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MavKikiNYC
12-09-2003, 11:15 AM
Pistons Are Giving Milicic, Their Top Draft Pick, Time to Adjust
By CHRIS BROUSSARD

Published: December 9, 2003


Larry Brown was driving his car after winning his first game as coach of the Detroit Pistons. His point guard, Chauncey Billups, had scored 27 points, and his power forward, Ben Wallace, had collected 15 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Brown was feeling good.

But then he began listening to a sports talk radio station.

"One of the guys said we owe it to the fans to play Darko Milicic to see if he's a dog or not," Brown said. "I thought: `Wow, that's terrible. We owe it to our team to try to develop Darko, and that's hopefully what we'll be able to do.' "

The Pistons are two months into their development of Milicic, a neither surprising nor telling time frame. But in the age of the overworked promotion machine, the prep-to-pros star LeBron James and the seemingly playoff-ready Carmelo Anthony, two months seems more like two decades.

Milicic, a 7-footer from Serbia and Montenegro, was the second pick over all in last summer's N.B.A. draft. He was selected one slot ahead of Anthony, the sweet shooter out of Syracuse who some said could be better than James. Milicic has played a mere 17 minutes in the Pistons' first 20 games, and has committed three turnovers and six fouls.

He has scored no points.

To the shortsighted, he looks like a bust.

"The dilemma is that you see LeBron and Chris Bosh and Carmelo and Dwyane Wade and T. J. Ford and all those kids playing," Brown said, referring to the rookies who are starting for other teams. "So people are wondering, `What's wrong with Darko?' There's nothing wrong with him." The Pistons give a simple explanation for why Milicic is the only rookie among the top eight picks who is not in his team's rotation: He joined a club that advanced to the Eastern Conference finals last season, and the other rookies are playing for teams that are rebuilding.

"Darko's in the most unique situation of anybody that's been drafted in years, from the standpoint that he's coming in as the No. 2 pick and he's coming to a team that's good enough to win without him right now," said Joe Dumars, the Pistons' president of basketball operations. "So we don't feel any pressure — unlike the other 12 lottery teams — that we have to put our lottery pick out there right away. We're very comfortable with his development and with the way things are going right now."

Discounting Boston's 1986 selection of Len Bias, who died of a cocaine overdose two days after being drafted, one must go back to 1982 to find the last time a conference finalist had the luxury of a top-two pick. That year, the league champion Los Angeles Lakers drafted the Hall of Famer James Worthy at No. 1.

Worthy played immediately, but he was 21 and had three years of college experience at North Carolina. Milicic is 18 and adjusting to more than new teammates and a new league. He is also experiencing culture shock.

Milicic spent the past four years living in a one-room apartment with a bathroom and no kitchen in Serbia. Before that, he lived in a four-room house that his family had built in a rural part of war-torn Serbia. Milicic's mother actually paved the road that leads to the family's house.

"You should've seen him when we stayed in L.A.," Brown said. "He was looking around Rodeo Drive like he was in awe. He'd never seen anything like it. He was almost like a refugee in Europe. He's never experienced things like he's experiencing now."

Milicic now owns a spacious home in Rochester Hills, Mich., outside Detroit, but rather than relish his lavish surroundings, he often feels lonely.

"I don't like to be alone," Milicic, who speaks fluent English, said. "I like to be with somebody. For now, I'm alone, but some of my boys are coming from Serbia. They're going to be with me. My girlfriend goes to school in Serbia, but she's going to come here. My family's coming to visit me. That's going to be fun."

Milicic, who signed a three-year contract worth nearly $12 million, sends money to his family in Serbia and telephones them every day. What else does he do besides play basketball? "Sleep," he said. "Listen to music and sleep."

Musically, Milicic has become Americanized, even African-Americanized. While he still likes what he calls "Serbian country music," he usually listens to hip-hop.

"50 Cent, Eminem, Snoop Dog," he said.

Perhaps that is the influence of Billups, who picked up Milicic for practice every day until Milicic passed his driving test on Nov. 18. Wallace and Billups have gone out of their way to befriend Milicic.

"I see him kind of like a little brother," Billups said. "My main reason for really taking him in is because I know that my career could've been a little different and I could be overseas playing, and I would hope that somebody would help me out with the culture and everything. He's over here by himself, he's 18, he lives by himself. It's tough, for obvious reasons.

"Getting to know him, he's just a kid. He likes to joke around. He loves hip-hop."

Milicic still sees himself as a youngster. Asked last month if he felt like an adult, he said: "I don't think so. I think it's tough. Why? I don't know how I can explain."

While James and Anthony, who are already team leaders, may go along with traditional rookie hazing to avoid dissension, Milicic has no choice in the matter. He is treated like an old-school rookie.

