In a deep draft, Pistons hope 38th pick can offer long-term help

The Pistons hold the 38th pick in next week’s draft – a range where they’ve landed contributors like Jonas Jerebko and Kyle Singler in recent drafts – and their chances of landing a similar player this time around look good.
David Sherman (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Chances are you’ve never heard of Kristaps Porzingis. You aren’t likely to hear his name, either, for another year or so, at least. But he’ll have an effect on this year’s draft for the Pistons, even though he was never a candidate to be their choice with the 38th pick.

By deciding to pull out of the draft before Monday’s deadline, Porzingis reduced the talent pool by one. An athletic 7-footer from Latvia who projects as a stretch four, he was being considered by teams in the late lottery. Surely, he wasn’t going to make it out of the first round.

This year’s draft is projected to be deep, but the pool isn’t bottomless. The Pistons have fared well over the past five years with high second-round picks – Jonas Jerebko was taken 39th in 2009, Kyle Singler 33rd in 2011 and Khris Middleton 39th in 2012 – but history shows once you get past 40 it’s much more of a hit-or-miss proposition.

Which means, at 38, the Pistons are picking right around the tipping point. Losing even one talented prospect, like a Porzingis, reduces the chances of finding a player who’ll prove himself worthy of consideration as a franchise core piece.

Last week, ESPN.com’s Chad Ford released his annual “tiers” draft column that gave context to the anecdotal rumblings we’ve heard for two years about the quality of the 2014 draft.

Three players – Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker – were considered in Tier 1, potential franchise players. Six others – Dante Exum, Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart and Dario Saric – comprised Tier 2, potential All-Stars. A year ago, not one player cracked either of the top two tiers.

That stings, because it suggests that if the Pistons had stayed at No. 8 instead of getting bumped one spot and thus ceding their lottery pick to Charlotte, they had a chance to get a very good player, perhaps a star.

Which one? I think they’d have been torn between taking one of the two players left from Ford’s Tier 2 or one of the shooters that make up his Tier 3. It might have meant Randle was available, given the news last week that he’ll need foot surgery. Or Saric, whose allure is clouded by uncertainty as to whether he’ll come to the NBA next season. Or Smart, who for all his appeal wouldn’t punch up the Pistons’ perimeter shooting.

The anguish would have come in looking at one of those players with their various red flags vs. the lesser prospects of Tier 3 (projected as NBA starters) – Nik Stauskas, Gary Harris and Doug McDermott – who more clearly fit a roster need.

Instead, draft night anxiety might come down to waiting nearly three hours to make a pick and hoping one or two players they covet slip past the teams picking ahead of them.

Ford’s tier system offers promise, for what it’s worth. There are a dozen players in the top three tiers. With Porzingis out of the mix, Tier 4 (starters or top reserves) is now seven deep. We’re up to 19 players. Ford’s Tier 5 – players who might not ever start but project to be solid rotation players, at least – reflects the depth of this draft at 20 players. That means the Pistons should have available to them at least two players Ford’s consensus of personnel evaluators projects as worthy of the Singler-Jerebko-Middleton class of contributors.

Over the next several days, we’ll look at some of the possibilities. We’ll start with some of the players generally projected to be late first- or very early second-round picks who could slip to 38. The wait until the draft is at nine days – and then another three hours for the Pistons.