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Myth: Detroit Pistons picking Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft was an avoidable blunder

Welcome to Myth Week at PistonPowered. This is the first in a five-part series of posts addressing what we see as myths involving the Detroit Pistons.

I firmly believe most teams in the NBA would have drafted Darko Milicic with the second pick in the 2003 NBA draft. In fact, although I’m less sure of this, I believe every team would have taken Darko second.

Of course, Darko was a tremendous bust. The three players taken after him – Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade – are stars. Those are facts I won’t dispute.

But it’s not fair to blame the Pistons for picking Darko. They were just the team unfortunate enough to land the No. 2 pick.

Not an unknown

Too many people think Darko was a late riser, who overtook Melo with a couple dazzling workouts. That wasn’t the case.

Yes, Darko wowed in his individual workouts, but that only confirmed what everyone already (thought they) knew. Darko was the second best player in the draft behind LeBron James.

Sports Illustrated first mentioned Darko on Dec. 23, 2002. The magazine wrote:

One scout counted at least 10 times that James failed to get back on defense. Added one G.M., "You have to worry that his sense of entitlement is so great after being spoiled by the AAU system, the agents and all the publicity."

There are no such worries about the potential No. 2 pick, Darko Milicic of Yugoslavia, who sleeps on a pullout bed, is warmed by a space heater and earns approximately $20,000 for the small club Hemofarm. A 7-foot lefthander with size-18 feet, Milicic can do it all—score inside and outside, run the floor, pass and block shots.

Tim Leyden wrote an article on Melo in the same issue, but it made no mention of the Syracuse forward’s draft position. Rather, the story hit on the uncertainty of the freshman’s place in basketball.

It wasn’t until March 31, 2003 that a scout declared Melo’s draft position had solidified:

He’s going to be the Number 3 pick in the draft [after LeBron James and Darko Milicic] because he’s a throwback guy with the skills to play multiple positions.

LeBron was the consensus No. 1 pick since his junior year of high school. Darko became the consensus No. 2 the winter before the draft (and important to note in this timeline, before Detroit “won” the second pick in the lottery). Carmelo solidified his No. 3 spot in the spring, on the way to leading Syracuse to a national title. During the pre-draft process, Chris Bosh set himself apart as the fourth-best player in the draft. The real mystery began with the Heat’s fifth pick.

And I don’t think any of that would have changed – no matter which teams had the first four picks.

Safe pick

Obviously, no player is a sure thing. But calling Darko the high-risk, high-reward pick and Melo the safe pick can only be done with the befit of hindsight – or a lack of understanding of the draft at the time.

Let’s start with the latter.

When the Pistons landed the No. 2 pick in the lottery, many fans assumed they would take Anthony, the player who had just spent a season dominating the college game. But those fans thought that way because they had never heard of Darko.

Darko wasn’t playing on national television. He wasn’t carrying a well-known Syracuse team to six wins in March. He wasn’t written about in newspapers across the U.S.

So, most of those fans who wanted Melo at the time felt that way because they didn’t know Darko. Melo was a safe pick because they knew him. Darko was risky because they didn’t.

But NBA teams knew Darko, which leads us to the problem with using hindsight.

At the time, Europe was seen as the place to find polished players. Pau Gasol, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili had recently entered the NBA ready to compete after earning their stripes playing against older competition abroad. The 2003 draft probably ended that line of thinking, and the notion had begun to unravel beforehand – but not completely. Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated:

But several years of fishing by the NBA has depleted the talent pool. Other than 7-foot Darko Milicic, an 18-year-old from Serbia-Montenegro who will probably be one of the top three picks, there is no player overseas perceived as a safe choice.

Thomsen wasn’t the only one smitten with Darko’s apparent ability to make an immediate impact. ESPN’s Chad Ford:

Darko is really one of a kind. He runs the floor, handles the ball, shoots the NBA 3 and plays with his back to the basket, so you can slot him in at the 3, 4 or 5 positions. OK, a few other guys can do that too; what sets Darko apart is his toughness in the post. You have to love a guy who has the footwork to spin by an opponent but still prefers to lower a shoulder and bang. Fact is, Milicic plays in attack-mode at both ends of the floor. The more you push, the more he pushes back. While he won’t be asked to carry the Pistons, he’s capable of doing this earlier than you think.

