Thursday, February 7, 2008

Darko's Redemption

He is still just 22 years old. He is still 7 feet tall. He is still very skilled for his size. However, his name is still Darko Milicic and he is still considered one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history. Ok, Mike Kahn says the biggest bust since 2001. However, playing in virtual NBA obscurity in Memphis, Darko Milicic is starting to slowly become the player Joe Dumars envisioned taking over for Ben Wallace.

Early in Memphis Darko established himself as a superb one on one defender of big post scorers against the like of Tim Duncan and Yao Ming. However, an early season injury to his shooting hand left Darko struggling to be able to grip the ball and make clean catches. Darko tried to play through the injuries and looked every bit the bust as he came back slightly heavy and bobbling entrance passes and rebounds at almost every turn.

Darko started the season off averaging 10.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in just 29 minutes before his thumb injury against New Orleans on November 16th. He returned from injury the first of December and he was not the same player. His stats took a noticeable dive and so did his minutes. Memphis fans began to think they had been sold the same pig in a poke that Detroit and Orlando fans had bought.

At the end of January, Grizz mainstay Pau Gasol began to have back pain. Unfortunately, the first two games that Gasol sat, Darko was not able to take advantage. However, on January 30th against reigning defensive player of the year Marcus Camby and the Denver Nuggets, Darko had perhaps his best game in a Memphis uniform. He posted 14 points, 16 rebounds (7 offensive) and 5 blocks while almost helping the depleted Grizzlies knock off the Nuggets. On February 2nd against the equally good frontline of the Utah Jazz, Darko was one of the lone bright spots after posting his first career back-to-back double double with 12 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks.

So Tuesday marked a big night for Darko.

With Kwame Brown joining the Grizzlies, Darko was able to look into what could be his future. A former high draft choice that is unable to make his mark in the league during his second NBA contract. Brown will be lucky to play for the veteran minimum with his next team. Darko really has two and a half seasons to prove that he can become a credible NBA center. Nobody at this point expects him to fulfill his enormous draft day promise.

On Tuesday night facing former #1 overall pick Andrew Bogut, Darko turned in another worthy performance. He posted 11 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks. Are the numbers eye popping? No. However, Darko is quietly turning in some very quality performances especially for a 22-year-old center. Darko needs to continue posting consistent efforts for the Grizzlies to get back to being a playoff team.

Coach Marc Iavaroni has a reputation as a big man’s coach. Amare Stoudemire always credited Iavaroni with a big part of his development in Phoenix. A lot of Iavaroni’s future success in Memphis is dependent upon Darko’s development as an anchor to the Grizz running game on offense and defense. So far, it looks like Iavaroni’s extra work with Darko is paying off in on the court performances. Next up…the win-loss column.

BallHype: hype it up!


Ronan said...

Darko has outstanding tools but displays a worringly low basketball IQ. You can appreciate he is under pressure to deliver but forcing turn around jumpers in the first few possessions of a game is a sign he is not listening to his coaches. He is an unreliable free throw shooter and he has an ability to put up high personal fouls numbers in a few minutes. He is a great shot blocker, which is nice as everyone in th league tries to dunk on him. The grizz currently have no offensive game at the 4. You would have hoped Hakim Warrick steps up but Im not holding my breath. Will Darko break 50% in FG% or FT% Will he stop colossus Mike Miller's attempt to be our leading rebounder by season's end? This Gasol trade is just killing me........

AussieGfan said...

Injuries or not Darko hasn't delivered, but as you said he's had some good showings in between the injuries, and especially early on looked quite good. I got to see the game on TV (the only Grizz game Ill get to see all season via Aussie TV) and he was ok. You pretty much hit the nail on the head with what you said. Nothing further your honor.

And what you said about Kwame, I wish you hadn't, I had forgotten about the raping for 40 secs and now its all come flooding back again. :(

Tim said...

I hope your right and i think you are. I think he can totally come around and become a good center in this league. Darko is also my favorite player on the team, i dont know why either i just like watching the guy play for some reason. And its hard to explain to people why his is but if he keeps getting double doubles every night it might not be as hard to convince people.

Ricky - Sixers4guidos said...

keep the Darko posts coming...

I am of serbian descent and love your coverage. I'll wait a least one more year to label him as a bust. let's hope he gets at least at a Joe Smith level, and not the serbian Kandi-man

ChipC3 said...

Big test for Darko this weekend with Dampier and Diop Friday night followed by Tyson Chandler, who busted his thumb earlier in the season that directly led to his poorer play, on Saturday.

the serbian swatter said...

Forcing turnaround jumpers? Low basketball IQ? Hmmmm...

I'm pretty sure Darko has never taken turnaround jumper in his life, and the low-basketball-IQ criticism is a new one. The old criticism of Darko used to be that, while he is very talented and has a HIGH basketball IQ, he is too soft to play in the NBA. Once it became apparent that Darko is actually on the upper echelon of physicality, can play shut down post defense, and average around 2 blocks per game, we started to hear how it is his sour temperament and relative lack of confidence that have stunted his offensive development. With that line of attack appearing to be without merit, I guess it makes sense that those who just seem to hate Darko would find another baseless criticism.

