Archives For Darko Milicic

Photo by id-iom

One of our culture’s great coups has been to extend the deep allure of celebrity to the everyday. It’s not enough to appear pristine and beautiful in films or photographs, or even on red carpets; there is now an aesthetically polished, celebritized way of doing things like sitting in a restaurant, gossiping about your terrible friends, holding your Starbucks cup, getting into and out of cars. But when you see it up close, outside the carefully crafted lens of TV and awesome magazines, that seamless celebrity world comes unglued. The polished spectacle starts to look as depressing and boring as it really is.

One sight of Kim Kardashian at the Target Center on Saturday should have made that fact even plainer. Even a person as apparently superficial and un-serious as our Kim, whose only real work seems to be making her life appear to be as charmed and sumptuously fascinating as possible, sometimes finds herself in chilly, thinly lit Minnesota, watching some dull, uninspired New Year’s Day basketball.

That Kris Humphries, local MN legend, magnificently biceped Ken doll and Kim’s reported gentleman-friend, has a starting job for the New Jersey Nets should give one a clue to just how thin that team’s roster is. The Nets are still languishing in their post-Kidd/Frank, post-beautifully-impossible-LeBron-fantasy, pre-Brooklyn purgatory; at the moment they are a decidedly terrible basketball team. And much of Saturday’s game was played like the dreary, sparsely attended, hungover contest between sub-mediocre teams that it was.

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My interview with Kevin Love was another treasure trove that I couldn’t really find a place for. Picture: an insanely cold day. Me drinking tea at the Starbucks across from the Target Center. A very tall man sitting across from me at an embarrassingly small table answering my questions–about his role on the team, his relationship with Kurt Rambis and the entire controversy over his minutes–with candor and good humor. I appreciate that.

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Another game slips through the hands – or paws – of our mighty Wolves.

But it allows me to get into the topic of plus/minus, which is sort of fascinating to me. Whenever someone asks me what I think of the plus/minus stat, I always answer that it’s just as useful as points per game in evaluating players. The guinea pig for that comparison is last year’s Monta Ellis. 2009-10 Monta Ellis scored a career-high 25.5 points per game, and yet was a complete albatross on the court for the Warriors.

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Far be it from me to add to the city of Cleveland’s misery. It should be enough that their former hometown hero tortured and betrayed them on national television, and then returned home to throw chalk in their faces and mercilessly demolish their team. I’d like to think that we Wolves fans can sympathize a little. But our great divorce was amicable; and our emotional investment, by definition apparently, can’t possibly rival Cleveland’s passion and majestic suffering. None of this, however, can change the fact that the Cavs just lost by 34 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Just another cruel humiliation to add to the list. Sorry guys.

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Photo by Rubyblossom

Two new internet sightings caught my attention recently. The first is an acidic little number by Matt Moore at ProBasketballTalk. It’s sort of a dark Socratic dialogue riffing on Darko’s recent resurgence. The piece is called “Three Good Games from Darko Justifies the Kahn Era…or Something”. Let’s take a peak:

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photo by saxuet

Blaming the refs usually is the last vestige of the clueless and a certain indicator of denial, but I have to say it. The Wolves was robbed. When Gary Neal kicks his leg out during follow through and clips Wesley Johnson, it shouldn’t be chalked up as a “rookie mistake” by Wes, but a bad call. It can’t be taken back, but it should at least be acknowledged.Right?

We all know that the NBA rule book is little more than a series of suggestions and those rules vary wildly dependent on the circumstance. Amongst others, there’s star calls, rookie calls and most notably last second calls (or non-calls). A rookie rewarded with three free throws after a desperate heave (on the road, no less) is unquestionably a deviation from the norm. Neal missed and the game should’ve essentially been over, along with San Antonio’s 11 game winning streak.

Instead, we got overtime and ten seconds into that, the Wolves was robbed again.

I can’t believe I’m even saying this given his play over the past few weeks-not to say anything of his play over the past several years-but if Darko Milicic doesn’t foul out of that game, Minnesota wins. Crazy, right? But don’t believe me, or your own lyin’ eyes, take it from a pro. I asked Greg Poppovich about Darko’s latest shocker postgame.

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Lakers drown Wolves

Myles Brown —  November 20, 2010 — 1 Comment

photo from natural touch

Surely this is a tired angle, but it’s true nonetheless.