Ford also wrote an entire article full of Will Robinson praises for Darko. Among them:

"He’s going to own the game. Own the game," Robinsons exclaims. "We’re going to have to build a new arena. The only thing that could destroy a kid like that is a woman."

"I’ve seen a lot of kids come through here in my day," Robinson says. "And none of them have ever played like that. That kid’s going to be a star. He’s a 7-footer that plays like a point guard. That kid’s something special."

Yes it is. Like just about anything else Robinson says, it’s awfully hard to argue with 92 years of experience.

In a league that can be swayed by the whims of trends and fleeting success stories, it’s nice to have an anchor that keeps the ship from straying too far beyond shore.

Will Robinson is sold on Darko Milicic. The question, for the unbelievers still out there, is why aren’t you?

Like I stated above, I think the first for picks would have been LeBron-Darko-Melo-Bosh no matter which teams had them. But that doesn’t mean everything was certain at the time – and I don’t mean just according to the uneducated “The Pistons have to take Melo because I’ve heard of him, and not this Dorko guy” fans.

Thomsen found a scout to say this:

"He has the makings of the most dominant center in Europe since Arvydas Sabonis," says an NBA scout who isn’t sure that James should be picked ahead of Milicic.

And as much as I’ve been pumping up Darko, it’s not like Melo was perfect. ESPN’s Jay Bilas found a couple faults:

“does not blow by people off the dribble and is suspect defensively.”

In fact, the Nuggets actually toyed with the idea of taking Pavel Podkolzine, according to both ESPN’s Andy Katz and Chad Ford. Ford:

After Pavel Podkolzine’s unbelievable workout in Chicago, a few were quietly whispering that Nuggets’ GM Kiki Vandeweghe might grab the 7-foot-4 Siberian.

If Anthony were such a sure thing, that never would have happened. Clearly, the Nuggets had some pause for the same reasons the Pistons knew they didn’t want Melo over Darko.

The Tayshaun Prince factor – or lack there of

I don’t believe the Pistons having Tayshaun Prince had anything to do with their decision to pass on Anthony.

As I’ve detailed above, I think the reason was solely based on Darko being seen as the best player available.

But the Pistons have never seemed bothered by letting their rookies sit on the bench, anyway. Larry Brown was coaching them at this point, after all.

If Dumars thought Melo was better than Darko but not as good as Prince, the Pistons would have drafted Melo and played him behind Prince.

In fact, they did something similar with Darko. The Pistons signed Elden Campbell that summer, and he started. Mehmet Okur was the backup, and Darko was out of the rotation.

The Pistons also traded for Rasheed Wallace that season, but you could argue they only did that after they knew what they had in Darko.

Either way, the Pistons didn’t shy away from Darko because they already had a crowded frontcourt. So, I doubt they would have passed on Anthony only because they believe they were set at small forward.

What went wrong

Darko was a colossal bust. I’m not sure whether the pre-draft reports of his humble attitude and mean streak were exaggerated or he lost his edge in America, but he never showed those traits in Detroit.

The big question I have whenever a draft picks fails is whether it could have been avoided. In this case, I think the answer is a resounding no. Although the Pistons could have picked Melo, Wade or Bosh, that would have gone against the very strong conventional wisdom of the time.

Blame chance for the Pistons getting stuck with the No. 2 pick in a 1-3-4-5 draft. But don’t use hindsight to blame them for picking Darko.


  • Sep 13, 20103:45 pm
    by trav


    Darko had everyone fooled.  Any team picking at that spot probably would have pick Drago.  That sucks that we didn’t get the 3rd or 4th or 5th pick, because I know we couldn’t get the 1st pick because it was protected for the Griz.

  • Sep 13, 20103:58 pm
    by Laser


    well written, well researched.
    caught one typo: should say they didn’t want “Melo over Darko.”

