Nash First, Now Maybe Darko? Where Does D'Antoni Learn His Magic?… And A Look at the Front Line

In a good article for the NY Post, Lenn Robbins catches up with Donnie Walsh and asks him about his new center, Darko Milicic.

“Knicks team president Donnie Walsh isn’t in the business of selling pipe dreams. He knew when he took over a dysfunctional and grossly over-the-cap Knicks franchise that there would be pains the likes of which the Octomom could relate to.

Walsh has diligently worked to get under the salary cap and in doing so, he might have acquired a player who can finally blossom. Darko Milicic was the second player taken in the 2003 draft, behind LeBron James and ahead of Carmelo Anthony.

“He was a very skilled player when he was drafted,” Walsh said of Milicic before last night’s Liberty game, where he was honored as a Rucker Park Pro Legend. “I think the thing that’s held him back is he’s been thought of as a guy that has to play with his back to the basket. And everywhere he’s been, people have tried to do that.

“I don’t think that will be the case here,” Walsh added. “The way [coach] Mike [D’Antoni] plays, the fact that he’s a skilled, fairly athletic, long big man who can run the floor and can dribble the ball, shoot the ball, pass the ball, he might fit into this system better. That’s what I’m hoping.”

When asked if Milicic’s situation reminded him of other players who have benefited from a change of scenery, Walsh named some of the NBA’s best.

“[Steve] Nash to a degree,” Walsh said of the Suns point guard who won two MVP trophies. “He was a very good player in Dallas and became the MVP of the league in Phoenix.”

Well, I have to agree with Walsh on how to use Milicic. Clearly, there will be times when Milicic has the ball with his back to the hoop. He would not be a complete threat if he did not get it in the post once in a while. However, Milicic will likely see most of his time outside of the paint. He will probably work well with the pick’n’roll and he will have to hit a mid-range jumper. When in the post, he will help facilitate the offense with his passing skills. Perhaps he will be able to play like a Brad Miller.

In my head, Milicic’s biggest contribution to this team will be his ability to block a shot on the defensive end. I think his mix of defensive and offensive skills might allow D’Antoni to play him alongside Eddy Curry at some points. Hopefully Milicic comes here in top shape and is ready to run.

The Knicks have not had a strong front line in a while. When the Knicks had Randolph, I thought that Curry, Randolph, and Lee could make a good front line. The problem there was that there was not much versatility with those players. Lee was versatile, but Curry had to touch the ball to bee effective. Randolph made sure that he got the ball for himself. Both of those players were scorers and poor defenders. That mix did not work.

However, our front line this coming season includes Curry (the jury is still out on him), Milicic, who as a center can defend in the paint and can play outside the paint on offense, Al Harrington, who plays likes a guard and stretches defenses with the 3 ball, Jared Jeffries, who can come in and defend the opposing PG, Danilo Gallinari, who plays like a guard, Wilson Chandler, who defends and is one of the most versatile players on our team, and Jordan Hill, who is athletic and figures to be a good defender and rebounder. If Lee comes back, and I think he will be here, then add a double-double machine who we all saw flourish in this system last season. Lee would be at the core of our front line. Ideally, players like Al Harrington, Eddy Curry, and Gallo come in here and increase their rebounding production to help out Lee on the glass. Milicic and Hill figure to be good rebounders for this Knicks team.

Anyway, I do not see Milicic succeeding like Nash did for D’Antoni. I know Walsh was not directly trying to compare the two. That said, I think Milicic will surprise some people. Regarded as one of the top busts in NBA draft history, people that have not seen him play might not be willing to give him a chance. I think D’Antoni will figure out how to use him effectively. Milicic just has to show up in great shape and be ready to listen and learn.

Let’s go Knicks!