If there was ever promise to be shown in a 17 point loss, last night our Wolves managed to do so against the Lakers. Moral victories may not appear in the standings, but they do provide the necessary motivation to push through a rough schedule and Kurt Rambis’ postgame comments spoke to as much.

“Well obviously that wasn’t the result that we wanted, but I thought our guys did a really good job for a vast majority of the ball game. We stuck to our game plan, we got the shots that we wanted, we just couldn’t make shots. And they’re a team that can take your defense-your good defense-and make a shot that can turn your defense into nothing.”

This is unquestionably true. Los Angeles not only features the virtuoso Kobe Bryant, but a cavalcade of talented postmen and dead eye shooters who all maintain the savvy and selflessness to compensate for the occasional off night from a teammate. That’s exactly what happened on this particular evening. Despite a debatable shot selection from Kobe and one of the poorer outings I’ve seen from Pau Gasol since donning the purple and gold, the Lakers still coasted through this matchup thanks to the heady play of their bench, particularly Matt Barnes.

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Lost in the the euphoria over Kevin Love’s 31-31 game and the Wolves’ recent two-game winning streak, plus the carnival of horrors that preceded all of this has been the fact that the Wolves have been fairly well carved up by injuries. Because of mostly solid work by Sebastian Telfair, Luke Ridnour and Wesley Johnson, the absence of folks like Jonny Flynn and Martell Webster hasn’t had had an obvious impact. (Although, two things: first, this team is 30th in offensive efficiency and 23rd in defensive efficiency so it’s not like things have been humming along without a hitch. Second, I suspect we’ll only understand the full importance of Webster’s loss after he returns.) But the real impact of these injuries hasn’t been on the starting lineup; its been a huge loss of depth on the bench.

Deep Tracks

To wit: earlier in the year I speculated about this hypothetical second unit: Ridnour, Johnson, Corey Brewer, Anthony Tolliver and Nikola Pekovic. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? But because of the aforementioned injuries, plus bumps suffered by Ridnour, Pekovic and Wayne Ellington, the Wolves sported this illustrious fivesome in the first half of Sunday’s game in Atlanta: Brewer and Tolliver with Lazar Hayward, Sundiata Gaines and Kosta Koufos. Now, that would be a pretty wicked D-League starting five but it seemed like maybe not a coincidence that the Hawks managed a 21-8 run in the first half, while the Wolves’ starters rested.

The Wolves played energetic, competitive basketball for the rest of the game–they shot 47.4% and played committed defense–but  never really recovered from that first half swoon. And there’s a pretty solid reason why. A short while back I commented that when things were going well, the Wolves offense had a certain wild charm. But ok, to be honest, this wildness–a tendency to mishandle the ball, to make passes to nowhere–is mostly not charming at all. Mostly its just really aggravating. Telfair, Love and Michael Beasley had 15 turnovers between them and this carelessness repeatedly prevented the Wolves from making inroads into the Hawks’ lead.

Dark Night of the Soul

You know what else prevented that? The fact that Darko Milicic is still totally lost in the wilderness. It seems hardly possible that a 25-year-old athlete in perfect health could actually look haggard, but Darko does. His dreadful lack of confidence, his “disgust” with himself (his words), is written all over his wan face and embodied in his slumped shoulders and timid play. Darko’s line on Sunday is pretty bleak: 1-7 shooting for two points; two boards; three blocks; two assists; two turnovers.

Even the lone bright spot–those three blocks–belie the reality of the situation. Darko couldn’t stay with Al Horford who scored the majority of his 28 points (on 9-14 from the field, 10-10 from the line) against the big Serb. Darko couldn’t keep Horford away from the hoop when he faced the basket; he couldn’t recover quickly enough on pick-and-rolls to deter easy layups; he couldn’t keep Horford off of the glass or challenge Horford’s jumper.  Horford is the shorter guy by at least four inches but he got his shot pretty much whenever he wanted.

Even so, as those stats show, Darko’s real damage was on the offensive end. The profile for this 1-7 nightmare is pretty familiar. Darko performs epic low-post contortions in the service of terrible, awkward shots–an off-balance twelve-foot skyhook and a ginger baseline reverse (one bricked, the other rejected) are pretty typical–and then blows the easy looks he does get.

