It’s important to recognize blind spots.
I’m here to do so right now.
Months ago, in a conversation with a member of the New Orleans Pelicans’ administration I spoke on behalf of fans and critics alike, repeatedly questioning the team’s offseason decision to eschew a true shooting guard addition in free agency.
After several messages back and forth, the following exchange is emblazoned in my memory and phone records.
“You’re sleeping on Darius Miller,” was the message I received.
My glib response?
“I’m not just sleeping, I’m comatose on Darius Miller. I’ve seen Darius Miller play for three years and if he’s what you’re counting on, I don’t get it.”
Since then Miller has since erased any skepticism, becoming one of the unlikeliest shooting stars of this revved-up Pelicans’ offense. After two seasons of redeveloping his game in Germany, the team’s former second-round pick has transformed his identity in a triumphant return to the NBA.
Once a one-dimensional guard, who was often caught in the headlights and buried deep on New Orleans’ bench, Miller is now a confident, savvy sixth-man who finds productive spots on the floor to routinely cash in. His quick study has allowed him to take advantage of a Pelicans’ offense built around big men and ball movement.
Miller is the NBA’s sixth-most accurate 3-point shooter this season, burying 64-of-140 attempts (45.7 percent), and has re-shaped the Pelicans’ offensive identity in the process.
“We thought he had the potential to do what he’s been doing for us now,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “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.”
And as the season nears its midway point, he stands as the clearest example of the clearing blind spots that once enveloped this Pelicans roster.
Throughout free agency and leading up to the season opener, the most frequent Pelicans-based question bandied about in NBA circles was whether New Orleans contained enough firepower around Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins to allow them to thrive.
Without the benefit of a pure, proven shooter on the roster, general manager Dell Demps used his sparse cap room to out-bid several suitors and bring Miller back to New Orleans. And Gentry repeatedly responded to inquiries by claiming the Pelicans will be fine as long as their shooters keep getting open looks.
Both of those reactions were met with long stares, turned chins and deep sighs by Pelicans fans who watched New Orleans scuffle to the league’s 26th-ranked offense last season, wasting away Davis’ superhuman performances.
Now? The Pelicans rank No. 4 in points per game and No. 7 in offensive efficiency.
And what about those supposed shooting woes? The Pelicans are No. 4 in 3-point accuracy and true shooting percentage.
E’Twaun Moore, whose $34 million signing in 2016 was roundly panned as an overpayment for a career role player, is now thriving as a third guard, converting a sizzling 46.2 percent of his 3-pointers.
Rajon Rondo, who inked a one-year deal after a hobbled season in Chicago, built a long reputation as a reluctant shooter. But, he’s unglued the Pelicans’ offense, ramping up team’s pace and passing, unleashing Jrue Holiday to his best career scoring while providing space for Moore and Miller.
Is the Pelicans roster perfect?
Omer Asik and Alexis Ajiinca’s contracts are albatrosses, based on disjointed logic applied two summers ago. New Orleans also needs an upgrade on the wing and another hustling defender off of the bench who can cover bigs (and avoid foul trouble).
Trading away the past five years of first-round picks has left them with little wiggle room in the cap and almost margin for error.
But, after years of panning this front office, some under the radar moves (along with the high-profile Cousins addition) has surrounded Davis with the best roster of his NBA career.
It’s partly why their inconsistent play is exasperating and late-game collapses are inexplicable. Blowout road wins in Miami and Orlando proved the Pelicans are capable of being a solid playoff team and meriting attention from this market.
But, until they start to string wins together and mount a true charge toward the achievable No. 5 spot in the Western Conference, blind spots will smother the progress.
But, hey, we all have them.