Darko Milicic's Story... And His Possibilities As an Upcoming Center
If you are going to say something about 7 years ago, if your going to mention the words LeBron, Wade, or Melo or Bosh, click the back button right now as it has been said for 7 years already. ESPN said that Darko is playing like a near All-Star. Fantasy insider had their first 2 minutes dedicated to the former #2 pick in the 2003 NBA draft. The chat rooms with ESPN's analysts are lightening their grip on our famous KAAAAAAAAAAAAAHN, and the Wolves finally are reaping some benefits different from last year.
You have a young Michael Beasley who's averaging 22 points and 6 rebounds and shooting the ball very well so far this season. You also have the best rebounder in the game who's standstill mid range shot and 3-point shot in his prime can rival that of Dirk Nowitzki. If these guys are together and they have it going, it puts a ton of pressure on other teams to guard them both as they are interchangeable.
With the new "Twin Cities" (Beasley and Love), the Wolves have a duo to look forward too, and ooh it's a doozy. But what's missing at this point is that 3rd and 4th from your big 4 (if we're going by the Boston Celtics model). What the Timberwolves have is a possible #1 option on offense in Michael Beasley, and you have a possible 2-4 option with Kevin Love due to his ability to score without needing to handle the ball.
In enters Darko.
Understand that we aren't going to look at the 'media fact', we're going to look at the truth, and for the first time we're seriously going to look at his future. What the Timberwolves have is a relatively young (25 years old, 7-years in the NBA) 7-footer ( 7'1'') with the athleticism to match his size, one heck of wingspan and filled out frame, and instincts for playing defense. Take a minute and come back.
What will Darko be in 2-3 years?
Instincts I tell you.
That's what it's all about, Darko's instinct has never been there since coming to the NBA. Looking at him in the Euroleague's before he made the jump, Darko was running with the guards, shooting 3-point shots, even making plays with the ball. He was a do it all big, a true freak of nature, and some prior to the draft were saying you could even play him as a small forward. If this is the hype that surrounds you, and you know you have the talent to back it up, what would this do to you? Would it pressure you or build confidence in you? I think for Darko, it was a tremendous amount of pressure without any way to relieve it (playing time).
Let's try to understand it from Darko's point of view. From various interviews with Darko, you conclude that he was forced to make the jump at the age of 17 due to his former ballclub having financial problems. Considering the age? You are 17, moving to a new country! You haven't shaved, your probably still a virgin at this time, you just might have finished high school or your high school level education, you probably didn't have your driver's license, your a kid!
Some kid's do well in the NBA. LeBron James and John Wall are 2 guys that really took the league by storm as a teenager. As a kid, you go to a veteran world class organization at the time in the Detroit Pistons, and you get Larry 'Browned' (Larry Brown is known for never playing rookies and having a stern distaste for player development). So your team wins a championship (Darko 1, LeBron 0, just saying), your probably thinking, "now the pressure's off, and now maybe I can get some minutes to prove myself".
Absolutely not. To put it into perspective, Dwyane Wade played more minutes as a rookie than Darko played in his first 3 years in the NBA. That's 3 years of development that Darko didn't get, and that's unexcusable for a player that you chose to select 2nd in the draft. So the Pistons don't pick up his contract, and Darko ends up with the Orlando Magic.
In enters his first sign of life, in which he was playing with future superstar Dwight Howard. Dwight Howard played 2,600+ minutes in his rookie season. Darko played 1,177 minutes in his first 3 years in the NBA. Darko played a combined total of 110 games in an Orlando Magic uniform, logging 2,539 minutes, averaging out to be around 23 minutes a game, posting totals of around 8 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks. Slightly solid, but nowhere near #2 pick status.
In retrospect, the Magic weren't thinking Darko was a long term solution from the jump. It's been told by Darko that he's been lied to for years, and this is highly evidenced by the fact that when he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the worst team in the league in the 2009-2010 season, he refused to believe that even they would give him a chance. Talk about a lack of self confidence, talk about seriously doubting your future. Talk about being cheated, making the jump to the NBA because you were forced but blessed too, and all of a sudden you were lied to.
