Darko Milicic: The Anatomy of a Perfect Draft Bust

Matt SheehanAnalyst IMay 18, 2011

CHICAGO - FEBRUARY 25:  Darko Milicic #31 of the Detroit Pistons shoots a free throw during the game against the Chicago Bulls on February 25, 2004 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Pistons won 107-88. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

You couldn’t find a more textbook bust than Darko Milicic, ladies and gentlemen, plain and simple. You couldn’t imagine a more perfect storm for a basketball team that is as deep in the pits as Detroit is today. You couldn’t waste a draft pick more than the Pistons did in 2003, and you certainly couldn’t have passed up more talent in any other draft in the last decade. So folks, I give you right here, “The Anatomy of the Perfect Draft Bust”.

Let’s start off before this draft even took place, shall we? Darko had the perfect frame and skill set to be the future of any NBA franchise. Standing at 7’0”, this Serbian center was toted to be an excellent rebounder, a great shooter from the inside and mid-range, and to top it off, he had footwork that could rival Irish tap dancers.

He was so promising overseas that he was projected as the number two pick not just by Piston’s GM Joe Dumars, but by nearly every mock draft and NBA expert as well. So, to pin this all on Dumars would just be irrational, because Milicic was supposed to be the greatest thing from Serbia since plywood. For a bust to be classified as legendary, you need to start off great on paper, and then tank in the end.

Now we’ll jump ahead to the draft, where the deed was done to perfection. Dumars did what he had to do, which was take the best available player on the board, even if did mean leaving exceptional talent behind like Carmelo Anthony and Dwayne Wade. It was hard to see talent go to other rosters, but knowing (or thinking) that you got the right guy to come to your city will have you licking your chops and bracing for a bright future. So, step two in achieving imperfection is actually ironic, because you have to make the perfect pick on paper in order to bust your draft pick.

Where do we go from here? Ah yes, the actual seasons of course! Here you have Detroit getting ready to see their new man in action, but in order to do so, the Pistons needed to be up 30 or more points with less than two minutes to play. You can say that they didn’t want to over-expose their young gun, or that he still needed some minor work done in practice, but bottom line is that he couldn’t play even when the spotlight was on him.

In 149 minutes in his rookie season, Darko put up 48 points (what Dirk Nowitzki put up in one game last night) and shot an awful .262 from the field. This is where you start to get an uneasy feeling in your stomach that maybe this player isn’t the real deal. Step number three in piecing together the perfect bust? Do the busting part, obviously.

It’s time to check up on the other players the Pistons passed on. Carmelo went on to win a Gold Medal with the USA national team in the 2008 Olympics, was selected to play in four all-star games, and is also considered one of the best offensive players in the game today. Chris Bosh tops Melo with six all-star game bids and has a gold medal from ’08 as well. D-Wade has an even better resume than both of them, with seven all-star appearences, a gold medal, and three all-defensive team nods. Oh yeah, he also led his team to an NBA championship.

What does Milicic have? Let me get back to you on that one. So, what exactly is step number four? Watching the players you passed up smile for the camera in their all-star photos and NBA trophy shoots.

Now people out there may say that Sam Bowie over some guy named Michael Jordan was the biggest bust ever, and I could see where they come from. The reason I think Darko paints the perfect picture for a draft mistake is because Darko ended up not being able to play, while Bowie’s career was quickly bogged down with injuries. Now I am certainly not saying the we would be comparing Jordan to Bowie today if it wasn’t for his injury, I’m saying that Bowie’s career was a bomb based off of a horrible string of injuries while Darko’s was due to a horrible string of play.

So, now you know the textbook way to scope a draft bust. If you can get a player that was widely predicted to be a phenom and then inexplicably bombed in his career, and pass up talent that ended up winning rings, medals, and honors, then, my friend, you have yourself a perfect draft bust! Just don’t expect to celebrate it too much.