Darko Milicic Now Benefits from Very Low Expectations

Posted on March 1, 2010 by


Here is a surprising headline from the Detroit News:

Ex-Pistons castoff Darko Milicic has Timberwolves howling (HT: MLive Full-Court Press)

The article goes on to state the following:

The crowd chanted his name and gave him a standing ovation.

A teammate said: “You can see all of his qualities and everything he brings to the table.”

His coach said: “He obviously has tremendous potential and capabilities.”

Which NBA superstar in the making were they talking about?

Darko Milicic?

Milicic, a bust in Detroit, Memphis and New York who said in frustration he would quit the NBA after this season, has found new life with Minnesota.

He was dealt to the Timberwolves by the Knicks at the trade deadline as a throwaway. The Timberwolves, however, said they saw potential in the 7-foot-1 center.

Milicic, who spent the entire season on the Knicks bench, responded with spirited practices with the Timberwolves. He played his first game last Sunday, and won over everyone.

“It felt good to be out there,” he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press after scoring eight and grabbing eight rebounds in 19 minutes. “I didn’t expect to play that long. I got tired.”

The Timberwolves lost to the Thunder that night.

Darko played 24 minutes Tuesday, getting four points and three blocks in Minnesota’s victory at Miami.

He seems destined to play a role in the team’s final 24 games.

And don’t forget, he’s only 24.

When I saw this article I knew I had to go look at what Milicic was doing for the T-Wolves.  The results – reported in Table One – might be disappointing for those howling Minnesota fans.

Table One: The Minnesota Timberwolves after 61 games in 2009-10

Milicic has only played 102 minutes for the T-wolves.  So this is a small sample.  And across this small sample we see a WP48 of -0.104. 

Average is 0.100, so Milicic should not be generating howls.  At least, not in a positive sense.

It is true that what we are seeing is somewhat surprising.  Here is what Milicic has done across his career:

2008-09: 0.052 WP48, 1,034 minutes

2007-08: -0.045 WP48, 1,664 minutes

2006-07: 0.061 WP48, 1,913 minutes

2005-06: 0.049 WP48, 767 minutes

2004-05: -0.211 WP48, 254 minutes

2003-04: -0.171 WP48, 159 minutes

After Milicic departed Detroit, he was generally a below average player who tended to produce positive quantities of wins.  In his brief time in Minnesota, though, he is posting numbers similar to what we saw when he was with the Pistons.

So why is Milicic being cheered?  Early in his career Milicic was penalized by the high expectations that go with a player selected second in the NBA draft.  Today, though, one suspects Milicic is the beneficiary of very low expectations.  So although Milicic is not playing well, relative to what is expected, he looks like a star.

His lack of production does fit in with many of his teammates in Minnesota.  Six of his teammates are producing in the negative range.  And all but three are below average.  If we look at what these veterans did the previous season we see that most veterans were below average in 2008-09.  So what we see in Minnesota is not surprising. 

Essentially this team is Kevin Love, Al Jefferson, Damien Wilkins, and Ramon Sessions.  These players have combined to produce 20.2 wins.  Had the rest of this team produced nothing this season, the T-Wolves would be on pace to win 27 games.  Because the teams employ so many players in the negative range, though, Minnesota is only on pace to win 17 contests.

So obviously, Minnesota needs to replace the many negative players with some positive players.  And although Milicic could be one of these positive players, at 24 years of age he probably won’t be that much help.  No, the T-Wolves need quite a bit more.  And until that “quite a bit more” arrives, Minnesota is going to continue to struggle.

– DJ
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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.