Without a doubt, Daxter Miles is one of the best athletes on the Mountaineer basketball team. His vertical jump is likely the best on the squad, and his quickness gives him the ability to play solid defense and get off shots in tough situations. However, displays of those talents have been few and far between in recent games, giving rise to some concern as WVU gets ready for its final regular season game and the tournaments beyond.
It's not that Miles has been shooting poorly. He did go through a couple of off games, making just three of ten against Iowa State and two of six against Oklahoma State at the turn of the month, but he is still making almost 47% of his tries – a good number for a guard. The problem is that in recent games, he simply hasn't done a great deal. He attempted only two shots against Texas, two against TCU and three against Baylor, and seemed a bit lethargic on the offensive end. He passed the ball adequately, but never seemed to be pushing to take advantage of openings or create opportunities off the dribble for himself or others. Granted, his possession and drive at the end of the TCU game resulted in a win for WVU. He also contributed two excellent offensive rebounds and follow-up scores (one on a dunk, the other on an acrobatic tip-in) against Texas Tech. Those shouldn't be discounted. Countering that, though, he's disappeared for long stretches.
Against TCU, Miles was clearly flustered (like several of his teammates) by the way in which the game was called. Two very early fouls sent him to the bench for much of the first half, and that may have kept him from getting into any sort of playing rhythm. (That was definitely also the case for Nathan Adrian.) However, Miles did get back on the court for a total of 17 minutes, yet still took just three shots. That came on the heels of two shots in 21 minutes against the Horned Frogs. Is this a result of him losing confidence in his shooting? Or carryovers from something else?
This begs the question – is Miles being hampered by criticism of WVU's guard play, which has focused on the forcing of shots and too much dribbling? Some advanced metrics would seem to argue against that. He's averaging just 1.8 turnovers per 40 minutes, and that's a better rate than any other guard on the team that has appreciable playing time. He's making 62% of his two-point shots – again, tops on the team among those in the regular rotation. If he's forcing shots – and the view here is that he is not – then maybe he should be, given his success rate. His 3-point percentage of 32.6% is a bit below average, but not awful by any definition. But it just feels like he could be doing more, especially in the rebounding department.
None of this is to suggest that Miles isn't giving effort. He's playing hard on defense, and while he has been frustrated with some calls that seem to have affected his performance, he isn't simply standing and watching his assignment run or drive around him. It just seems that a bit of his former zip and confidence is missing – those factors that had him running out on to the court when Huggins called for five players to begin practices early in his freshman year. At his best, he's bouncing around, enthusiastic, and smiling -- attributes that seem to have been missing as WVU heads down the stretch.
Whatever the reasons for the dip, Miles must bring his athleticism to bear. He has to work hard to get around screens and get open for shots. He must crash the boards, on both ends, to help WVU shore up its weaknesses on the defensive end and create a couple more offensive chances. Most of all, he has to play with energy – an item that has seemed to be lacking from his repertoire recently. With it, he's a difference-maker for the Mountaineers.