So his next journey lands him in Memphis. Maybe this is his time to really break out and really get some confidence in himself going. Darko plays nearly the same that amount of minutes, his stats are nearly the same. So what happened? Why was Darko not breaking out? Was it the system or the coach? Not enough touches? That team only won 22 games, lost 7 out of it's last 10, and were just dreadful? So this tells you one thing, that Darko wasn't comfortable in a Grizzlies jersey either, I mean we have seen him tear it open before. They decided that their future center was who? Marc Gasol.
So your first 3 teams refused to give you a serious chance. How would you feel? Let's look at it from another view point. Joakim Noah logged 20 minutes per game as a rookie, only logging 6 points and 5 rebounds per game. Thats 12 points and 10 rebounds per 40. That's not very good, but did the Chicago Bulls give up on him? No. He was probably told that he had a future in Chicago, and that's why his minutes increased by at least 5 every year. Considering the fact that Joakim didn't have the upside that Darko did, look at what he's doing now. Noah is averaging nearly 16 points per game to go along with 13 rebounds, and he also has played more minutes in his rookie season than Darko did in his first 3 seasons.
Think of it like this, Darko and Joakim are the same age. Joakim is in his fourth year, Darko is in his eighth. I assume Joakim will get better, maybe not 20-10, but around 18 and 14 for his prime, to go along with more blocked shots, steals and the alike. Why not assume Darko will get better?
He hasn't had a fair shot all the way around. I don't mean on the court, Darko has had some minutes, but mentality shot. Corey Brewer, forward of the Minnesota Timberwolves once talked about not playing well because he didn't knew how the organization viewed him as part of their future, evidenced by not resigning him by this past free agency deadline. To players, the offseason worries almost in some way carry over to the games (see LeBron James quits on the Cavaliers during the playoffs). Knowing that something as simple as this can screw up your play and confidence, what in the world did Darko go through?
One thing is for certain, the sky is the limit for Darko. There's no limit to what this guy can do once he get's his confidence, his agility, and his ego back. Looking at the past 6 games, logging 16 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 assists per game, it's highly evidenced that he's ready to take what's rightfully his. He's taking back his dignity, his inner baller, and his confidence.
No one on any given night can just outplay Tim Duncan and Pau Gasol. No one without serious talent will look good against those guys, not the way Darko looked. Yes, it's a small sample, but Darko has never been that good in a small sample.
His confidence is through the roof, he's blocking shots, smiling, running the floor, demanding the ball, and going to work on anybody that desires to challenge him. So looking at his potential, just based on confidence and skill set, it's absolutely easy to see why he was the #2 pick in the draft.
Where do you find a natural talented big man? Look at him overseas and what he did as a 17 year old. He played instinctively, extremely fluid, shooting the ball, creating his own shot and just making plays. There was no reason to think that he wouldn't be a superstar, and you will find it impossible to find one person that called Darko a bust before the draft. I repeat, it will be impossible to find one person that called Darko a bust before the draft.
Now Darko has his shot to be that guy that he wants to be. He for the first time has the green light from every one in the Timberwolves organization. The teammates are trusting him, Kurt Rambis loves running the offense through him, he's probably the captain of defense (Kurt Rambis has told the media that he wants Darko to 'anchor' their defense), the front office is sticking by him and we as Minnesota Timberwolves fans can't help but want the guy to succeed.
As of late, he's playing like a solid NBA center, and considering the depth of true centers in the NBA, that puts him in the top 20 I have to say. But his potential is far from fufilled. So that 4 year contract? If you ever wondered why the Wolves gave him a 4 year contract, here's probably their reason.
Year 1: Darko will start off slow, but will show enough flashes to justify the contract.
Year 2: Darko will start to prove in playoff contention that without a shadow of a doubt that he can actually play consistently.
Year 3: Darko will excel and show signs of domination for long stretches and garner all-star attention.
Year 4: You tell me.
Be clear that I am not saying that this will happen, but this is probably what the Timberwolves think. I'll tell you one thing, if Darko ever gets consideration, someone is going to have to give Darko an apology.
Thanks for reading!
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