  • Sep 13, 20105:02 pm
    by Zeiram


    I agree with you mostly but I see some blamish on the pistons too. At the time everyone agreed the Pistons were the perfect team for Darko. They had a need in the front court and people drooled about him learning from Big Ben and adding stout defense to his offense. But in hindsight (and I emphasize in hindsight) the Pistons were probably the worst team for Darko to land. Brown was the wrong coach for a player like Darko and the D-league didn´t matter at that time.
    I still think that Darko could have panned out if he played at a team where he would have started immediately.

  • Sep 13, 20105:19 pm
    by Dan Feldman


    Good catch, Laser. Fixed now.

  • Sep 13, 20105:21 pm
    by Dan Feldman


    Zeiram, maybe Darko would have panned out had he been drafted by a team that could play him immediately. I don’t think so, but I agree you in that, with what we now know, he would have had a better chance — but I only think that because we know it wouldn’t work out the other way, so of course there would be a better chance.

  • Sep 13, 20106:46 pm
    by Laser


    i do think he was doomed by the system here. “the system” being not playing him at all. i wonder what the development of austin daye is going to be like in a similar “system.” i’ll never understand what this team is doing to the development of its young players at a time when they’re not even in contention.

  • Sep 13, 201011:39 pm
    by gmehl1977


    Thanks for the research Dan. I will need to keep this link handy for when my friends make fun of me about the 2003 draft. I still think Darko showed no heart in trying to force his way into the rotation especially once Larry left. I think being drafted at #2 maybe went a little to Darko’s head and he maybe thought he was going to walk in from day 1 and get big minutes. We all know how much of a bust he turned out to be but if he really put his mind/heart to it he should of at least  aimed to make the rotation. You see it all the time with guys that are not lottery picks or go undrafted make an impact in the league. I just think those kind of guys want it more than guys that expect it to be given to them. You see it in life as well when rich people become failures and poor people make something out of themselves because they want it more. Anyways i think the most important thing you have to judge Dumars on is, is what he turned Darko into which was Rodney Stuckey. Question now is, what can he turn Stuckey into…we know it isn’t a PG :0)

  • Sep 14, 201012:58 am
    by Darin


    Good artilce Dan. I’ve always felt that any team would of taken Darko at the time. I remember reading an Espn Magazine artice that had Darko on the cover saying how good this kid was gonna be.

  • Sep 14, 20102:46 am
    by nuetes


    Nice article. I believe Darko was the right pick, because well, he was the only pick. I’m not sure on this but it seems from what I can remember the Pistons were rumored to be higher on Bosh than Melo. Therefore it was between Darko and Bosh and not Darko and Melo. In that case it would have been a mistake in hindsight. I’m not sure passing on Melo was a mistake. Prince was here and depending on what fancy stat your a fan of – fancy stat being PER or Win Score/Wins Produced – the latter of which says that Prince is better than Melo, and has been every year of their careers. I’m not a fan of PER because it rewards inefficiency. I’m a fan of possession creation over shot creation, which wins produced touts, and according to that Prince is better than Melo. Prince wastes fewer possessions and creates more of them for the team. Argument to ensue I’m sure.
    As for Darko ever having a chance. I’ll argue that Darko had the skills, but he lacked the desire to improve or the will to succeed that is necessary. It’s a tough call because it depends on when or why Darko lost his desire to play basketball, or if he ever had it to begin with. If he had the desire, and either the situation on the Pistons or Larry Brown eroded it, then I’d have to say he would have had a better chance on another team. If he lacked the desire from the get-go then he never had a chance, and the Pistons did a poor job of evaluating his mentality.

  • Sep 14, 20109:21 am
    by eLone


    I would never have picked Darko over Carmelo. In fact, I was somewhat convinced at the time that Carmelo would be a better all around player than James in the end, or at least win a ring first.
    I was misguided by his whole entitlement thing, and I thought Carmelo showed what it takes to be a champion and a winner in the crunch time at Syracuse.
    The fact that I would’ve taken Melo over James (if it was any team other than Cleveland drafting #1) shows I shouldn’t be an NBA GM, but I definitely would’ve taken Melo over Darko in an instant.

  • Sep 14, 201011:31 am
    by vick


    when Chad Ford said : “We’re going to have to build a new arena. The only thing that could destroy a kid like that is a woman.”
    He was right. 

    probably no one will believe me, but to this day i remember the first story I read in the paper about Darko. The first thing he did when he got here was go to a strip club. At that point I had a feeling he would fail. Of course there are a lot of good athletes that go to strip clubs… but i think character matters, and priorities matter too.

