new faces, including three players acquired from the Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade, veteran additions such as JJ Redick, Derrick Favors and Nicolo Melli, as well as three first-round picks. No stranger to having to become acquainted with new teammates, Miller is not familiar on a personal level with any of those players, with the notable exception of Melli. Miller and Melli were teammates in Germany with the club Brose Bamberg.
Prior to officially re-signing July 21, Miller watched from afar as New Orleans enjoyed one of the NBA’s most productive offseasons, including winning the draft lottery despite only 6.0 percent odds. Similar to the team’s fan base, Miller’s enthusiasm and excitement for ’19-20 has continued to build as the summer months have progressed.
“The changes have been amazing,” Miller said. “To lose a player like Anthony, and to bounce back like this, this fast, is amazing. The type of people (David Griffin) brought in is unbelievable, especially in that short amount of time. I’m really excited to get the season going. Just being around here for the past couple weeks, just to see the atmosphere and how everybody’s feeling, I think we’re all pretty excited to get going.”