A decade ago, few would have predicted that Darko Milicic would become one of the most controversial NBA draft busts in recent memory. The Detroit Pistons selected the then 18-year-old power forward with the second overall pick in the 2003 draft, one spot ahead of LeBron James. Milicic, a Slovenian national, was touted as a potential breakout star, a can’t-miss superstar that the Pistons would use to lure Carmelo Anthony out of Denver…and instead he failed to pan out.
Darko Milicic didn’t end up in the NBA like he thought he would, but that doesn’t mean it was all his fault. Darko was a notorious draft bust because he didn’t work hard enough in the gym. That’s what he told his mom and his agents, but it’s not true. The NBA is a huge machine. Darko may have been the “best player” in Europe in 2003, but the NBA is a whole different beast.
Darko Milicic is a name you may not recognize—you’ve probably not even heard of him, because he never actually played in the NBA. The 7-foot Serbian, who was once heralded as a potential Rookie of the Year, was selected 3rd overall in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons. However, the Pistons traded Milicic to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the deal that brought Eddy Curry to Detroit in 2004. Milicic stayed in Minnesota until he was waived by the Timberwolves in March of 2007. He would go on to play in Serbia for most of the next 6 years (including the 2007-08 season) before returning to the NBA the summer of 2010.
The Detroit Pistons selected Darko Milicic as the second pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. He became one of the biggest underdogs in NBA draft history, but it wasn’t for lack of confidence.
Milicic’s position in the draft didn’t worry him one bit. Instead, he was so confident in his abilities that he told people he was better than the player chosen for him, LeBron James.
Darko Milicic | Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
In the history of the NBA, there have been a lot of bad choices. The number 2 pick is particularly risky and includes some of the biggest setbacks in recent history. Secondary players like Marvin Bagley III, Jabari Parker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Derrick Williams, Hashim Thabit and Michael Beasley have all more or less disappointed in recent years.
However, none of these players stand out as much as Milicic. And not because they were clearly better than the Serbs from 0. That’s because of the other conscripts around him.
After James and Milicic, the next three picks were Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Looking at this list makes me think of the classic Sesame Street song, One of These Things (not like the others).
Milicic will always be inextricably linked to four generations of Hall of Fame candidates, which makes his failure even more apparent.
NBA draft expert Chad Ford sat down withThe Ryen Russillo Podcast, to share stories about the prospect he’s forever attached to.
Ford told Russillo how the Pistons saw Milich by chance at practice and fell in love with his skills and marksmanship. He also said that while his analysis had no bearing on Detroit’s choice for a future bust, he resigned himself to being wrong about the player.
Personally, I think he deserved the second pick in the draft, Ford admitted. Personally, if I were the general manager, I’d take [Milicic] over Bosh or Dwyane Wade.
Russillo added to the story how Milichich got (and drove) a new car without a U.S. driver’s license to argue that there were some inconsistencies in the No. 2 pick.
Ford agreed and said:
Yeah, and you see, there’s an ego involved here too. He read the hype, and Darko was a confident guy. Whatever you have to say about Darko, he will say it to your face: Oh, I’m better than LeBron James.
Forde then told an anecdote: He and Milichich were watching a commercial for the Pistons’ pregame game against James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. James featured often in the ads, but Milicic was not mentioned. The newcomer could not understand why this was the case.
Before they selected Milicic, the Pistons had an impressive track record of selecting their top three players. In 1967, future NBA star Jimmy Walker was chosen first. The other three top players were inducted into the Hall of Fame. They include Bob Lanier (No. 1, 1970), Isaiah Thomas (No. 2, 1981) and Grant Hill (No. 3, 1994).
Detroit got back into the game early, as the team won the lottery for the 2021 NBA Draft with the No. 1 pick.
There are some promising candidates in this year’s deep and talented selection. The team is reportedly not leaving any options open and is considering Evan Mobley of USC and Jalen Green of the G League Ignite. However, most agree that Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham will be the pick.
Cunningham is the American version of Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic. He has an impressive shooting range, is good with the ball, makes great choices and knows how to defend. The young Texan is a true 0-man leader.
Until the Pistons fall in love (again) with the practice warrior, the team should have another Lanier, Thomas or Hill, not another Darko Milicic.
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CORRESPONDS TO: Cade Cunningham on his possible $40+ million contract: I’m not crazy about itNot too long ago, we put together a video about Darko Milicic, an NBA Draft bust and former superstar for the Detroit Pistons. This video featured Darko’s wife, who at the time was also his agent, and she claimed that Darko was better than LeBron James. At the time, this statement drew the ire of LeBron’s fans, since the two players had nearly identical statistics. Even though LeBron has since gone on to become a four time NBA champion, Darko’s wife’s claim about her husband remains.. Read more about darko milicic and let us know what you think.
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