  • Sep 14, 20101:36 pm
    by Quin


    Perhaps other than those few scouts, media *wanted* Darko to be great more than they observed that he was.  I think that many who have a tendency to notice bias observed that.  I remember hearing the words “gotta go with Darko Milicic,” and completely understanding that media will hype a choice based on second-hand information, and that the real driving factor is a desire to see a more diverse NBA.  I understand that you can’t write that, but it’s completely true.

    There are always a few people who think differently.  To be fair, quote them in addition to the ‘crowd,’ and let us choose who sounds more reasonable.

  • Sep 14, 20101:39 pm
    by Quin


    I wouldn’t call an article that presents no counter-argument well researched.

  • Sep 14, 20103:22 pm
    by Patrick Hayes



    The player development thing is so frustrating. I mean, even the Spurs played their young players, George Hill and Dejuan Blair, significant minutes last season. Granted, they might be better than the Pistons young guys, but few teams absolutely bury their young players behind vets. In fact, that Pistons might be the only team that routinely does this.

  • Sep 14, 20103:23 pm
    by Patrick Hayes



    I think the pre-draft coverage didn’t do him any favors. He was bombarded by reporters for quite some time. Probably pretty easy for him to start thinking he was a big deal.

  • Sep 14, 20103:26 pm
    by Patrick Hayes



    I think most American fans would’ve because, as Dan said, we all watched Melo carry Syracuse to a NCAA title. He had one of the best tourney runs (if not the best) of any recent player.

    But NBA teams watched Darko, saw him workout, and we didn’t have the benefit of doing that. Not saying that would’ve changed your mind, but if you did see him workout and did see him play in person, it might’ve. It certainly convinced a lot of NBA people Darko was the better choice.

  • Sep 14, 20103:28 pm
    by Patrick Hayes



    I remember exactly what you are talking about. There was also a magazine profile of him where he said something to the effect of “he heard American women are easy and will sleep with anyone who has money.”

    Then, when Larry Brown said, “I think he’s more interested in getting his driver’s license than becoming a good player,” I knew we were in trouble.

  • Sep 14, 20103:41 pm
    by Patrick Hayes



    I think it’s weird when people saying things like, “it’s completely true” and then don’t bring any relevant data supporting that “truth” to the table.

    The truth is, because of the success of legit foreign stars like Nowitzki, Ginobili, Parker, Gasol and because of American high school busts like Brown, Miles, etc., as well as some really weak college talent (lottery picks like Dajuan Wagner, Chris Wilcox, Melvin Ely, Marcus Fizer, Jared Jefferies)  teams were looking more and more heavily at Europe in that era because European players were playing in good professional leagues, learning fundamentals and becoming, theoretically, more “NBA ready.” Now obviously, that didn’t work out so well — Euros like Darko, Tskitishvili, etc. busted just as bad as American players, while the college game’s talent level improved drastically.

    Your suggestion that the media wanted to see a “more diverse” league is silly. The media was covering what was a NBA trend — “Let’s look for some talent in Europe because it beats taking Stromile Swift No. 2 overall.” The beginning of this decade had a couple of really brutal drafts when it comes to American talent. The trend to expand scouting efforts overseas was understandable because of that.

    You complain that Dan didn’t present a “counter-argument.” But your comments offer nothing but your non-researched, non-argued opinion.

  • Sep 14, 20104:20 pm
    by Laser


    @quin: buddy, i said the article was well researched; i didn’t say it was fair and balanced. there is a big difference. feldman has no duty in an opinion column to present arguments against himself. incidentally, i happen to think it was fair, and i think it’s the easiest thing in the world to criticize a decision that didn’t happen to work out.
    @hayes: i understand (but don’t agree with) the ethos that buries the young’uns behind vets on the bench when your team is highly competitive. usually there’s some amount of choice to be made between winning now and winning later. but to bury your young players behind veterans when you have NO CHANCE of winning just blows my mind. “lose now, lose later” seems to be the pistons’ current plan, and it’s ridiculous. if this thing doesn’t look better by february i won’t be around to bother you guys anymore. and you can bank on that.

