Big Possibilities

7 power forwards, centers who could be in Pistons’ range at 33

Keith Benson from Oakland University could be available for the Pistons at No. 33.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Sport
(Editor’s note: continues its 15-part series leading to the June 23 draft with a look at big men who could be under consideration for the Pistons’ first of two second-round picks, No. 33 overall. Next: Wing candidates at 33.)

What the Pistons do with their lottery pick will influence what they do with the first of their two second-round picks, but it won’t preclude them from taking another big man if the top of the draft unfolds as expected and Joe Dumars grabs somebody like Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, Jan Vesely or Tristan Thompson eighth.

There are a number of power forwards and centers who could go from the mid 20s to the mid 30s, which should leave the Pistons with their choice of at least a few of them with their pick at 33. The pick comes in Toronto’s slot and completes the Raptors’ obligation for the 2007 trade that sent Carlos Delfino to them for second-rounders in 2009 and ’11.

The first of those second-rounders was converted into Jonas Jerebko, picked 39th two summers ago. The Pistons will be thrilled if they fare as well this time around.

Here’s a look at seven power forward or center prospects that could be within range of the Pistons at No. 33:

  • Keith Benson – Getting drafted by the Pistons would mean Benson would start his NBA career a 3-point shot from where he rose from obscure high school recruit – also in the area at Detroit Country Day – to two-time Summit League Player of the Year, leading Oakland University to consecutive league titles and NCAA tournament berths.

    “It would mean a lot for me to get a chance to play for the Pistons,” Benson said at last month’s NBA draft combine in Chicago. “They’ve been looking for a shot-blocker and I think I could be that rim protector for them and get to stay in my hometown.”

    Benson’s superb shot-blocking instincts – he averaged 3.6 per game and was the Summit’s defensive player of the year, as well – combined with his shooting touch and promising back-to-the-basket game add up to an intriguing skill set.

    So why is there a 50-50 chance or better that he’ll still be on the board at 33? Because even as a fifth-year senior at 22, Benson’s frame still only carries 217 pounds. For everything he promises as a weak-side shot blocker, scouts wonder if defenses won’t go right at him with post players who’ll be able to push him under the basket.

    Benson averaged 18 points and 10 boards for Greg Kampe’s Grizzlies, who dominated the Summit the past two seasons. His wing spam of 7-foot-3¾ trailed only two players, Jeremy Tyler and Nikola Vucevic, of the 54 brought to Chicago. A Pistons fan who saw his two favorite teams, the Pistons and Lakers, meet in the 2004 Finals and remembers watching Joe Dumars launch 3-pointers when he’d come to games at The Palace as a kid, Benson thinks he’d complement Greg Monroe well.

    “Greg Monroe has been a good piece this year,” he said. “He stepped up a lot. Beside him, I can add some shot-blocking and defense and be a rim protector and add some scoring in there, as well.”

  • Justin Harper – Harper is a finesse power forward who could eventually flourish as a small forward, perhaps, if he develops his ballhandling and shows he can defend at that position.

    For now, teams will be thrilled if he can come off the bench and provide the type of offensive flair he showed as a Richmond senior, when he blossomed as an NBA prospect with averages of 17.9 points and 6.9 rebounds while displaying uncommon shooting range and touch. Harper shot an astounding 44.8 percent from the 3-point line. Even accounting for the shorter distance and the adjustment he’ll face in the speed and size of NBA defenders, Harper holds great value as an offensive specialist, at minimum.

    On the high side, his coaches and Richmond fans compare his style of play to a favorite son of that region, Kevin Durant. The chances he gets to the Pistons are probably less than 50-50, and given the presence of players like Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye, the need isn’t glaring. But if the Pistons believe Harper has even a remote chance of providing offense in short doses what Durant gives consistently, he’d be hard to bypass.

  • JaJuan Johnson – Like Harper, Johnson is a face-up power forward who might have enough versatility to give his team another option at small forward, eventually.

    Physically, he resembles Benson, an inch shorter and lean at 220 pounds. He played four years in the Big Ten, leading Purdue as a senior after scoring star Robbie Hummel was lost for the season with a preseason knee injury by averaging 20.5 points and 8.6 rebounds to go with 2.3 blocks.

    He knows that as a likely late first or early second-round pick, he’ll have to show NBA coaches he can do a variety of things in order to see the court.

    “They’re not going to draw up any plays for me my first few years,” he said. “You’ve got to make your mark rebounding, defending and things like that.”

    Johnson is a proven commodity and scouts were impressed by the way he shouldered the load as a senior, expanding his shooting range and diversifying his post game while improving defensively. He’d represent excellent value at 33 and a very safe pick.

