Monday, May 5, 2008

Season in Review: Darko Milicic

Darko Milicic finally got his shot at starting in the NBA. It wasn't pretty. Sure Darko had moments of brilliance but he sandwiched those around nights of complete ineptitude. Injuries played a huge roll in Darko's inconsistency but it doesn't explain everything. Darko shot 43.8% from the field, 55.4% from the line and grabbed only 6.1 rebounds per game. When you are talking about a 7-0, 275 pound center those are not good numbers.

The good news is that Darko is only 22 years old. To put that in perspective, Joakim Noah is older than Darko and averaged worse numbers as well. Heck, Darko even has better hair than Noah. To assume the past 4 years of disappointment means Darko can't improve is ridiculous. Consistency on defense and better shot selection on offense can improve the tenor of discussion about Darko immensely.

Darko opened the season with a strong effort against Tim Duncan and the Spurs. His 8 pts and 7 boards belittled the defensive impact Darko had on the game. He followed that up with another solid game with 9 pts and 7 rebs against Indiana's big line of Jermaine O'Neal and Greg Foster. Then Darko really started playing. He averaged 12.2 ppg and 9 rpg over the next 5 games while playing over 30 mpg. He was coming into his own and becoming a crowd favorite. Then came the Hornets game and Darko injured his thumb. It was a bad sprain and even Marc Iavaroni said that his was the type of injury that could affect him all season. How prophetic that comment seems now.

Darko rushed his return and in the 2nd game back he landed on the side of Joel Prybilla's foot spraining his ankle and sending him back to the infirmary. Again darko rushed himself back but the drop in production was dramatic. Thru the first 7 games Darko had not scored less than 6 pts, grabbed fewer than 7 rebounds nor played less than 28 minutes in a game. For the season Darko averaged 7.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg and 23.8 mpg. The drop off was even more dramatic than the statistics indicated. Darko had 2 double-doubles in the first 7 games. He didn't have his next double-double until January 8th.

Darko seemed to be regaining his footing in March when he averaged 9.8 ppg and 7.3 rpg but that isn't the type of production people envisioned Darko having at the beginning of the year for a good month of play. By that time many Memphis fans had already given up on the season in general and Darko in particular. The losing, injuries and the fans lack of interest all seemed to weigh heavier on Darko than most of the team. When the Serbian-Kossovo situation erupted, Darko took it more personal than one would expect from a professional basketball player.

Passion. That in a nutshell describes Darko better than anything else. He seems to feel more from external forces than a multi-millionaire professional athlete should. Bad calls affect him. Fans affect. World political events affect him. Most players in the USA today can't tell show you where Serbia is on a map much less Kossovo. Darko is passionate about so many things it seems to interfere with his ability to perform at times. When Darko scores early he likely will have a strong game. If he misses his first few shots it will be a long night as Darko seems to abandon any thought of shooting after a slow start. The thing most people must remember is that Darko is young and alone in the US. It probably isn't a coincidence that Darko had one of his best games (16 pts and 11 boards) against New Jersey who also start a Serbian center (Nenad Kristic).

Darko will enter next season in the middle year of his 3 yr contract with a single motivating image on improvement.

“I just have to try to be consistent…Playing back home or playing here, I’ve never been consistent. I’ve played games where I score a lot or rebound a lot then come back the next game and not do anything,” he said. “That’s always been my problem…I don’t know why, if it’s mental, not having enough concentration, or not having enough maturation, but I play up and down all the time. If I get that straight and play consistent all the time, (the big games) can happen a lot.”
So Darko knows what the problem is. The question now is can he fix it?

Darko is the 3rd Grizzlies player (Miller and Navarro being the others) expected to tryout for their national team this summer. Serbia however does not have an automatic berth in the Olympics. To qualify Serbia must perform well in the pre-Olympic tournament held in Greece. Some people may remember that Greece defeated Serbia in last year's European Championship and Darko had some rather inflammatory remarks about the officiating after the game. I imagine Greece will be less than hospitable to Darko when he plays. Serbia was a major disappointment last summer and looks to rebound this year. If they do then Darko may be playing nearly the entire summer for his country which may not be a good thing for the Grizzlies.

