As our summer mainstay, Aaron's writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. Intent is to get you talking, thinking, and appreciating the myriad of wonderful folks who play in our favorite sports league. Today we continue with Darko Milicic, Ryan Hollins, and Russell Westbrook.
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Release Darko Milicic on Twitter at @FreeDarko. Wait, what?
I was pretty amused, yesterday, when people picked Hasheem Thabeet for this riddle -- that is, the riddle implying that this player was a true bust. I don't know if that's totally true. Yes, I know -- Thabeet is pretty awful. He was taken 2nd in a draft where 25 of the players after him are distinctly better than he is. That's pretty bad. But if I'm going for a #2 pick that's absolutely busted out in the NBA, I'd go for Darko Milicic any day. And not just for his lacking on-court. By all accounts, Darko is a pretty aggravating individual off-the-court -- he has a nasty temper, a highly inflated sense of self, and has never in his career been particularly coachable. The temper can be funny, sometimes -- it's led to two of the best NBA videos ever. But does anyone REALLY want that on their team? (Other than the certifiably insane David Kahn, who once called Darko "manna from heaven.")
In terms of properly representing what a bust really means, Darko hits every conceivable benchpost. Was he drafted above legitimately good players? Definitely -- he was drafted before Dwyane Wade, David West, Chris Kaman, Chris Bosh, Boris Diaw, Carmelo Anthony, Leandro Barbosa, Mo Williams, Matt Bonner, and many others. (With, of course, the last player on that list being clearly as good as the first player on it.) It wasn't like he was picked at 10th with nobody of note after him -- the Pistons passed up on several generation-defining talents to lock up the services of Mr. Manna. Does he have a bad attitude about it? Sure -- he's got a Kwame-esque immaturity about him, and a lack of understanding. Even in his most successful personal run in Minnesota, he couldn't quite get away from his personal issues -- Minnesota superstar Kevin Love was happy the Timberwolves got rid of "bad blood", naming no names but heavily implying Darko and Beasley as the objects of his distaste. And in terms of true talent level, and peak production? Darko Milicic is really, really bad. At his best, he's a maybe-OK defensive player that hogs the ball without actual scoring talent. He's a "maybe-average" passing talent that combines that average passing with awful rebounding and turnovers galore. That's Darko's "skillset."
Put it all together, and on-court, he's a mildly serviceable backup center. That's about it. But any mention of Darko (especially here) would be remiss in not at least paying some homage to the old standard of inscrutable basketblogging, FreeDarko. While most of the writers who wrote for FreeDarko have dispersed and still write the occasional piece, the whole collective is done, now. They've hung up their galoshes for good, which is sad, but I thought it was a little fitting and a little beautiful how everything ended. As Darko finally reached a franchise that believed in him and gave him free reign to become an accomplished NBA player, the folks at FreeDarko finally got too busy to keep the site running at the quality they wanted and shut its doors for good. This doesn't mean, of course, that Darko was truly freed. The point of FreeDarko always seemed to me that the Darko we expected -- this mysterious Serbian big man of impossible talent and skill -- was trapped within the confines of history and adversity. And that Darko, we can safely say, will never be freed. Hell, that Darko may have never existed. But it expanded and consumed and grew into an image beyond itself, beyond reality, beyond reason. And it underlined the writings of one of the better collectives and communities we've seen in a long time. So I tip my hat to FreeDarko, knowing that even if the reality of their mission was made irrelevant long ago, the fact of it still remains.
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_Follow Ryan Hollins on Twitter at @TheRyanHollins.__
Dear Mr. Hollins,
Hello, sir. My name is Aaron. I am a loyal fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers. You may remember this particular organization, as it's the one at which you plied your trade up until the middle of last season. One and a half years, we were together. Not in a physical sense, obviously, but rather in the quasi-metaphoric understanding that comes with being a sports fan. When you burst onto my screen, I rooted for you. I hoped you would do well, and make Cleveland proud. I hoped that life would be better. For you, and for me, and for this world. These are the hopes that filled my head, swam through my bloodstream, and would've been readily apparent to anyone with X-Ray vision specially tuned to sift out every human being's hopes and dreams. This was me, for a time.
