Shooting Slump Bedevils WVU’s Miles

Shooting Slump Bedevils WVU’s Miles

West Virginia senior guard Daxter Miles has always been a streak shooter. Throughout his very good career at WVU, the Baltimore, Md., native has gotten on rolls where he knocks down shots, particularly threes, in bunches. Even as a freshman, he put together streaks from distance like 9-15 and 19-38, spanning multiple games and against teams of high caliber. As a senior, though, that touch has deteriorated. He’s making just 25.8% of his shots from beyond the arc, and is currently toughing out a 7-33 stretch over the past seven games. That’s by far his worst showing in his four years.

Before we go any further, it should be made clear that Miles isn’t the only reason the Mountaineers have tumbled to a 1-3 record over the past four games. There have been plenty of shortcomings up and down the lineup that have knocked WVU down into the middle of the pack in the Big 12 standings. The thing here, though, is that as a senior, Miles should know how to respond when things are going badly in one phase of his play, and that hasn’t been the case recently.

Head coach Bob Huggins has pointed that fact out multiple times this year (and not just in regard to Miles). He did so again after the TCU loss, where Miles was 1-8 from three and just 5-15 overall. Granted, a couple of those shots were desperation late forces when the Mountaineers were trying to claw back into the game, but those don’t cover many of the instances Huggins was talking about.

“I think he had made like one shot the game before and the game before that,” Huggins said. “Why wouldn’t you try to drive the ball and create something else?”

Miles certainly has that ability. Inch for inch, he’s one of the best jumpers on the team, and he has the ability to drive, get to the rim and elevate over defenders. As highlighted earlier this year, he’s also a very effective passer in the high post, and he’s averaging a career-best 3.5 assists per outing. He can also be a keen rebounder, especially on the offensive end, where he times slashes to the hoop to retrieve misses, often dunking them for emphatic finishes. Those are the kinds of things he can do even when his shot isn’t falling, and make him just as valuable to the team as when he’s making threes. For whatever reason, though, his offensive game has been marked with forced shots, and even those that are good looks are often far off the mark. Those, in turn, sometimes appear to affect other areas of his play.

This also shouldn’t be construed as a call for a benching, or for Miles to stop shooting. If he’s open, he needs to take the shot. But he can’t devolve into a 3-point launcher only, and that has been an issue since the start of the New Year. In his best two shooting games of 2018 (Kansas State and Texas), he took just four threes, making one. But from inside the arc in those contests, he was 8-14.  Compare that with the other five games, where 29 of his 69 shots came from downtown.

Perhaps this is an extended cold stretch that will be offset by a better one in February. Miles has improved his free throw shooting dramatically, leaping from a 59.4% mark last year to 70.8% this season. That would seem to indicate there isn’t a problem with the mechanics of his shot, even taking into account the differences between free throws and jump shots. He’s taking his shots at the line with confidence, but that quality seems to be missing on many of his takes from the field. Whatever, the cause of the problems, though, one thing is for sure. West Virginia needs contributions across the board from the mercurial senior, not just 3-point attempts. When he’s in all-around form, WVU is usually very difficult to beat.