Where are you, Darko Milicic? More specifically, how could the 7-footer who got drafted ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in 2003 get lost in the first place?
These are important questions as we prepare to spin the roulette wheel of another NBA draft next Thursday. Here’s another one. Do you know the only player to be drafted ahead of Milicic, the Serbian skyscraper who started with Detroit and in 12 NBA seasons averaged 6.0 points per game?
His name is LeBron James. Like Milicic, LeBron never played a minute of college ball in this country. Like Milicic, he had an NBA body as a teenager.
The difference is that LeBron was and is so unstoppable that it comes as a shock all these years later when he doesn’t win an NBA title, even if the mission is to do it almost single-handedly.
Milicic? Not so much. An internet search turned him up playing these days for a Serbian pro team called Metalac Farmakom, which probably means something to Miami Heat point guard Goran Dragic but doesn’t mean anything to me.
The names Kristaps Porzingis and Mario Hezonja don’t mean that much to me, either, though it seems they each will be drafted in the top 10 next week by NBA teams that can’t resist their slick Euro moves and towering builds. With the buzz that’s growing in all the mock drafts, Porzingis, the 7-foot-1 Latvian, even looks like top-five.
This institutes added mystery to a draft process that already is baffling enough.
LeBron didn’t have to be LeBron, for instance. He could have turned instead into Kwame Brown, a player considered such a sure thing that he was the NBA’s first No. 1 overall pick drafted straight out of high school.
The Washington Wizards and team president Michael Jordan took Brown over all others in 2001 based on the shot blocker’s play at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Ga. That was a disappointment to Billy Donovan, who had Brown signed to a scholarship at Florida, but hardly a surprise. Brown was ready for the NBA, everybody agreed, but after bouncing around the league with seven different teams the 6-foot-11 project retired, uncompleted, with a career average of 6.6 points right in Milicic’s neighborhood.
Add it all up and I’m glad that Pat Riley is in charge of using the Heat’s No. 10 overall pick. He doesn’t get them all right, as we’re reminded every time Michael Beasley comes and goes in Miami, but he has a good feel for what players will be worth to the franchise a year or two from now.
That’s what the NBA draft is for most organizations, a facet of the team’s long-term development, an acquisition phase to be utilized in future trades.
Once a player’s been around the league for a while and showed himself adaptable and tough enough to stand out, then it’s time to get excited about him.
That’s how you tell the difference between Goran Dragic and his brother Zoran.
That’s how you learn to make your plans as if the draft might not work out at all.