  • Sep 14, 20104:39 pm
    by Reggie


    Always enjoy your posts.  People forget about how highly regarded Darko was.  Some of those quotes you have are awesome.
    When you have some time, check out our podcast about this years Rookie class.
    let me know what you think.

  • Sep 14, 20104:54 pm
    by Reg


    This article is hindsight being 20/20.  The majority of the european project players have not met their potential.  So why take such a risk on darko at No.2 when you have a proven commodity equal to lebron in many ways in carmelo.  bonehead draft pick one of the worst in the history of the draft especially when you could of drafted bosh.

  • Sep 14, 20105:39 pm
    by Eric


    Dick Vitale went off when Darko’s name was called.  He was working the draft live for ESPN (I think) as a TV analyst and went into Crazy Dick mode, screaming how the Pistons would regret not taking Anthony for a long long time to come.  He told everyone to mark his words, and I did. 

  • Sep 14, 20105:45 pm
    by DoctorDaveT.com


    Hey, PP,
    Dan, this is the single best review of the Darko draft pick I’ve seen in 5 years.  Great Quotes! At the time, I was a huge Darko fan. A seven footer that could play with attitude & finesse? How often do you find that? By the way – the ONLY guy I can remember down on Milicic was “Dickie V” – and that’s because he’s all about college and hates European Hoops. (I heard him admit once that Milicic would have been the #1 pick in 2004 NBA draft had he waited one more year – and he hated having to make that admission….)
    By the way – (and I think Laser will love this) – Milicic wasn’t a complete bust for our Pistons. He was traded to the Orlando Magic with Carlos Arroyo (another major disappointment) for Center Kelvin Cato and the 2007 First Round Pick that would become… Rodney Stuckey.
    I think that tells you just how valuable Milicic was still considered to be by NBA teams – that after the DPs gave up on him, someone else was willing to give up a First Rounder for him. Yeah, that’s how much potential teams saw in him.
    Great post, Dan.

  • Sep 14, 20106:36 pm
    by Patrick Hayes



    I don’t know what you mean by majority. It’s closer to 50-50. Off the top of my head, Euro guys who are at least solid rotation caliber players (and some are much better than that), in the last decade or so: Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Carlos Arroyo, Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Mikael Pietrus, Memo Okur, Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Leandro Barbosa, Nene, Anderson Varejao, Jose Calderon, Andris Biedrins, Hedo Turkoglu, Peja Stojakovic, Fabricio Oberto, Zaza Pachulia, Dirk Nowitzki, Andrew Bogut (he may or may not count … he’s an Aussie, but he did play college ball here), Danillo Gallinari, Andrea Bargnani.

    There are plenty of foreign busts, but it’s flat wrong to say that a “majority” of foreign draft picks are busts. Like I said, it’s probably closer to 50-50ish, which would probably be about the same ration American draftees are busts.

    As for your comments about Melo/Lebron, they are not equal in many ways. Not even close. Melo’s only elite skill is scoring. James is a great passer, rebounder and defender who scores more efficiently (needs fewer shots to get his points than Melo).

  • Sep 14, 20106:37 pm
    by Patrick Hayes



    Dick Vitale also blasted the Magic for picking Dwight Howard ahead of Emeka Okafor, so if he’s who you’re basing your NBA-ready talent evaluation on, you have some problems. He also predicted Adam Morrison would be a star.

  • Sep 14, 20106:40 pm
    by Patrick Hayes



    Something that’s lost in all of this is that Darko is still an OK NBA player. If he were a second round pick, he’d be considered great value. He’s big, can block shots, is semi-athletic. If he wants to, he could have a very long career in the NBA as a journeyman big man.

    Now, his draft position obviously means he was supposed to be much, much more than a backup big. And while I wouldn’t want him on my favorite team (too many painful memories), he’d give average production in that role to most any team in the league.

  • Sep 14, 20106:44 pm
    by Patrick Hayes


    @Reg again:

    Shoot, a few more to add — Ilyasova on Milwaukee and Omri Casspi on the Kings, Jonas Jerebko on the Pistons. Also, Tiago Splitter signed with the Spurs finally and is going to be damn good and even if he is soft and kind of a prima dona, Ricky Rubio is going to be good when he finally comes over (ask Chris Paul and Deron Williams, who couldn’t guard him in the Olympics).

