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.