"We'll stand at half court and see who's the first one who can hit a half-court shot," Wallace said. "Not for the sake of hitting the shot, but for the sake of making Darko go chase the balls."

Unlike James, who at 6 feet 8 inches and 240 pounds is already one of the league's biggest swingmen, Milicic has a build that betrays his youth, undoubtedly making his adjustment on the court tougher.

"He doesn't have hair on his body," Brown said. "You look at his chest, he hasn't filled out. He gets tired quick. Our trainer says his lung capacity is that of a young boy. So I can't imagine what he's going to be like in two years. He might be 7-3."

Whatever his height, the Pistons believe Milicic, who is listed at 245 pounds, will eventually live up to his billing. They all gush about his potential.

"He's really a freak of nature," Billups said. "He's so tall, but he can shoot the ball, he can dribble, he can find people. He's a great passer. He's tough, and he plays very, very hard. I tell people all the time that if he was on a team that won 17 games like Carmelo and LeBron, he would be playing and getting some numbers right now, too."

Like many European players, Milicic has great perimeter skills. Now Brown is trying to teach him to play inside. Brown told him he wanted him to play like Bill Russell, to which Milicic responded, "Who?"

"He has unbelievable skills on the perimeter, but at 7-0, 7-1, I don't want him playing like that right now," Brown said. "I want him to learn to be an inside presence, to think about rebounding, defending and having a low-post game. This is not an insult because Toni Kukoc is an unbelievable player, but I want him to play more like an inside player than Toni Kukoc. That's why I brought up the Bill Russell thing."

So Milicic spends much of practice on the low blocks, honing post-up moves and being pummeled by Wallace.

"He's really going to be good, you can just see it," said Bob Sura, a teammate. "Especially playing against Ben because Ben just kills him. He beats him up, slams him to the ground, blocks his shot. At first, Darko was kind of looking around like, `Where's the foul?' But now he just plays through it."

Billups said: "I tell him all the time, `Man, you're playing against Ben Wallace every day, you should never be nervous when you get in the game because nobody's going to guard you like that guy.' "

Because of the publicity he received before the draft, Milicic assumed he would play this season. He admits that it has been tough sitting on the bench, but Dumars and Brown have worked hard to reassure him. And lately, Brown has told Dumars that Milicic is close to being ready to play.

"We talked to him long and hard about it before the season started," Dumars said. "And we just keep reassuring him: `Hey, you're getting there. You're coming.' We show him Dirk Nowitzki's first year, when he averaged 8 points a game and everybody was saying he was a bust and trashing him. I showed him all of those articles. I said: `Hey, you're a talented kid. All these guys went through this.' Otherwise, you get an 18-year-old kid and he feels like, `Gosh, this happened to me and nobody else.' No, this has happened for years."

When asked if they would still take Milicic over Anthony, Dumars and Brown held firm.

"The club felt that this kid, maybe not for one or two years but maybe long range, is going to be a pretty special player," Brown said. "I think they thought, `Hey, how many times are we going to get a chance to get a 7-foot, 18-year-old who's gifted like he is?'

"Not one day goes by when I don't admire what Carmelo's doing, but that has nothing to do with how I feel about this young kid. I think he's going to be a pretty special player."

FreshJive
12-09-2003, 05:16 PM
Thanks for posting that one MavsKiki you always come up with the best articles, like the one about Chinese basketball. Keep it up.

madape
12-09-2003, 06:33 PM
If anyone really thinks that Josh Howard will be the third best player in this draft, just wait a couple of years. DARKO SMASH!

dirno2000
12-09-2003, 08:24 PM
They better hope he pans out. This is the kind of move that can follow a GM his whole career if doesn't. Carmello could have helped them this year and he'll still be a great player since he's only a year older than Darko.

Darko came to Dallas two years ago with the Yugo Global Games squad, but for some reason he didn't get off the bench. Chris Bosh (another possible point of consternation for mister Dumars) got the better of Nets #1 pick Nenad Krstic and won MVP of the event. I would have loved to se Darko go against Bosh.

kg_veteran
12-09-2003, 09:58 PM
Originally posted by: madape
If anyone really thinks that Josh Howard will be the third best player in this draft, just wait a couple of years. DARKO SMASH!

I'd settle for Josh being top 5 in this draft. i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif

Nash13
12-09-2003, 10:14 PM
Right now, the only two people i have above Howard is James and Bosh. Sure you could say Melo, but he's a scorer not shooter. Plus he takes a lot of bad shots.

