In Which The Chickens Come Home To Chain-Smoke
I may as well admit it now since it’s the truth and I haven’t had cause to address it before on this blog: the last time I sports-blogged, I sure was a big ol’ Darko Milicic fan right around the time he was drafted. What can I say? Lots of kids have tried something when they’re young- you’re quietly reading the newspaper or a Chad Ford column, and all of a sudden someone says “hey man, come on…we’re gonna try some Serbian Center over at the Number Two Draft Slot…everyone’s talking about it.” And you’re curious, and it doesn’t seem like it’ll be harmful…maybe just this once….
Yes, well. Needless to say, that didn’t quite work out as I or Pistons fans had hoped. Fortunately it doesn’t appear to have been a gateway drug, at least for people who didn’t graduate to Tskitishvili. But now it appears my little youthful indiscretion has begun to haunt me, as the Knicks have traded for Donnie Darko. With apologies to Memphis fan, this will be done from a purely Knicks-centric viewpoint- I wish Q Rich all the best in Memphis, but let’s be real: neither you nor I give a honk about the Grizzle, no matter how many other enormous centers they may have. One thing which should be kept in mind here is that while Q became a bit of a fan favorite at times last year, the Knicks really haven’t given up much- money wise it’s a wash, both guys are in the final year of their deals, and Q only had a partial bounce back from his back problems last year to be essentially replacement-levelish (11.62 PER) instead of totally abject (8.72). He’s a 29 year old who plays like a 35 year old and while his shooting was useful in the D’Antoni system, it’s hardly irreplaceable on a team full of conscienceless chuckers especially with Danilo Gallinari behind him (And Wilson Chandler in front of him) needing some minutes at the 3. If anything that need is even more pronounced with the Knicks drafting another 4 in the lottery tonight, closing off that avenue to get him in the game.
So we’re left with Darko. He’s got a well-deserved reputation as an awesome draft bust, but heading to his 4th team in the league already at age 24 the question isn’t really the gap between expectations and reality anymore but simply what he can contribute next season and what the odds are that he’ll be worth resigning afterwords. I freely confess to not having seen all that much of him of late since the Grizzle are never on national TV and the wrong conference for me to have seen them much against the locals, so I’ll be seeing what tale statistics can tell. First, the broadest brush: his PER last year was 13.82, third highest of his career, and he posted his best ever TS% (53.3%), his best rebound rate (15.7), and cut down substantially on turnovers (12.2 turnover rate, lowest of his career as well, from 14.2 the previous year). So far as I can tell from ESPN, the major reason he didn’t post his highest PER was a decline in his usage and assist rates, which suggests he took a more peripheral role in the offense overall, but was more likely to shoot and more likely to do so effectively when he did get the rock than previously. That’s good so far as it goes; the downside is that he was 42nd in the league among centers in PER, 43rd in TS%, 32nd in rebound rate, and 28th in TO rate. That’s less good, and bespeaks his profound average-to-mediocre-ness. On the bright side, he has a decent defensive reputation, marred only by highly variable attention and effort levels. Can’t imagine why he didn’t pan out. More generally again, he was 3rd on Memphis in 2 year Adj.+/- at a whopping -0.88 according to basketballvalue.com. His Win Shares last year were 1.9 according to basketball-reference.com. More specifically, 82games.com reveals a weird gremlin in his stats noticed by Ted Nelson at Knickerblogger in which he as a 7 foot center somehow managed to get 15% of his jump shots blocked last year, which begs many questions. Beyond that there’s not much more to say, really; the story of his career is ultimately that there’s not all that much there there- whatever your metric of choice, the basic outlines are the same: a mediocre backup center with questionable attention from play to play, game to game and year to year, who somehow managed to set several statistical bests last season which carried him all the way to below average in those categories. I was a lot more excited before I dug up the numbers, let me tell you.
How will he fit into the Knicks system? Hell if I know. He’s a terrible free throw shooter and his eFG% on jumpers last year was .333 including that oddball blocked rate so whatever his rep long ago his NBA career hasn’t demonstrated him to be much of a shooter. He’s still young and relatively athletic, so he should be able to get up and down the court at least and stick with the offense. He might help on defense, though I don’t know that Mike D’Antoni is the coach best suited to keep him focused on that end. All in all he’s essentially a spare part to the Knicks. There’s a Walsh quote floating around about his high post game complimenting Curry’s low post game, but for the moment I’m sticking my fingers in my years and saying la-la-la-can’t-hear-you in regards to the prospect of those two playing together. I advise you to join me.
So, here’s my worry: David Lee is a RFA right now. The Knicks just traded a wing for a minutes sponge backup center, drafted a power forward in the lottery with a game described as somewhat similar to Lee’s with an emphasis on rebounding, and still have the probably untradeable abomination of Eddy Curry’s contract to deal with for two more seasons. It’s hard not to see a message in this about their intentions towards Lee. I have to sit down and really think out whether or not I believe signing Lee to a new deal is worth it or not with the summer of 2010 looming, but it’s hard to shake the sense that acquiring Darko along with the rest of the night’s events suggests that Donnie Walsh has already done his thinking and come up with a negative answer. Donnie from the Bronx most definitely has the balls to let his best player walk if he thinks that’s the correct move; if that’s what this amounts to, let’s hope he’s right.
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