Inside Darko's Head (part 96)

April 10, 2011

DENVER - Timberwolves center Darko Milicic is about to complete a season that he says is unlike any of his first seven in the NBA.Yet, many of the same questions remain about a player who played well against some of the league's best centers, and finished the season fifth in the entire league in blocked shots. "It wasn't great, but it was OK," Milicic said. "I feel much more comfortable playing basketball. I think this is the first season where I really believed somebody, really believed the people here. I think it's the first time I'm really looking forward to next season."

"He didn't have the season where he regained all of his confidence," Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said. "There's a lot more to his game that he didn't show this year."That's going to come over time. After having spent so many years whatever he went through to lose that confidence, it's going to take a while to get it back

I find this fascinating.

We start to delve into the inner psyche of Darko Milicic, a player, who, as everyone knows, was drafted second overall in 2003, when the other four top-five picks included LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony. Obviously, Darko didn't hold up his end of the bargain. Now that Celtic fans are forced to root for Dear Darko, I'm sure most of us are like, well, you weren't worth a #2 pick, but, you know, shake it off, and be productive like you were in 2010-11, and you'll be a folk hero in Beantown.

Starting with a "clean slate" sounds easy enough. But let's step into Darko's shoes for a minute.

Read this recent blip from a Celtic blogger:

Many times I have wondered if Darko Milicic has ever read a blog. Like, if he knows anything of the massive reputation he’s developed after almost a decade as the laughingstock of the Internet. Has he heard of Free Darko? Does he occasionally Google “Darko” and get confused when almost all the results are about Donnie Darko? Does he scroll through old RealGM forums on his Blackberry Torch in the bathroom, running the shower so his children can’t hear him cry? The only thing we can know for sure is that his web browser is Safari. The rest is a tantalizing mystery, never to be solved.

But if I had to guess, just based on his facial expressions when he plays, I think that he basically knows what people think of him. He always sort of looks like he’s built an emotional wall to keep out all his haters, and every reaction he has is some variation on angry—lots of air-punching and scary mugs. Basketball does not look like the funnest thing in his life. Could it have stopped being fun when he learned that basically everyone in the arena was laughing at him at all times? Doesn’t that seem kind of reasonable

I know some of this was meant tongue-in-cheek. But some of it wasn't. Either way, the underlying sentiments may shed light on the inner life of Darko, otherwise known as his psychological well-being. Read what I wrote yesterday about how things may snowball on Darko, then read the above blogger blip, and finally take note of what Darko said after his surprisingly productive season in 2010-11: "I feel much more comfortable playing basketball. I think this is the first season where I really believed somebody, really believed the people here. I think it's the first time I'm really looking forward to next season."

I don't think you simply shrug off being the #2 pick, disappointing several teams, and then being relegated to the bench just one season after showing some signs of life. I think the 2011-12 season may have conjured up some old ghosts that Darko has never fully put to rest. It sounds like Doc is giving Darko until January to settle in, figure things out, and accept a role where he can be consistent and productive.

I want to be optimistic. But at the end of the day, the best I can do is simply wait and see. I do think, however, we can put together a timeline of milestones for him. I'll do that next post.


Lex said...

Minnesota's Darko Milicic is raffling off his Detroit Pistons 2004 NBA championship ring and a pro-wrestling style title belt that Rasheed Wallace had made for every member of that team.

Milicic, who has thrown in an all-expenses-paid trip to the NBA Finals for good measure, is trying to raise money to send Serbian children with Batten Disease to China for stem-cell treatment. Batten Disease is a rare degenerative, terminal childhood disease that attacks nerve cells. And Milicic isn't feeling very sentimental about that ring obtained during his rookie season long ago. The belt, fashioned after those oversized pro-wrestling title belts, is another matter.

"It was a gift," Milicic said. "But I think (Wallace) is going to understand because it's going to go for a great cause."

Lex said...

T'WOLVES 109, PISTONS 99 Kevin Love had 27 points and 18 rebounds and Darko Milicic blocked a career-high seven shots to lead host Minnesota. Richard Hamilton scored 26 points and the rookie Greg Monroe grabbed 15 rebounds in his first career start for Detroit, which is 2-12 on the road. (AP)

Lex said...

A Scoring Burst

Having established himself among the elite shot blockers in the N.B.A. this season, Minnesota Timberwolves center Darko Milicic added a new element to his game recently: offense.

Scoring 20 or more points in three of the five games from Nov. 15 to 24 qualified as an offensive explosion for Milicic. In that span, Milicic, a former No. 2 overall pick, scored 90 points, surpassing the total of each of his first two professional seasons.

After the Pistons traded him to the Orlando Magic in the 2005-6 season, Milicic started to show signs of life. Playing 20.9 minutes a game off the bench, he contributed 7.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and an astounding 2.1 blocks a game. His 4.82 blocks per 48 minutes for the season was third in the N.B.A. among players averaging more than 10 minutes a game.

Lex said...

But the Pistons had a deep frontcourt, championship aspirations (they won the title in 2004) and a coach, Larry Brown, who preferred veterans. He also wanted Milicic to play in the low post, shunning his perimeter skills. Milicic played sparingly and not very well. His confidence plummeted.

''Everything was fun before I got in Detroit,'' he said. ''I was kind of lost for those couple of years.'' Since then, he has worked to adjust to more modest expectations and, he said, ''to get back that love for the game.''

When Milicic came to the N.B.A. from Serbia in 2003, he was regarded as one of the most promising young big men in Europe, with 3-point range, mobility and ball-handling skills. Most teams projected him as a high lottery pick.

Milicic dazzled Joe Dumars, the Pistons' president, during a private workout that spring. Glen Grunwald, who was the general manager of the Toronto Raptors at the time, was also invited.

''It was a fabulous workout,'' said Grunwald, who is now the Knicks' senior vice president. ''I do understand why Joe Dumars picked him second in that draft.''

Partner, Ryvin Wallace Group said...

Two more thoughts on Darko!

First, I wonder about his record in international play since joining the NBA?

You would think he would be more comfortable, but beyond his colorful YouTube tirade, I have no idea.

Second, I see many similarities to Kwame Brown. Drafted too high and not emotionally mature enough to withstand harsh criticism.

I think Larry Brown just demoralized Darko, much like Kwame was thrown to the wolves (Jordan and Collins).

It took Kwame years to contribute.

Lex said...

Yeah, the Larry Brown years sound brutal.

A quick look at the Kwamster's stats, and yup there are the magic numbers 8 and 6. A little lower than darko on blocks and assists.

I'm hoping darko's step backward last year was a blip on the radar and that he's back to being a solid contributor this year.

still only 27.

doc and kg on his side

at least initially

will be an interesting storyline to watch unfold

Lex said...

27 and minimal mileage for this long in the nba.

That will help too

FLCeltsFan said...

He's only 27 and getting yet another new start. But this one may be different. Doc is different. KG is different. The Celtics are different. If any team can give him a fresh start, it's Boston.

FLCeltsFan said...

Good Guy selling his ring and belt to help kids.

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