Darko has flaws in his game and needs to work on improving the areas of weakness. Unfortunately he may not have a lot of free time this summer to do that.

BallHype: hype it up!


Vlad said...

Just a quick correction, Serbia did NOT qualify for the Olympic qualifier. They did so poorly that they now have to qualify for the next Euro championships (next year), marking this the worst performance in about 60 years.

Serbia does have enough youth and second best talent to qualify without any of the bigger names, so I don't think Darko is playing for them this summer.

ChipC3 said...

Thanks for clearing that up and it is great news to hear that Darko may get the summer off from national team play.

Anonymous said...

As a greek, I can tell you that never will a serb be booed in my country. It wont happen. He can be ribbed during the game but hatred filled booing? Not happening.

Secondly, the tirade you are referring to can be found on and he was yelling about a 'c--t' of a referee who was italian, not greek so I dont see why greeks should be mad at that outburst (everyone hates italians in sports especially their legendary corrupt referees).
But hey, dont bother changing that paragraph. Its always nice to see how facts are never important.

As for the political question, you are stunningly naive. If someone came today and took the heart of Israel by force, tell me we wouldnt hear about it non-stop?
America funded the LARGEST terrorist group in the world according to the CIA in 1998, them bombed in support of these criminals. Its ok, after supporting Bin Laden and his muhajeddins in Bosnia, your country supported another bunch of criminals.
Imagine you were playing in a country where the 911 bombers where considered saints? How would you feel playing there? How would you feel if your homelands heart which has the most christian churches/monasteries anywhere in the world, some dating over 1,000 years was given away by a superpower for geopolitical reasons? With a million christian having fled, with another 200,000 jews, turks and other minorities and 300,000 gypsies over the past two decades, how would you feel?
Just because illiterate athletes dont know where Darko is from doesnt make it less important to him than Baraka Osama is to black americans.


So far from what I read is a young kid who has passion to burn and plays well against the bigs at his position. And he's 22?
He needs to play.... a lot.
Even before he came to the NBA he was 3rd center on his pro team from what all my friends told me and never played. This is probably the first season he has played ball in his life.
And we all know how long it takes to become an NBA center.
Show me the numbers of other 1-2nd year centers?
Tell me how that italian toothpick is doing in Toronto? I think they got him so Bosh could look bigger next to him.

And I guess soon enough Darko will learn that in the NBA, its not worth trying to fight through injuries because it lowers your stock to play hurt. Look at Jerome James... that's how you do it when you are in the L.

And what happened to D's offensive game? Wasnt he supposed to be a shooter? How do you forget how to shoot?

Anonymous said...

Dude what is your problem? Oh and by the way Darko will never develop into a starting center, he just doesn't have the talent, athletic ability, motor, or the drive for it. Plus he has been in the league for five years and developed his body and is strong now; he just isn't good, plain and simple.

ChipC3 said...

I thought I was writing a basically positive piece about Darko.

And please don't make reference to Jerome James and Darko again. Jerome James is a lazy slob who is content with sitting on the sidelines and cashing his checks. Darko is a passionate man who will work his butt off to improve and that is despite a seeming lack of local support.

the serbian swatter said...

While I totally agree with the first 'anonymous' blogger's political commentary, I'm not sure this is the place for it. I also agree that Darko is still just a kid, who has a ton of potential. The typical argument that Darko has been in the league for five years, and therefore is in his prime right now is inane. Regardless of the length of his NBA tenure, Darko is only 22 (he turns 23 in June). The past 5 seasons have been a great wake-up call, and he now knows exactly what he needs to do in order to be a top center in the league. Nobody who has seen Darko's 'big' games would disagree that he is physically gifted, and a force when focused. Additionally, many recent big men struggled early in their careers yet developed into high-level contributors.

Jermaine O’neal
Zach Randolph
Mehmet Okur
Andrew Bogut
Brad Miller
Rasheed Wallace
Tyson Chandler
Samuel Dalembert
Ben Wallace

However, Darko's grace period is close to over. He needs to get it together next year or even his biggest supporters will be forced to give up on him.