Simon2
12-09-2003, 10:24 PM
Originally posted by: Nash13
Right now, the only two people i have above Howard is James and Bosh. Sure you could say Melo, but he's a scorer not shooter. Plus he takes a lot of bad shots.

You would take Howard over Carmelo Anthony? Howard may be mature and a good defender and all that but Mr. Anthony carried Syracuse to the NCAA title. He's a champion and a proven winner. I don't know I'd take him over Lebron James but Carmelo Anthony is the second best rookie in the draft.

Jamisonite
12-09-2003, 10:32 PM
I got 4 guys over Howard....Lebron...Melo...Bosh...Dewayne Wade(hes playing amazing)...TJ Ford is tied

dirno2000
12-09-2003, 10:35 PM
Originally posted by: Nash13
Right now, the only two people i have above Howard is James and Bosh. Sure you could say Melo, but he's a scorer not shooter. Plus he takes a lot of bad shots.

Howard takes bad shots also. Actually you could argue that his are worse since his team has better options. Why do you think he's only shooting 36%? On most nights, Denver needs Carmello to score. He's not just a scorer either. He averages 7 boards and 3 assist. I love Josh, but Mello is on another level.

Nash13
12-09-2003, 10:39 PM
Simon: Read the first two words of my post.

Jamisonite: I'd want both Ford or Wade as a back up instead of Best, but they cannot shoot. It is a bore watching a Heat or Bucks game. Ford turns the ball over too much at too many important times in a game.

Nash13
12-09-2003, 10:45 PM
Dirno, isn't Melo shooting 36% too? Howard could be doing the same thing if he took as many shots as Melo does.

Howard has been putting up decent numbers on a team with 5 high powered scorers. Melo would not be that good if he was on a team with more scoring options.

dirno2000
12-09-2003, 11:13 PM
He's shooting 40%, and who's supposed to take the pressure off of him? You put him on this team and he'd shoot an even higer percentage because he'd get better looks. The guy is just a natural scorer. I hope your not telling me that Howard is just as good of a scorer. I love what Josh brings to this team, but he's not a franchise player.

Nash13
12-10-2003, 12:27 AM
Melo ain't no frachise player either, he's not even the number one player on their team. Like you said Melo was all by himself at Syracuse, Howard was all by himself at Wake. He averaged basically 20ppg and 10rpg.

Efficiency wise, i think Howard has more to offer RIGHT NOW. Melo needs to score to have an impact in a game. Howard has been averaging about 10rpg in the past couple of games. Plus he can block, steal, and defend. That's the reason why he is on this team, that's the reason i think he's a better fit right now.

If Dallas never traded for Walker/Jamison, then i would've said Melo, but there's not need for not only another SF, but another scorer.

dirno2000
12-10-2003, 01:06 AM
Originally posted by: Nash13
Melo ain't no frachise player either, he's not even the number one player on their team. Like you said Melo was all by himself at Syracuse, Howard was all by himself at Wake. He averaged basically 20ppg and 10rpg.

He leads his team in scoring at almost 19 per game, he's 3rd in rebounding at 7 per game and he's 3rd in assists with 3 per game. He is their number one player.

Josh Howard took an underrated Wake team to the NCAA's as a senior. Carmello took an underrated Cuse team to the championship and led them to a victory over a team featuring two senior lottery picks…as a freshman!


Efficiency wise, i think Howard has more to offer RIGHT NOW. Melo needs to score to have an impact in a game. Howard has been averaging about 10rpg in the past couple of games. Plus he can block, steal, and defend. That's the reason why he is on this team, that's the reason i think he's a better fit right now.

Why do you keep saying all he does is score? Seven boards per game is good for a SF, and he's already averaging as many assists a Dirk.

Of course Howard is a more tenacious defender, what else does he have to do? That's his job. Mello's job is to go for almost 20 a night under one of the most intense rookie spotlights ever.


If Dallas never traded for Walker/Jamison, then i would've said Melo, but there's not need for not only another SF, but another scorer.

I'm not saying Camello would be better for this team, just that he's a better player right now and has more upside then Josh.

Dirkenstien
12-10-2003, 01:49 AM
I agree with dirno, there is no doubt that Melo has more upside than Howard.

Nash13
12-10-2003, 07:19 AM
Why do you keep saying all he does is score? Seven boards per game is good for a SF, and he's already averaging as many assists a Dirk.

Of course Howard is a more tenacious defender, what else does he have to do? That's his job. Mello's job is to go for almost 20 a night under one of the most intense rookie spotlights ever.

I would watch the Nuggets games, and when he's not trying to score on offense, he disappears from the game until he scores.

I see why some people want him on this team, but Howard feels a void i thought this team need, which is a solid back up at the two spot.

It comes down to if you want offense or defense.