What if the Detroit Pistons Never Drafted Darko?
The NBA has been put on hold, but OTG is still hitting you with fresh content. During this hiatus we will be running an NBA 'What If" series. We will be looking at some of the most pivotal moments in NBA history and how a different outcome could have changed the course of the league forever.
The 2003-2004 NBA season was legendary in more ways than one. Namely, the draft before the season's beginning featured players who would be franchise-defining additions to their teams. Of the 58 players selected, 27 of them played a decade or longer.
For a franchise like the Cleveland Cavaliers, who landed the first pick, drafting LeBron James was a no-brainer. If you didn't have the first pick, however, there were still plenty of incredible options to choose between. Many argue that this draft was one of the deepest in the history of the NBA.
Say your team had the second pick, and even though LeBron was off the board, you were confident that you were about to secure the rights to a guy who would turn the tides of a franchise in turmoil. Unless of course, your team was the Detroit Pistons. Hindsight is always 20/20 as they say, and unfortunately for the Pistons, they'd go on to make a decision that they'll never live down.
WITH THE SECOND PICK IN THE 2003 DRAFT...
The Detroit Pistons select Darko Milicic. In a draft that would also feature Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh, the Pistons selected Milicic. While he did play in the league for 10 years, he'd go on to only play the 31st most minutes and earn the nickname, The Human Victory Cigar.
If we are honest with ourselves, the Pistons didn't need this draft like the other teams in the lottery. They had back-to-back 50 win seasons heading into the draft, and acquired this pick five years prior in a deal with the Grizzlies. In an amazing turn of events, that pick would become the second selection in a hall of fame worthy draft.
Even with a whiff in this draft, the Pistons still went on to win the championship that season. Darko played in 34 games for a total of 159 minutes. He scored one point in 14 minutes during the post-season.
The core for the Pistons was strong and deep. They had a backcourt with a floor general in Chauncey Billups who was one of the league's top point guards in the league. Alongside him was a shooting guard capable of averaging 20 points per game for a season in Rip Hamilton.
They also had a frontcourt that featured two-time defensive player of the year, Ben Wallace, and a vocal leader Rasheed Wallace who was added mid-season. The weakest link in their starting five was second-year player, Tayshaun Prince, who was already showing signs of being a versatile wing-defender. They were sitting pretty.
BEING PRETTY DOESN'T MEAN YOU ARE RIGHT.
However, be that as it may, they really, really messed up on this one. Everyone knew LeBron James was going number one and nearly everyone assumed that Carmelo Anthony would go second. While I won't dive into the why behind Joe Dumars and the Pistons selecting Darko, let's look at the what if.
If they opted to not go the Darko route, the Pistons still had plenty of options. If they wanted a more polished big man, Chris Bosh was selected fourth overall. With both Wallace's 29 at the time, Bosh could have been the infusion of youth they were hoping to get from Darko. It took Bosh a few seasons to get going, but the timeline would have been perfect as he could replace Rasheed and still develop into the 20/10 guy that he was while on the Toronto Raptors.
Or, if they were content with their frontcourt, there was this First Team All-American out of Marquette, who was big, strong, and fast. Billups and Hamilton were just reaching their prime, yet many subscribe to the theory that you always draft the best available player and work out the details later. Skipping over Wade can somewhat be excused if they truly believed in their backcourt, but it still has to sting knowing Wade would go on to win three championships.
The most obvious choice they missed on was failing to draft Carmelo Anthony. Anthony led Syracuse to a National Championship and was largely thought of as being the best college basketball player in the nation. He also fit a position of need for the Pistons, outside of Prince, they had no other real Small Forward option on the team at the time.
MISSING OUT ON MELO
Carmelo Anthony was NBA ready, scoring 21 points per game as a rookie and grabbing six rebounds each night too. Sure, team chemistry is important, however on a team with so many veterans they would not have allowed a person with a big personality to shake things up. While the Pistons may not have needed Anthony, drafting him over Darko here could have extended their playoff success for years.
The following season they'd also reach the Finals, but they lost to the San Antonio Spurs. The next three seasons they found themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals, but never able to get over the hump and back into a finals matchup. As the seasons moved further and further away from the title season, the Pistons would lack a scoring punch beyond Hamilton.
Carmelo Anthony would have been the scoring threat they needed to push them forward. I'd argue, they would have won at least one more title if they had drafted him over Darko. At least.
OTHER RELATED WHAT IFS
If Anthony did get drafted by the Pistons, would he have become the offensive player he became? You could argue he'd never develop the way he did being the guy in Denver. The Pistons were deep, however, Anthony was such a prolific scorer in college, his game was bound to translate well into the NBA.
Would the Pistons have swung a deal for Rasheed Wallace had they selected Anthony over Darko? Wallace one a key piece in the championship run, both vocally and defensively, however, if things were working well with Anthony, they may not have felt the need for another piece.
How would the rest of the drafted shaken out had Anthony gone second? Does Denver take Wade or Bosh? If Bosh is taken, would Toronto have taken Wade? Would Miami be left in the lurch without a franchise-changing player?