Darko is taking more shots because Iavaroni want him to. Without at least a semblance of a post offense, our shooters will never get open. Now that Darko is healthy and unfettered, give him a f@cking chance.

Ronan said...

serbian swatter,

Thankfully he doesnt take turn around jumpers that often which is why I was surprised to see him attempt one. Maybe Darko has a high basketball IQ (although Id be careful how much you put into Chad Ford's analysis) but he has been making poor basketball decisions this season. Maybe our definition differs? He has been forcing things on the offensive end and while Im sure Iavaroni has been encouraging him to become more involved he wont have been telling him to do what he's been doing. Taking low % shots when an extra pass will give someone else a better look. Go back over the first quarters of a few games this season and tell me I'm still imagining things. My criticism is based on what Ive seen. Darko has had chances to be a success in the league and he hasnt delivered yet. It hasn't always been his fault but a lot of the blame rest on his large shoulders. Am I wrong in saying his FT% is appalling, is his FG% not low for a player who makes his living under the basket. Do personal fouls not limit his playing time? Should a seven footer not be pulling down more boards? Im a memphis fan. I hope he turns it around (as long as he doesnt take a jump shot in the process) but to suggest I hate the guy? Im afraid you are the one posting groundless criticisms.

Yes, Im painfully aware that gaping hole in the forward lineup will make life more difficult for the perimeter players to get good looks but I dont want to bring up the Gasol trade......

the serbian swatter said...


Thanks to NBA League Pass and Tivo, I have watched every game Darko has played in since he got traded to Orlando from Detriot. While that makes me a weirdo, it also gives me total confidence that you are not the keen observer that you proclaim to be.

1) Darko has not taken a jump shot, much less a turnaround jump shot in approximately the past month. I guess you could be confusing a Brian Cardinal jump shot for a Darko jump shot, but I won't give you the benefit of the doubt. I get the feeling that you just want to make your point, and lying makes it more plausible.

2) It is ridiculous to conjecture that Darko's unblockable lefty hook shot from close range is a low % shot. Given his size, and relative athleticism, he should be encouraged to practice his post moves in game situations. Darko is on the cusp of really being dangerous offensively.

3) I completely disagree that Darko isn’t passing out of the post well. It’s really just a matter of opinion, given the dearth of passing-related statistics relevant to post players.

4) You are quite wrong to suggest that Darko's season-average FG%, FT%, and RPG statistics are representative of his demonstrated ability. When you restrict the sample to the pre-injury (ie prior to the 11/16/2007 NOH game, where Darko severely sprained his shooting thumb), post-Pau time period (ie the past 3 games since Pau didn’t play against DEN on 01/01/2008), Darko's stats are as follows:

GP: 10
MPG: 32.8
FG%: 51.6%
FT%: 53.1%
RPG: 9.90
AST: 1.10
STL: 0.50
BLK: 2.30
TO: 2.30
PF: 3.10
PTS: 11.50

While not the statistics of an all-star, they are fantastic for a 22-year-old center, and certainly grounds to cut Darko some slack. The more Darko is allowed to develop, the better the Grizzlies will be. Thank God, Iavaroni seems to grasp this.

Ronan said...

Great stuff,

1) I dont think Im lying but seeing as you've a feeling that I am then I dont know how to argue against it. I suppose the burden of proof should be on me for this one but Im not going to inflict pain on myself by watching games with Gasol in them. Maybe Cardinal was wearing a wig and platform shoes that day.....

2) "unblockable lefty hook shot" A few issues here....Are you suggesting this is the only shot he takes? Can you show where I have suggested this shot in particular is a low% shot? While it may be unblockable it may still be a low % shot depending on where he takes and the positioning of the defence. More importantly it effectively becomes a low % shot when he cant make it consistently. Im not say ing he doesnt...just throwing it out there...

3)Fair point about the stats, I suppose assists numbers might be of use here but darko's underdeveloped post game is unlikely to encourage help defenders to collapse. The perimeter shooters rarely benefit. Again Im going on what Ive seen.

4) Outstanding. Has the Chris Wallace school of statistics offered you tenure yet? If we ignore all of the bad stuff then his numbers look better. Cant argue with you there. I didnt see the game last night but I'm sure the boxscore isn't truly indcicative of his contribution. 2 of 8, 6 rebounds in only 25 minutes. Great numbers for a 22 year old. He didnt miss a single free throw! Now the nay sayers will say that this is because he didnt take any but the numbers dont lie...Small sample sizes are limited in what they can tell us. Judging a player on one game wouldnt be fair would it? Using a ludicrously small sample size for a player drafted nearly five years ago.... well thats perfectly reasonable. Isnt it?

Finally, Id like to stress again that Im a grizzlies fan and Id love to see darko become a dominant force in the post. Im probably going to reserve the right to criticise flaws in his game as I see them for now though. So apologies in advance to all darko fetishists. Its nothing personal.