But this isn’t even the worst of it. Because the center is generally the fulcrum of the triangle, the offense tends to flow through Darko when he is on the floor. Entering the ball into the post is meant to ignite a flurry of passes and cuts, to set the offense in motion. But Darko’s play has been so labored and so indecisive that the Wolves’ offense seems to stagnate whenever he touches the ball, those two assists notwithstanding.

Kurt Rambis appears to recognize this. So in the third quarter he began running the offense through Kevin Love (who finished with only 22 points and 17 boards–weak) on the weakside post, leaving Darko to languish  out of the play. Finally, with 2:18 remaining in the third quarter he replaced Darko entirely, bringing in Anthony Tolliver and moving Love over to center, as he did against the Knicks on Friday. Love is certainly no natural “5″, but the offense suddenly began to hum and the defensive energy increased palpably. The Wolves put together their best stretch of play, outscoring the Hawks 39-30 the rest of the way.

Things could get better for Darko Milicic. His shot could start falling. And this could energize the rest of his game, give him the heart to pursue the ball and defend with some guts. But when, in his NBA career, has this ever happened? We have to begin wondering, 11 games into his four year deal, if these disastrous crises of confidence are not a definitive element of Darko’s on-court self.

Ok, let’s take a deep breath. The Timberwolves are not going to start the season with an 84 game losing streak. They are not going to lose every game by 50. They are actually a real basketball team. And lets also take note of the fact that the past week’s blowouts came at the hands of some serious basketball teams. Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, the Lakers, even the Grizz and the Rockets (their strange record notwithstanding): pretty nasty. In any case, over the past two nights it’s been nice to watch the Wolves play two nicely competitive games and even (am I really about to say this?) pick up a road win for the first time in nine months. Observe me observing:

  • I would be remiss not to lead off with Michael Beasley’s visit from the Cannot Miss a Jumper Wizard. Considering what one might expect a 42-point game from Michael Beasley to look like, this one was relatively free of ball-stopping and heat checks (at least in comparison with his typical 4-17 performance–Beasley is that rare bird who takes more difficult shots the worse he’s shooting). He was aided by Omri Casspi’s generous on-ball defense and Sacto’s generally sluggish pick-and-roll coverage which gave him ample space to shoot, particularly in his tranced-out 18-point first-quarter. But Beasley also made good decisions, particularly when running the Wolves three-man weave. And he shrewdly adapted his game by taking the ball to the basket when the Kings began guarding him more tightly in the second half. He really played an awfully nice game.
  • One final Beasley observation: it’s remarkable how much more energy he plays with, how much greater presence-of-mind he shows, how much more purposefully he defends when he’s hitting his shot.
  • Darko looked sharp with that mouthful of blood. It was a nice counterpoint to the gentle way he feathers the ball at the basket. I wanted to compliment him on his second straight merely mediocre game after that string of nightmares last week. And yes, his on-ball defense against Samuel D’alembert and Pau was definitely an improvement. But the guy has still missed 14 of his last 23 shots, most of them from within five feet. Barely mediocre.
  • Games like this cause me to succumb to pleasant, summery daydreams imagining that Sebastian Telfair is a capable NBA shooter and thus, a viable NBA backup point guard. (This would be especially amazing considering that Mo Ager looks distinctly unsuited to the task.) Didn’t Bassie  look composed and fluid hitting those calm step-back jumpers, like it was some kind of routine occurrence? One thing that helped: being guarded by Beno Udrih.
  • The Wolves bring a certain edge-of-panic wildness to the task of running a half-court offense, like they’re playing a step-and-a-half faster than they’re really able. (This is particularly true when Corey Brewer or Bassie or Beasley are on the floor). When they’re not hitting shots this produces a nauseating turnover-ridden disaster, a total mess of traveling calls, ill-conceived jump passes and carelessly heaved cross-court giveaways . But when, like tonight, they are getting bailed out by supreme shot-making its actually kind of charming. To wit: Brewer’s awkward, falling-over fourth quarter floater; the play that ended the first half, in which Ager spent many seconds aimlessly wandering the backcourt before sort of fumbling the ball to Nikola Pekovic, who softly dropped it through the net as time expired. It’s ok to laugh now since they won, but really: have you ever seen so many ridiculous backcourt violations in your life?

Photo by Kevin Dooley

Over the past week, the T-Wolves have been tremendously bad, probably the worst team in the NBA. They can’t hit a shot. They can’t prevent opponents from doing same. They’ve been outscored by 130 points over five games. Luckily (?) for us, this punishing awfulness has not gone unnoticed.