    Even Juan Carlos Navarro can be added. He only played one season in the NBA, but was one of the top rookies that year before he decided to head back to Europe for much more money than his NBA contract was worth.

  • Sep 14, 20106:49 pm
    by Laser


    yes, hayes. re: #26. and the saddest part of all is that he would be an upgrade to our frontcourt. and if you don’t think so right now, stay tuned this season.

  • Sep 14, 20106:54 pm
    by Patrick Hayes



    Even if that’s the case, I would rather see Chris Wilcox play 48 minutes per game than see Darko back in a Pistons uni.

  • Sep 14, 20107:51 pm
    by Quin


    @Patrick Hayes
    I really don’ t think there’s anything wrong with identifying with players based on shared characteristics.  I’m just saying the media does it just like the fans do.  For example, we cheer for the U.S. in international competitions because we’re U.S. citizens, Michigan teams because we’re Michiganders (if you will), and Detroit teams as Detroiters.  Both race and region are demographics.  We can’t say that one is safe from our psyches where the other is not safe.  I know a guy who looks like a penguin, and likes penguins.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
    It kills me that people deny the existence of a natural phenomena such as wanting to cheer for someone that looks like you.  I’m only pointing to the bias that occurs when you want something, versus true unbiased observation.  I mean, I cheered for Ivory Coast in the world cup, and I’m mad Clijsters beat Venus, lol, and it ain’t cuz Venus is American.  I dare add, there’s a reason some folks love the film Hoosiers so much.  And Duke (ok, maybe that’s a little far).

  • Sep 14, 201010:27 pm
    by Geoff


    Great article.  This is too often hard to explain to other fans who constantly bash Dumars for this pick, but it made perfect sense at the time.  Very good research.  Thank you.

  • Sep 14, 201010:37 pm
    by Patrick Hayes



    2000, 2001 and 2002 were three of the worst drafts for American college talent in modern NBA history. On the other hand, look at some of the guys who were all-stars or near it from those drafts — Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Luis Scola, Yao, Nene, Okur, Turkoglu. Even guys like Nenad Krstic, Eduardo Najera, Radmanovic, Darius Songaila and JC Navarro became solid contributors out of those drafts. By 2003, teams had to look overseas more because teams that weren’t swung and missed badly (like when Kwame Brown and Tyson Chandler were picked before Pau Gasol).

    I just don’t buy the “Darko is a white European, so white Americans and the media wanted him to succeed.” I don’t know how many white Americans had their hearts melt for a goofy 17-year-old who didn’t speak English with blond highlights and a pube ‘stache.

    The phenomena you mention certainly exists. There’s a reason Brandon Inge is one of the most popular athletes in Michigan — a lot of white people have a soft spot for untalented white dudes who dive in the dirt and hustle. I don’t have problems with your premise (at least I think this is your premise) that natural biases cause people to root for people because of a shared pigmentation (or something?). I’m sure that happens. I have problems with your lack of support.

    The post is well-researched and very specific in saying that the scouting community was almost universally sold on Milicic as the second best prospect in that draft. You are providing zero in the form of contrary research — who was saying he wasn’t at the time? Black people who couldn’t relate to him? Will Robinson’s quote in that story is perhaps the strongest in favor of Darko, and he’s a black guy who made his long and respected career coaching and scouting in America.

    You seem to suggest that Dan’s post is one-sided. If it is, then find me the outlets who were writing about Darko as a bust at the time. Find me the people (other than Dick Vitale) who were saying Melo over Darko should’ve been a no-brainer (and if we’re being real in revising history, Wade was the unquestioned second best player in that draft and three teams passed on him). You’re giving vague criticisms without supporting them.

