Editor’s note: This piece is written by Tom Westerholm, one of Celtics Town’s new interns who are all plotting to take over the NBA world. He also writes for HowlinTwolf.com and HoopsAddict.com, and he clearly isn’t very fond of the disturbing thought that Darko Milicic might actually be on the Celtics’ radar. Follow Tom on Twitter @Tom_NBA, or may God have mercy on your soul.
If you want to apply as an intern, email me at jayking(at)celticstown(dot)com.
As a Timberwolves writer who is now a Celtics writer as well, I have an agonizingly clear understanding of Darko Milicic. I saw him arrive in Minnesota three years ago. I saw the Timberwolves offer him a contract that looked risky at the time and ridiculous two years later. I saw him slide from starting center to a regular “DNP- Coaches Decision.” I have seen the irrational hope (“Maybe Adelman’s coaching will turn him around!”), the unfulfilled promise (“If he just worked harder to get into the post, he’d be a much better player”) and the never-ending disappointment (“Dude, Darko really sucks”).
In short, I have witnessed Darko (always referred to by his first name), and I understand his dichotomies. Let me spell this out for you.
On the one hand: Darko is legitimately seven feet tall with incredibly long arms. He can block shots, and he alters shots close to the hoop. Furthermore, he has a nice tendency to block shots toward the center of the court rather than swatting them out of bounds, giving his teammates an opportunity to recover the rebound.
On the other hand: despite his considerable physical attributes, Darko is a terrible defender. Don’t allow his shot block totals fool you (3.0 per 36 minutes in 2010!), his Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) that same year was 107. To put that in perspective, the only team that allowed more than 107 points per 100 possessions THIS season was the Charlotte Bobcats, and their struggles have been well-documented. Also, like many inexperienced shot blockers, Darko has a tendency to bite on pump fakes. So after he blocks a player’s first shot, all that same player has to do to adjust is pretend to shoot, and Darko will be up in the air with absolutely no chance of making a good defensive play.
But Darko’s painful struggles on defense pale when compared to his offensive problems. When Darko entered the league, he was touted as a seven-footer with three point range, like Dirk Nowitzki with an N’Sync haircut. This was soon proved false. Darko couldn’t shoot from three point range, or really from mid-range, which would have been fine, except that Darko can’t hit shots close to the hoop either. Despite taking just 22 jump shots all season in 2012, his shooting percentage was .454, very low for a post player who doesn’t shoot from the outside.
Worse: he doesn’t really seem to care.
I was in attendance at a Timberwolves game last season that, quite frankly, defined Darko as an NBA player. In the first quarter, he went off. He had 11 points, all on shots close to the basket. He was using his size to get inside and his height to get shots off over defenders. He showed strength while scoring with contact. With every basket, the fans in attendance cheered– if not sarcastically, then perhaps sardonically– shouting that “HEY!” sort of cheer followed by a chuckle. It’s a cheer reserved for players who surprise you when they score, comparable to Kendrick Perkins, only if people had been spouting vitriol for Perk for two consecutive seasons. It’s a cheer that says “We know you suck, but thank you for that very minimal contribution to our team!”
Of course, these cheers may have changed into real cheers if Darko had continued to perform at that same level for the entire game. He didn’t. He scored one point the rest of the way, and his body language throughout never changed. It said “Look, I’ve made enough money to live more comfortably for the rest of my life than most of you will ever live at any point in your lives. And you know what my marketable skill was? I’m tall. I was born this way. I don’t have to try, and I’m well aware of this, so I’m not going to try unless I feel like it. I felt like it in the first quarter. I don’t now. Bite me.”
Or at least that’s how I read it. But in all fairness, I really don’t like Darko.
The Wolves discovered how effective a big man could be receiving passes from Ricky Rubio in Nikola Pekovic’s emergence last season. Darko never could have been Pekovic, not because he isn’t as talented (he might be more talented, actually), but because, quite frankly, he plays like he doesn’t care.
I’ve seen Celtics writers defending the idea of bringing Darko on board, saying that his defense and size might be a benefit to Boston. They won’t. I promise. He rarely scores, and for a seven footer, he’s a very mediocre rebounder (just over seven rebounds per 36 minutes), and the last thing Boston needs is yet another big man who can’t rebound. His height will take up a lot of room on Boston’s bench, and, best case scenario, he will receive sardonic cheers. Worst case scenario, Celtics fans, who are considerably less forgiving than Timberwolves fans, will see his apparent lack of work ethic and boo him into oblivion.
To clarify, because 900 words after starting this piece, you might be wishing for some clarification, my point is not that the Celtics should avoid signing Darko because he’s Manna from Hell. My point is just that if Boston signs him, it needs to be for very little money, and with expectations so low, they cannot be raised. Never underestimate Darko’s proclivity for disappointment on the basketball court.
You’ve been warned.