Detroit fans jumped on board the Lions and Tigers bandwagons in droves this season. Many people thought that the Tigers would contend for the Central Division and perhaps sneak into the playoffs with a Wild Card berth. More than a few people thought that the Lions could be playing at home in the Super Bowl this year. But, why? What did the Lions ever do on the field to garner such faith? What did the Tigers ever do to prove they could win consistently over a month, let alone, a year? The fact of the matter is that Detroit fans bought the hype and got ripped off. Neither the Tigers or the Lions had a prayer of winning big this season. All it took was five minutes of looking at the rosters and coaching staffs to realize that. Nonetheless, Detroit fans took the bait.
Meanwhile, Darko has been vilified in the media for being the bust of all busts. Never mind the fact that Darko has only done exactly what he was asked to do when he was brought to Detroit. His directions from Larry Brown and Joe Dumars were short and to the point; sit down, be quiet, and don’t get in the way. Darko has done that job remarkably. It’s not Darko’s fault that Larry Brown loves the idea of a two-man bench. Joe Dumars said it loudly and clearly when Darko was drafted. This is a championship-caliber team. Darko is a pick for the future. Yet, four months later, schools of weapon-wielding people were organizing a lynching while throwing around the word “bust” and ripping on Darko for being soft. The Lions and Tigers have let down Detroit time and time again. But, for some reason, Detroit fans jumped into the deep end without thinking twice. On the other hand, Darko hasn’t let anyone down. Yet, he can’t get a break from anyone. This is sad because Darko deserved better from his hometown fans.
This will be a moot point soon because everyone will be jumping on to the Darko bandwagon soon enough but my point is that he deserved the benefit of the doubt before he started getting meaningful minutes, not after. I will say that Darko has taken much more abuse from the national media than from the Detroit media. However, I've seen my fair share of Darko bashing from Detroit fans. I don't see how anyone could have an opinion on Darko since he hasn't been given a chance yet. I've personally reserved judgment until he gets his time to shine. I admit that I've had my doubts as I'm sure even the most spirited Darko fans have as well. But the fact remains that he's only 20 years old and was glued to the bench by Larry Brown in each of his first two seasons. The same thing happened to Jermaine O'neal in Portland.
For those of you that want a closer look at the drafting of Darko and how that has played out so far, take a look at an article that I wrote comparing Darko and Joey Harrington last summer. For those of you who haven’t noticed, Darko’s got game. He’s leading the NBA in blocks per game so far in the pre-season. He’s been noticeably productive in all four games in the pre-season thus far. Flip Saunders is allowing him to face the basket which is Darko’s strength rather than trying to shove a square block into a round hole like Larry Brown did when trying to make Darko a post player. In game 2 of the pre-season, Darko had 10 points and 9 rebounds in only 18 minutes. In game 3 of the pre-season, Darko had 10 points, 5 rebounds and 6 blocked shots in only 21 minutes. And, in game 4, Darko had 9 points in just 22 minutes. Darko is only 20 years old. He’s the same age as a college sophomore or junior. I doubt many 20 year olds could come in and contribute the way he’s contributing so far. Joe D’s plan for Darko is unfolding perfectly. Things are going just the way he laid them out when he drafted him. Darko will be a valuable member of the bench this year and will still not be expected to make extraordinary contributions. In about two months, nobody will remember how much heat Darko took for no reason at all. But, the fact will remain that Darko was “hung out to dry” by not only the national fans and media, but by some of the local fans and media as well.
When the Pistons were eliminated in the NBA Championship against the Spurs, I was not looking forward to this season by any means. The Pistons were not going to improve with Larry Brown as the coach. The Pistons offense was miserable and there was no hope in sight with the top six players being permanent fixtures in the rotation. Slowly, but surely, Joe Dumars made changes in the off-season. I believe that those changes have added up to a whole new outlook for the 2005/6 Pistons. Flip Saunders will be a huge addition for the Pistons as he actually knows how to coach offensively. He will allow his players to take advantage of their talents and the oppositions weaknesses rather than do the same thing over and over again without ever changing. The bench will be reminiscent of the Alternatorz that featured Jon Barry and Corliss Williamson. But, I think this year’s bench will be even better. Antonio McDeyess, Darko Milicic and Dale Davis give the Pistons three quality big men off the bench. Carlos Delfino made an amazing twisting drive to the basket last night in one of my dreams (seriously) so maybe he’ll have a good season, too. Maurice Evans is a dynamic defender with athletic ability. The bench is deep with players that are athletic and, more importantly, not offensively challenged.
Think of the weaknesses for the Pistons last season. If you came up with the same ones that I did (mind-numbing scoring droughts, weak bench, and poor game plans) then every weakness from last year has turned into a strength this year. The offense should be much improved and noticeably more efficient. The bench should be one of the deepest in the league. And, Flip Saunders has been lauded for his ability to draw up a good game plan. I went from not looking forward to the season at all four months ago, to looking forward to this season more than any. There’s really only one person I have to thank for that and it’s Joe D. This season could be like a dream; Darko making significant contributions, the offense playing efficiently, and Carlos Delfino making twisting drives to the basket.
Tip: The over/under in Vegas for Pistons wins is 50.5. Is there really any doubt that the Pistons will win 51 games this year? This is the lock of locks. If you can find this over/under anywhere, and you like to gamble, this line is way too easy. The Pistons have won 54 games in each of the last two seasons and that’s without any semblance of an efficient offense.