  • Sep 14, 201011:41 pm
    by Tom


    I generally agree with your points and think Joe D gets way too much scorn for the Darko pick.
    I do however think that there was, and to a lesser but still substantial extent still is, an overvaluing of “potential” and an undervaluing of actual basketball results. I know young guys in Europe are less likely to see big minutes, but Darko had lousy numbers for a low level league.
    While looking at the results of the last 5 years might push all the sensationalist buttons, in my mind looking at the actual game results prior to the draft is the way to go. Carmello had them and Darko didn’t. Bosh and Wade didn’t really either, anyone who thought they would become the stars they are today – even though they turned out to be right – was living in a fantasy world.
    Ultimately Carmello was a safer pick because he had proven himself against stellar competition, Darko hadn’t even proven himself against the D-League of Europe.

  • Sep 15, 201012:32 am
    by C-Foe


    @Dan: I have to agree with everyone else, this is a great article regarding drafting Darko.   

        I’ve had many debates with non-Pistons fans regarding Joe D. selecting Darko vs. Carmelo (even D. Wade)  with the #2 pick.   I know you mentioned Carmelo vs. Tayshaun in your article but I just want to share my thoughts on that issue. 

          If the Pistons draft Carmelo at that spot that would have been the third straight year they drafted a SF in the first round (Rodney White, then Tayshaun Prince).   Rodney White was a disappointment and Tayshaun didn’t get much PT until the 2002 playoffs.  After his contributions in the playoffs (mainly helping to save the Pistons from getting swept by Orlando because T-Mac was abusing Michael Curry),  I think the team decided to give him a shot at starting at SF.   When you have a lottery pick the idea is that this person will be a cornerstone of your franchise going forward.  So the message that the team would have sent to Tayshaun was, “We appreciate your contributions, but you are not our future at SF.  Carmelo is our future.”   I don’t think that’s a message they wanted to send to a new fan favorite.  So couple that with the fact that “skilled” 7-footers were in-demand in the NBA because the last 5 NBA championships were won by teams with 7-footers (Shaq and Duncan) and I think that gave the edge to Darko.

  • Sep 15, 20109:59 am
    by Larry Brown


    Everyone seems to forget how I hated the Pistons youngsters and buried them all on the bench. I also refused to play Carmelo in the 2004 Olympics, even after ‘Melo had a full year of professional basketball under his belt. Everyone says the Pistons should have taken Carmelo because he’s such a great player, but who’s to say i wouldn’t have buried him on the bench and crushed his confidence for two years? Would he be the same player under me?
    - Larry

  • Sep 15, 20109:14 pm
    by sop


    New question: when will Pistons fans be able to look back on Darko and laugh instead of feel frustrated? My guess: 30 years.

  • Sep 16, 201012:41 am
    by The Rake


    A great article, but I can’t say I am totally convinced that Darko was going #2 regardless.  Its irrelevant. Draft busts happen, all the time, EVERY year.  The reason this stands out so much is the stars who were drafter immediately around him.  Countless high-picks fail to make an impact, and one could certainly argue that Darko (at this point anyway) has turned out better than a number of other high draft picks in recent years.  Yes, he flamed out hard for us, and tainted Chad Ford and Joe D forever (sad but true)….but that all doesnt make it the wrong pick.  People were convinced that this guy was a horse.  It just didnt turn out to be.
    The Rake

  • Sep 16, 20101:23 pm
    by Laser


    face it: i hate darko’s attitude. HATE it. but… darko > wilcox.

  • Sep 18, 20101:08 am
    by C-Foe


    @Larry Brown:  LOL…So true, so very true. 

    On a side note, it’s amazing how NBA followers love to continue to throw Joe under the bus regarding Darko vs. Carmelo.  However they never throw Jordan under the bus for Kwame vs. Pau Gasol which was a much bigger blunder.  Go figure.  Heck, at least we still won a championship even with the Human Victory Cigar.

  • Sep 18, 201010:15 pm
    by Arthur C.


    Man, I knew Darko was going to be a punk when he got to the U.S. and put those blonde highlights in his dark brown hair.  Granted he was still a teenager, but it just showed he was really young acting.  New country, new team, new league.  Darko just wasn’t going to adjust well to all that transition.
    Maybe Darko might have adjusted better if he had a touchier-feelier coach, but that doesn’t happen much in the pros–hate on Larry Brown, but imagine what Doug Collins, pre-cancer George Wallace Karl, or Phil Jackson would have done to Darko if he had played for them.  Phil would have roasted Darko as a punchline each week to reporters.
    Darko just wasn’t and isn’t built to handle the pro hoops life over here.  He and Kwame Brown have that in common.  Weird they both got contracts from my man Joe Dumars.

