The best thing about being tall, at least semi-talented, and relatively young in the NBA — well, besides the obvious — is that somebody is always willing to take a chance on you.
Exhibit A would be Darko Milicic. By almost every measure, Darko’s career has been a complete bust. He’ll never live down the fact that he was drafted ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in the ’03 Draft. (Even second-round pick Matt Bonner has provided more bang for the buck than Darko.) And while the Big Four of that ’03 class, which also includes LeBron James, have gone on to win NBA championships, Olympic gold medals, MVPs and scoring titles, Darko has career averages of 5.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. At his best he’s been a decent backup center, but for the most part has been a regular punchline.
Still, Darko is on his fifth NBA team for two reasons: First, because four other teams gave up on him, but more importantly, because he’s 24 years old and seven feet tall, meaning another chance is right around the corner.
But maybe he won’t need one now. Since coming to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a mid-season trade, Darko has actually been pretty solid. Although the Wolves have lost 12 of the 13 games Darko has appeared in with them, he’s averaged 6.2 points and 5.8 rebounds as a part-time starter. Against the Lakers over the weekend he put up 16 points and 12 boards; in another game he scored 12 against San Antonio; and he had 12 rebounds against Denver. Five times he’s pulled down eight or more rebounds, and three times he’s blocked three or more shots in a game with Minnesota. And one night against Dallas, coach Kurt Rambis kept Darko on the court in crunch time over double-double machine Kevin Love because he felt Darko had a better chance at guarding Dirk Nowitzki effectively.
When he was rotting on the Knicks bench earlier this season, Darko seemed like a lock to leave the NBA behind after his contract ran out this summer and return to Europe. But now he’s thinking of sticking around, even settling down in Minnesota.
“All I’m looking for is a good chance to play,” Darko told the St. Paul Pioneer Press recently. “If they tell me how I fit in, I’ll come back. I like it here.”
Darko is never going to be an All-Star, and he might not even be a solid NBA starter. But there is a place for him in the League. After all, he’s still tall, he’s still somewhat talented, and he’s still young.
What is Darko’s ceiling as an NBA player at this point? Would you want him on your team for the right price next season?