At 38, SVG’s priorities point to short list of Pistons draft candidates

Stan Van Gundy says the Pistons want a high-character and highly competitive player who brings an NBA-ready skill to the team.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/Uva Media Relations
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Stan Van Gundy said Tuesday that history suggests the Pistons have about a 50-50 shot of getting a player with the 38th pick in tonight’s draft who’ll make a mark in the NBA. Recent Pistons history suggests he’s right, but they’ve beaten the odds in recent drafts, as I wrote last month.

That 50-50 guess might be about right for this draft, which not only has some star power at the top but depth into the second round.

Who might the Pistons get?

Well, let’s start with a look at who they won’t get. I’ve identified 12 players they have no shot to get – “locks” to be taken well ahead of the 38th pick – and another group of 12 almost as certain to be gone by the end of the first round.

Then there’s a third, smaller group of eight players unlikely to be available and yet it would be less than an upset if one or two among them was still on the board at 38. Beyond that is another group of 10 that seem to offer something the Pistons would find of interest.

Start from the top.

LOCKS (12) – Joel Embiid, Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon, Gary Harris, Doug McDermott, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Dario Saric, Marcus Smart, Nik Stauskas, Noah Vonleh, Andrew Wiggins.

It would be an upset if any of them slipped out of the lottery, though Saric’s recent agreement to play two years in Turkey puts him in danger of slipping a little. Not much, though. There will be teams picking in the teens or early 20s happy to not have to commit any salary cap space for next season to a player who might be a legitimate top-five pick in either of the next two drafts.

Embiid, coming off a back injury that cut short his freshman season at Kansas and now a broken foot that scares many, also might slip, depending on what teams know about his medical evaluation. As of 48 hours before the draft, it appeared only two teams – Cleveland and Milwaukee – had seen the reports. If there’s something horrific in there, he could sink like a stone. If there’s not, his representatives will be scrambling to distribute the news in the final hours. In any case, assume that if Embiid fell to the Pistons at 38 that they would pass, too.

NEAR LOCKS (12) – Clint Capela, Tyler Ennis, P.J. Hairston, Rodney Hood, Zach LaVine, K.J. McDaniels, Shabazz Napier, Jusuf Nurkic, Adreian Payne, Elfrid Payton, T.J. Warren, James Young.

There seems to be enough consensus about the two young European big men, Capela and Nurkic, to group them with the near locks. Hairston used his D-League experience to solidify his first-round status after that seemed a long shot once he was booted out of North Carolina. Napier’s NCAA tournament charge – and the helpful link to Kemba Walker three years ago – has boosted his stock tremendously.

That’s 24 players the Pistons have virtually no shot to land. If one of them somehow gets out of the first round, there will be lots of raised eyebrows in other draft rooms – wondering what they’ve missed.

Then we come to another group of eight players more likely than not to be gone after 37 picks. But if you were going to bet that one or two might slip through the cracks, you’d probably have to accept lousy odds.

THE UNLIKELIES (8) – Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Jordan Clarkson, Jerami Grant, Damien Inglis, Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Jarnell Stokes.

McGary worked out only for Milwaukee, which holds the top pick of the second round, yet rumors he’s been given a first-round guarantee persist. Michigan teammate Robinson and Grant are exceptional athletes who lack developed perimeter games and that might run counter to what the Pistons are looking for, given what Van Gundy said earlier in the week about targeting players who bring a clearly defined NBA skill to the table.

Adams is a natural-born scorer and UCLA teammate Anderson a terrific passer. Missouri’s Clarkson would lend size, versatility and shooting to the backcourt. If one of those three slips, the fit might be right for the Pistons.

It’s no worse than 50-50 that one of the 32 names we’ve ticked off makes it to 38, but no lock that the Pistons would jump on him. Very little separates the player who’ll go in the early 20s from the ones who’ll be available in the late 30s. At this point, the draft becomes very much a “beauty in the eye of the beholder” proposition.

Let’s say for the sake of discussion all 32 are off the board, though. Here’s another group of 10 that would be next in line for consideration.

EVEN MONEY (10) – Bogdan Bogdanovic, Jabari Brown, Markel Brown, Spencer Dinwiddie, Cleanthony Early, Joe Harris, Vasilije Micic, Walter Tavares, C.J. Wilcox, Patric Young.

There are plenty of players in this group who fit Van Gundy’s wish list. Bogdanovic is a great scorer, both Browns big-time shooters, Dinwiddie a point guard with vision and size, Harris a top-notch shooter, Wilcox a slasher, Taveras a massive defensive presence and Young a thick-bodied defender who’ll set strong picks.

Also keep in mind that Van Gundy has identified character as No. 1 on his list – not just an Eagle Scout, but a highly competitive player who brings one or two NBA-ready skills with him and has no red flags for character.

It points to three names if Van Gundy wasn’t engaging in typical predraft posturing: Joe Harris, Patric Young and Spencer Dinwiddie. Harris and Young are four-year college players who come with gold stars for character. Dinwiddie is a three-year player who was widely considered a first-round talent but for the ACL tear suffered in January that ended his season and prevented him from working out for teams.

We’ll see how it shakes out. It will be Van Gundy’s first time on the clock and it remains to be seen if he’ll stay as true to the eye-opening frankness with which he spoke about what the Pistons will seek. If he does, keep the names of Harris, Young and Dinwiddie in mind late tonight when the Pistons make their pick.