Ladies and gentlemen: Darko has landed.
He hadn’t played in an NBA game since November upon arriving, but the Wolves – suddenly in possession of one of the more infamous #2 picks in any NBA Draft – seem set on making him a big part of the rotation. He played 19 minutes Sunday and 25 last night, including almost the entire fourth quarter on Tuesday. (Al Jefferson, meanwhile, played barely one minute in the final period of that game.)
He’s made it clear that he wants to go home after the season, but that didn’t stop him from being an immediate hit with the home fans. Maybe it was just the excitement of something new, maybe it was his astonishing plus-minus Sunday (+35, the best for a Timberwolf in five years), but by the fourth quarter, Wolves fans were chanting “WE WANT DARKO.”
Honestly, though, if he would deign to stay, the Wolves could really use him. For one thing, he is immediately the team’s best interior defender. I am tired of watching Al Jefferson rotate defensively with all of the enthusiasm of a college student rolling out of bed. Despite being way out of game shape, Darko gives effort defensively, blocks shots, protects the rim, rotates, and runs at open shooters to disrupt them. Al mainly plays matador and hangs out under the rim, waiting for a possible rebound. Kevin Love works hard but does have size issues; Ryan Hollins is athletic, but that’s about it; but Darko plays defense like you’d expect an NBA big man to play defense.
I’m impressed by his professionalism, too. He didn’t want to be traded here, he wants to go home, he’s out of shape – but he’s giving maximum effort and running the floor. I don’t know if that would be true for a lot of players in the same position.
The scouting reports say he’s got some athleticism, can run the floor, and can shoot a little for a 7’1″guy – and let’s remember, he’s still only 24 years old, a year younger than Hollins (for example). One can understand how the Pistons were seduced by his potential, and if the reports are right, he might be a pretty good fit in the up-tempo/triangle offense that Kurt Rambis wants to run.
So: I know this is probably just a short-lived experience for all involved. I know that he’s flamed out in several places already. I know he’s probably soon long gone. But for now – I think I’m on the side of Sunday night’s fans: WE WANT DARKO.