How did you get into the NBA? I say this seriously. I don't know if I truly understand. I know, I know. You're tall. You're very tall, actually, and you do have some talent. I have no doubt that if you were allowed to spend the next four or five years in college, you'd eventually average something along the lines of 10-3-2. In college, mind you. Let's talk about the NBA. What is it, exactly, that has allowed you to stay in the league? Your height and god-given gifts make you one of the best thousand basketball players on the face of the earth. Bully for you. Really. I don't think I'll ever be one of the 1000 best anythings in the world, all things considered. Certainly not wage-earners, certainly not statisticians, certainly not writers. It is a glorious accomplishment for you to be as you are. I realize and accept this.
You see, Mr. Hollins, I have spent two years watching you outright ignore rebounding opportunities. I have spent two years watching you pretend that pick and roll coverage consists of staring blankly at your man for a few seconds, shuffling hesitantly from side to side, then simply standing like a tree as players glide past you and lay up a shot with no resistance. I have watched you "hustle" for loose balls only to explicitly redirect the ball to the other team, then outright refuse to run to the other end as they dunk on your teammates. I have seen you grow some of the worst facial hair in the history of the human race, and I have seen you needlessly egg on a seriously disturbed individual. For what purpose, I don't know. And in fact, I don't know the purpose to most of the things you do.
This isn't an indictment on you personally. You run an excellent basketball camp, sir, and other than the somewhat disturbing incident with Charlie V, I have no reason to think you an aggressive or mean-spirited person. But your basketball talents are just... what? Seriously, what? I watched you play almost 100 games with my favorite franchise. I don't get it. I don't understand how you can be 7'0" and sport a career rebounding percentage under 10%. If you are unaware, that means you rebound less than 10% of the shots you can possibly rebound. You are seven feet tall. I must state this again, in bold-face type: you are seven feet tall. Did you know, Mr. Hollins, that there have been 27 guards in NBA history -- players who are all below 6'5" -- that have had three or more seasons with rebounding percentages greater than 10%? Are you aware, too, that you are tied for having the fourth most seasons by a center with a rebounding percentage under 10% in NBA history?
Mr. Hollins, I do not understand this. I fear I never will.
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Follow Russell Westbrook on Twitter at @russwest44.__
Sometimes, when writing about certain players, my thoughts run long and I end up with something way too big to turn into a subsection of these three-player packages. I’m making it a point to explicitly allow myself the leeway to produce those sorts of really long capsule, but I’m trying to also use them as an opportunity to spread word of the project to new readers. To that extent, I’m going to take these super-long post-sized capsules and spread them to different institutions we’re partnering with. Today, Russell Westbrook’s capsule goes up at Hardwood Paroxysm. In it I grapple with my fundamental problems with Russell Westbrook, and use Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan to try and frame the way I see Westbrook's broader game. Tried not to get too deep into the political theory, but I think it's a rather fitting example in this case. Check it out!
Here's the thing, though, that typifies both democracy and the Westbrook style. It works. Yes, there are warts -- I'm not one to say democracy's perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. But the warts on democracy are pinpricks compared to the hulking construct of woe and misery that comes with a lawless sovereign. There isn't quite that gulf with Westbrook, but there's a chilling sense that as he takes his tentative steps forward and grows into his role, he and his teammates discover that the "pure" point guard announcers are so quick to build up is a bit of an illusion. It's not a necessity any more than a Hobbesian tyranny is. When Westbrook is "good" Russell, he completely changes the game for his team -- the Thunder emerge like Team USA, simply playing a different brand of basketball than anyone else. No, they may not win by 83 -- they may not even win at all.
But they utterly change the game.
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At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. Yesterday, our two best guesses were from J and Corn, both of whom got 2/3. Once again, neither got 3/3, but if you combined their guesses they'd get them all right.
- My scouting report says that Player #82 has trouble guarding many players, but has the most difficulty with "chairs."
- A lot of people though Player #83 was Player #79, but this guy is significantly less of a bust, in my opinion.
- Ah, the Fisher King. Prepare for me to go a bit Arthurian on you for Player #84, folks.
Before you go, one article from outside the basketball blogosphere for you. It's a post from a friend's father featuring 10 incredible Olympians. It's a really fun read. Highly recommend it. See you tomorrow.