I've been banging the drum about this privately for several months now, so as Kentucky's regular season draws to a close, and we await tournament time, I'd like to look at something that bears mention. With a couple of clutch performances and senior night just in the rear-view, Darius Miller has started to get his due as a college basketball player, a glue guy who has sacrificed himself for the good of three outstanding teams (and one not so outstanding one). A Kentucky home bred and rare Cal contributing senior, Miller finished his career as a Rupp favorite and will likely end his career as a top 40 scorer in Kentucky history. Time will tell whether he can add a National Championship to his resume. If that happens, he goes down as one UK's most accomplished team players. Not a bad place to be.
As he looks forward to the next stage in his life, though, I see Darius as something that many so called "experts" apparently don't. To me, he is a sure-fire career NBA player, one who could not only play for 12 years in the league, but potentially reach even greater heights individually than he ever has at Kentucky.
NBA draft web sites are notoriously uninformed. Most "insiders" hide their predictions behind pay walls and leave the public domain to those with less experience and inside information. Still, a survey of the most popular sites show that Darius is not getting much love. NBAdraft.net has Darius going as the very last pick of the second round, to the New Jersey Nets at #60. The same service has Renardo Sidney, of all people, going six spots higher. Draftexpress.com does not have Miller being picked at all. Instead, he is listed as the #23 prospect among college seniors. Other mocks surveyed (which I won't link to because their picks as a whole bespeak limited credibility) leave Miller out of the soup.
I'm not sure what people don't see in Miller, other than gaudy statistics. Here is what I see. Unlike a lot of productive college players snubbed by the NBA, Darius is not a 'tweener. In fact, listed as 6'8" but more likely 6'7", he is big for his natural NBA position of two guard. Miller has above average hops, legit NBA 3-pt. range, and the ability to score in the post against smaller players. He has lateral quickness and can score in traffic. His combination of size, athletic ability and shooting skill are hard to match in college basketball.
Having played under Coach Cal, Miller is schooled in playing tough man-to-man D. He has been going up against current and future pros in practice for three years. He might lack the quickness to be a great defender at the 2 in the NBA, but with his size and smarts, he won't be a liability.
The biggest knock on Miller during his college career has been about a tendency to shrink from the moment. I'll be the first to admit that this was a valid criticism for a time, especially during his freshman year. Now? Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who has watch Kentucky this year knows that he has been at his best during the rare games that were close down the stretch. He has gone from scared to unflappable.
A secondary criticism is a lack of rebounding for his size. Fair to a point. In truth, though, when has Miller really been called on to rebound in the last three years? Under Cal, he has played with DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, DeAndre Liggins, Daniel Orton, Josh Harrellson, Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. All are either in the NBA or soon to be. All will make their NBA living, in large measure, pulling boards. King Kong might have had trouble putting up rebounding numbers as a swing man for these teams.
Of course, there are all the intangibles. Miller has a star's skills, but none of the baggage. He is used to being surrounded by talent, playing without the ball and not having plays called for him. Nearly his whole college career has taken place in a fishbowl. Having played on the biggest non-NBA stage basketball offers, there is little left to phase him. Of course, the NBA is all about talent, but GMs should (and many do) round out rosters with guys who don't cause headaches off the court. It goes without saying that Miller has never had a whiff of trouble here.
When the rubber meets the road, though, Miller is more than just a good guy. He is a hell of a basketball player who could be putting up 17 points a game on many top 20 teams. Many other Kentucky players have had their contributions judged relative to the people playing around them, and are enjoying NBA paychecks and getting NBA minutes right now. Why should Darius be any different?