  • Sep 20, 20103:52 pm
    by frankie d


    this is a ridiculous article.
    the pistons had a chance to draft one of the best players in the league – take your pick of wade or melo – and they didn’t.
    instead they picked a guy who is, at best, a journeyman.
    it doesn’t matter one iota who else would have picked him or passed on him, the responsibility rests with the team that made that choice.  that is why plenty of gms hate having that kind of high pick.  they understand full well what will happen if they blow the pick.
    joe d blew the pick.
    anyone in their right mind would rather have d-wade or melo.  again, just because everyone else would have made the same choice…so what.  joe d made the choice and he has to live with the consequences and all the attempts to justify one of the worst picks in the history of the league read as empty rationalizations.

  • Sep 22, 20103:28 am
    by adam


    I wish NCAA would allow young europeans who have previously earned professional money play in the NCAA. The talent in the NBA and in the NCAA would improve DRAMATICALLY if this was allowed. It’s not like the kids will have earned much as teenagers in europe and it would give them a much better road to the NBA. Guys like Enes Katner, Donatas Motiejunas, Jan Vesely, Thomas Satoransky Etc would add a lot more diverse talent to the college game and give them a much easier and prepared road to the NBA.
    As for Milicic, I think he would have been an exceptional player had he gone to another team. He had the quickest feet for a 7 footer and a lot of skills. Detroit was a horrible situation. Larry Brown benched Melo, Wade and James on his way to a bronze at the 2004 olympics which shows you that he hates young guys and rookies.

  • Mar 21, 20111:19 am
    by bob bayer


  • Mar 24, 20126:01 pm
    by Joe Dumars


    “He’s going to own the game. Own the game,” Robinsons exclaims. “We’re going to have to build a new arena. The only thing that could destroy a kid like that is a woman.”

    American women destroyed Darko.  That’s the real reason Darko turned out to be a bust.

  • Mar 27, 20132:22 pm
    by Kyle Alm


    Either way you slice drafting Melo or Dwayne Wade is a no brainer looking back on it. Wade turned out to be a huge surprise, I don’t think that anyone expected him to be this good, he’ll be a top 50 player when his career is over.

  • May 6, 20139:11 am
    by al


    Sorry, I was paying attention when this draft was happening, I knew all the info for Darko, and being a Piston’s fan since the 70s disagree. Darko never looked like he was going to fit with the Pistons, and many experts in sports and the general consensus from the beginning was Melo was the #2 player in the draft and Darko was at best 3rd. It is not a myth and was a colossal mistake to not take Melo. The excuse was with Brown as a coach, who never plays rookies, Melo would just sit on the bench and Pistons didn’t want to spend that much for a bench rider.

  • […] West… well you get the idea. Rumor has it Dumars was wowed by Milicic but research has showed many NBA general mangers were wowed by the potential they saw in the youngster. Rumors also swirled around Brown not wanting a potential superstar like […]

  • Apr 9, 201411:29 pm
    by MvG


    All they talked about in 2003 was how Darko was a man amongst boys in Europe, then I saw his 9 points, 5 boards a game stat line in Europe and went, “uh oh”.  You can make all the excuses you want for Darko, but the bottom line is, Dumars WASTED the #2 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft on a guy who didn’t give a damn.  What did he do after the Pistons traded him?  NOTHING!  Len Bias was a better #2 overall pick than Darko Milicic, and you know how that turned out…

  • Apr 9, 201411:32 pm
    by MvG


    (2002-03): Through 20 games, he was playing 20 minutes per game, averaging 9.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots. He was shooting 49 percent from the field and 68 percent from the line. Saw more playing time in the North European Basketball League (NEBL), a competition against other top European clubs. In 10 games (team went 6-4), averaged 14.2 points and 7.0 rebounds. Scored 21 points in a victory over Greek power PAOK. Tallied 23 vs. PAOK in the losing rematch. Exploded for 37 points in a victory over Skonto (Latvia).

    That has NBA star written all over it, doesn’t it?

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