It’s sad when a lofty draft pick doesn’t work out. Players can become more synonymous with the word “bust” than Pamela Anderson and her Baywatch pals (yes, I’m taking it old-skool), despite none of it being their own making.
In the case of Darko Milicic, he didn’t force the Detroit Pistons to choose him with the second pick of the 2003 NBA draft ahead of guys like Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade.
In fact, had he been given the choice of not having all that pressure, we all know he would have taken it. But that was the Piston’s decision. A horrible decision that had they got right, could have meant folks in Miami wouldn’t be so happy this summer, but lets not get into that tired subject.
Milicic is definitely not the worst player to be picked second in the NBA draft, not that he’s had much chance to prove it—and after changing teams like it was going out of fashion, he seems to have finally found an organisation that wants him: the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Say what you like about Milicic, you don’t get to be the second pick in the NBA draft without showing some promise. Although he may not be the best rebounder, he can defend, and is a better passer of the ball than your average big man. For him, the Timberwolves represent, in his own words, a “fresh start.”
Some laughed when he was offered a four-year, $20 million contract in the summer, but it was a cunning investment. He was acquired cheaply, can give the young guys at the Timberwolves a lot of advice, and his salary is far below the average for a starting center in the NBA.
His performances—while not fully fit—at the end of the season showed a lot of promise. Playing with another Eastern European big-man in Nikola Pekovic can’t hurt either.
He also hopes to return to the style of play that got him drafted so highly, and get more points on the board. He told Slam: “I used to be offensive, I used to be a three-point shooter. So for me, I’ve just got to switch the flip and have that offensive mind-set. It’s what I used to do before I got to the NBA, and it’s what I’m going to try to do again.”
Buoyed by victories in Europe against the Lakers and the Knicks, the younger players on the squad might begin to let their egos take hold of their game. The same can’t be said for an admittedly more comfortable and secure Milicic, who will also be able to help Ricky Rubio acclimatise when he comes to Minnesota from Spain.
Remembering last season, he says philosophically, “I don’t think anybody on this team wants to go through that again. We know everything isn’t going to turn around over night, but we will try and take it step by step.”
While he probably won’t have the same kind of season those drafted around him in 2003 will have, this could still be the best season of Milicic’s NBA career.