So what’s Milicic done so far this season? Basically, he’s been the league’s worst rotation player. Although Sunday night’s seven-point, three-rebound “outburst” kept his PER above zero, his defense has been as bad his offense, and only two players have played at least 100 minutes with a worse PER.

I can’t possibly contest any of these points. Darko is shooting 23% from the field. His defense has, indeed “been as bad as his offense”. He’s played with absurdly low energy. He has been really terrible. Right now, those four years (to be fair: three, plus an option year) are looking like a really bad deal. Still, Darko’s game has been so off that it can only seem like some strange aberration. I mean, he can’t possibly shoot 23% all year, right? I’m not saying he’s going to prove to be a steal, but I’m also not ready to call a move un-defensible after just seven games.

  • Dave Berri is tremendously confident in his own ability to understand professional basketball using math. That he seems to believe that the value of his metrics are self-evident (“as you can plainly see from so-and-so’s WinsProduced/48, so-and-so is bad at basketball” is a favored rhetorical device) and that he has a particularly clinical and bloodless view of the game  should not blind us to the essential truth that he’s helped uncover: basketball players tend to be judged mostly on the volume of points they pour in, but it’s things like rebounding, turnovers, shooting efficiency that actually produce wins (defense is notably absent from the discussion). So its interesting to note Berri’s take on the Kevin Love/Kurt Rambis soap opera. Berri observes (with many a chart and some cheap pop-psychology) that in his level of production, Love bears a striking resemblance to one Kurt Rambis, circa 1982. And most interestingly, that Rambis  seems to undervalue Love for the same reasons that Rambis himself was undervalued as a player:

Rambis, though, was a very productive non-scorer. And when we look at Kevin Love, we see a somewhat similar story. Love does take many more shots than Rambis. But Love’s low level of shooting efficiency means that few people are going to confuse Love with some of the game’s most productive scorers. Despite this inability to be an outstanding scorer, Love still produces wins because he is an amazing rebounder. Yes, much like his head coach – who also was a very good rebounder – Love can produce wins without being a prolific scorer.

Yup that is interesting (although, again, defense is not factored into the analysis). Here’s what I have to say right now about this fiasco.

First: I agree that Kevin Love is currently the Wolves best player and should be playing more (though he is currently tied for the team lead in minutes played). And that nurturing Love into a confident, committed pro should be among the team’s primary goals.

Second: the Wolves lost to Miami by 32. They lost to Orlando by 42 (million). Memphis by 20. Houston by 26. Would playing Kevin Love an extra five minutes a game really have altered any of these outcomes?

Third: Love got benched in the third quarter of the Atlanta game because he was playing listless, self-pitying basketball. He does that sometimes.

  • On the surface, this last thing has very little to do with the Timberwolves. But its some utterly righteous writing and has to do with Randy Moss and so should interest us. David Roth, a friend of this blog, writes about the professional football for the Awl. And when I say “writes about the professional football” I mean: embarks on dazzling, tangential voyages of cultural/political consciousness that end in fairly inaccurate NFL game predictions. Example: “the desperate narcissism and self-defeating vainglory that has degraded Moss from one of the NFL’s supreme talents into one of the NFL’s most toxic assets reflects the same anxiety that leads some Gadsden-Flag goof to slap a Hitler mustachio on a picture of Nancy Pelosi.” Right!? Here’s David this week (and you should really read this whole thing), on the strange tension between fabulous individual expression and communal self-sacrifice that make the NFL really compelling (this, by the way, has everything to do with the NBA):

What succeeding under these circumstances requires, finally, is less virtuosity than the humility and patience and, one more time, grace to trust in others and then the generosity to make one’s own brilliance more broadly valuable. Randy Moss, since he was very young, has been the fastest and most physically graceful human on the football field—it’s saying something about how fast and graceful he is that the statement is still true at age 33, after 13 seasons in the NFL. The problem—the thing that has made him this beautiful and despised vagabond, that has him heading to his fourth team in five years in something like disgrace—is partly that he seemingly cannot or will not trust in others, and mostly that he seemingly cannot fully comprehend the importance of a cause greater than himself.

This is a common enough thing. Trusting in and caring about other people is tough and scary and frankly weird given that we—Randy and the rest of us—are taught that it somehow makes you weak. But it is what being an adult demands, and the important thing is that you either do it or you don’t. You either believe in something bigger than yourself or you can’t.