  • Jon Leuer – Like Johnson a four-year veteran of the Big Ten, Leuer was one of the big winners of the Chicago draft combine. He checked in at 6-foot-11½ with a 7-foot-0 wing span and his agility drills were better than many smaller players and the best among the seven big men on this list by a significant margin. In addition, he placed a close second to Johnson for maximum vertical leap at 36½ inches. In other words, Leuer appears a lot better athlete than people believed.

    Combined with what scouts already knew about his shooting range and ability to function well within a half-court offense, Leuer moved himself from perhaps a mid-second rounder to first-round consideration.

    He’s probably a stretch four all the way in the NBA. At 223 pounds, Leuer won’t be physical enough to anchor the middle defensively. But the athletic testing showed Leuer might indeed have the stuff to guard away from the basket effectively.

    As a Wisconsin senior, Leuer averaged 18.3 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting 37 percent from the 3-point line. Like Harper, Leuer might make it difficult for the Pistons to pick him if they feel he doesn’t bring anything to them they can’t already get from Villanueva and Daye. But if they feel he’s capable of eventually assuming such a role and another more logical fit isn’t obvious, Leuer could slide in at 33. Leuer is probably the most ready to contribute next year.

  • Trey Thompkins – Thompkins’ decision to stay in the NBA draft surprised many, but he belongs in the discussion here because of his skill level. At 6-foot-9¾, Thompkins has the wide frame to hold up as a power forward in the NBA, though the 239 pounds he weighed at the draft combine probably needs to be redistributed; Thompkins’ 15.5 percent body fat was worst by a fairly wide margin of the 54 players who participated.

    As a Georgia junior, Thompkins averaged 16.4 points and 7.6 rebounds a game. The question marks with Thompson are athleticism and passion for the game. Will he have enough lift to get his shot off against NBA shot-blockers? There are only so many as crafty as Zach Randolph, who understand leverage and how to use their bodies to shield the ball.

    Will he put in the work necessary to whip his body into the shape he needs to be in to allow his skill level to surface?

    Thompkins has a nice shooting touch and shows some of Randolph’s craftiness to score around the rim. He also has shown the potential to become a very good mid-range to deep perimeter shooter.

  • Jeremy Tyler – Presumptive No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving played 11 games as a Duke freshman. Enes Kanter, a potential No. 2 pick, has played one organized game of any meaning in the last two years. Bismack Biyombo was unheard of a year ago and now is a lottery lock unless something turns up to suggest otherwise in the next 10 days. So maybe Jeremy Tyler doesn’t represent all that much of a risk, after all.

    But his story is still a strange one. Tyler skipped what should have been his senior year of high school in San Diego to sign professionally in Israel for the 2009-10 season. That was a disaster, Tyler’s immaturity leading to little playing time and eventually causing him to quit before the season was up. Last year, he played in Japan – which is to the NBA what Arena Football is to the NFL – and fared only marginally better.

    But Tyler is 6-foot-10½ with an enormous 7-foot-5 wing span – longest in Chicago – and skills that would have had him in the running with Irving and a few others for No. 1 player in the high school class of 2010 had he stayed in the United States.

    He also apparently fared well in interviews, allaying concerns about his personal stability and readiness to lead an NBA lifestyle. Where it was thought prior to Chicago that Tyler might even go undrafted, it’s now clear that the Pistons don’t stand a great chance of Tyler being available with the No. 33 pick. The feeling is that somebody in the mid to late 20s is going to swing for the fences.

    But if he’s still there, the Pistons – still looking for to beef up and add players who can defend the rim – will have to take a long, hard look. If he lasts to the second round, Tyler could be to this draft what DeAndre Jordan was to 2008.

  • Jordan Williams – Williams is most like Thompkins on this list – skilled, not the greatest athlete. What he does best is rebound: Williams, as a sophomore in the ACC, led Maryland by averaging 16.9 points and 11.8 boards a game.

    He surprised most by staying in the NBA draft, but expanded the list of teams potentially interested in him by attacking training passionately once he took the plunge. Williams appeared a little chunky for the Terrapins last season, but in Chicago he said he’d lost a significant amount of weight, checking in at 247 pounds at 6-foot-9. He still has a ways to go – Williams’ body fat was 12.1 percent – but if he continues showing progress as he makes the rounds in predraft workouts for NBA teams he could push into the late first round.

    Williams met with Joe Dumars and other Pistons front-office executives in Chicago and felt an instant connection because of his relationship with Jordan Dumars, Joe’s son. They crossed paths a few years ago at the AAU Charm City Classic in Baltimore and have stayed in touch.

    “He’s been one of my friends,” Williams said. “We never really talked about his dad, but just kind of knowing I’m cool with Jordan made me a little more comfortable walking in there. The meeting went great. I felt very confident leaving there. I felt they were very interested and I was very interested in what they had to say. I took a lot out of what they had to say.”