“And with the second overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft, the Detroit Pistons select … Darko Milicic.”
Words that will live in infamy for Pistons fans. Darko was notoriously taken right behind LeBron James and ahead of the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
And in case you haven’t heard, Milicic hasn’t exactly lived up to
the hype. In his six years in the league, Darko has put together career
averages of 5.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game with the Pistons,
Magic and Grizzlies. His best year was the 2006-07 campaign with
Orlando, when he averaged 8.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 80
In other words, Darko is the biggest international bust this side of Nikoloz Tskitishvili.
Or is he?
A lot of people forget that Darko is still young. The guy is only
24-years-old, six months younger than LeBron. And he just might have
found the perfect system with the New York Knicks.
No, this isn’t a joke.
The Knicks play Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun,
offensive style. It’s a system that relies on fast breaks, quick
thinking and good passing. And it can turn the right style of player
into a statistical juggernaut.
Just look at Al Harrington. The guy averaged 13.6
points per game with the Warriors during the 2007-08 season. The next
year, he came to the Knicks, and all of a sudden he was putting up a
career-high 20.7 points per game.
Coincidence? Not likely.
It’s not an accident that players often have career years under D’Antoni. It’s why Shawn Marion has never played as well as he did in Phoenix, and it’s why Steve Nash is a two-time MVP.
And believe it or not, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that
Darko undergoes a Harrington-like transformation. He doesn’t have the
three-point stroke that Harrington does — which was a big part of his
success in New York and D’Antoni’s offense — but the guy does have a
mid-range shot (seriously, stop laughing).
That’s part of why he was drafted so high in 2003 … that, along with
his athleticism, his ability to see the floor and his generally high
Those are all the ingredients necessary to succeed in D’Antoni’s
system. The Knicks coach employs a more European brand of basketball,
emphasizing decision-making and a willingness to get up and down the
floor — things that Milicic has always been able to do.
And with Darko now developing into the physical specimen that many believed he could be, with the strength to tear his game jersey Hulk Hogan-style, maybe a breakout isn’t that far away.
Darko was never given a chance in Detroit. Getting five to 10
meaningless minutes in less than half of the team’s games is not the
right way to develop a player.
In subsequent years, Milicic received more of an opportunity, but
teams were still too quick to give up on him. During the learning phase
of his career, Darko has frequently had to adjust to new teams, new
coaches, new cities and new opponents.
Maybe that’s no excuse for his failure to date, but teams should have known what they were getting into with him.
Darko was a project from the moment he was drafted. A project that
required time and patience, not relatively quick stops at each new
It’s not hard to look at Milicic and see that all the pieces are there — it’s just a matter of how to arrange them.
In New York, Mike D’Antoni might just complete the puzzle.