At 52, Pistons hope to land someone good enough to stick
Drafting in the 50s is a lot like what the Pistons have experienced the past two springs by being in the lottery, where they had about a 5 percent chance to get the No. 1 pick and a 15 percent shot at landing in the top three.
The history of the last 10 NBA drafts suggests that when picking 50 and beyond, there’s about a 10 percent chance that player will have anything approaching a significant role in the NBA.
The Pistons drafted one such player, taking Amir Johnson with the No. 56 pick in 2005, the last year that high school players were eligible to be drafted. The patron saint of late-draft finds over the past decade is Luis Scola, who was taken with the 56th pick in 2002. The next-best player on the list is Marcin Gortat, who went one spot after the Pistons took Johnson in 2005 to Phoenix, which reacquired the Polish import from Orlando last season.
With NBA teams having a much better handle on international draft prospects now, and international players having a better feel for how and when they should enter the draft, the likelihood of finding a Scola or Gortat in the 50s today is diminished.
Among the others taken in the 50s who’ve become productive players are Kyle Korver (51st, 2003), Ryan Hollins (56th, 2006), Darius Songaila (50th, 2002), A.J. Price (52nd, 2009) and Rasual Butler (53rd, 2002). A few others, like Patty Mills, Derrick Caracter, Willie Warren and Luke Harangody, might still prove to be contributors.
Here’s a look at nine candidates for the No. 52 pick who could beat the odds and crack the Pistons’ roster:
- Diante Garrett – Garrett is a four-year college player who shot up as an NBA prospect as an Iowa State senior, when he was asked to shoulder a greater offensive burden with the departure of 2010 first-rounder Craig Brackins. Garrett offers good size (6-foot-5) as a point guard and could develop into a competent backup capable of running the offense and supplying solid defense with his length. He won’t be either a great scorer or playmaker, limiting his potential to develop into a starting-caliber player, but has a shot to stick early as a No. 3 point guard who can work his way into a steady rotation role and backup status.
- Rick Jackson – Jackson, a four-year player at Syracuse, has a chance to be a solid defensive big man off the bench. Thickly built, Jackson measured 6-foot-9½ with an impressive 7-foot-2 wing span at the NBA draft combine in Chicago last month. He averaged 13.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, while also averaging better than two blocked shots per game. There might be some questions about how well Jackson will defend his man, since Syracuse plays almost exclusively zone defense, but his athletic testing at Chicago showed Jackson solidly in the middle among players of his size.
- DeAndre Liggins – The fact Liggins stayed in the draft surprised many, though he might have been concerned about another class loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans arriving at Kentucky and squeezing him to the back end of the rotation. Liggins’ primary appeal to NBA teams will be his ability as a wing defender, particularly in the Eastern Conference where teams will have to match up with Miami’s Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Liggins measured 6-foot-6¼ with a 6-foot-11 wing span at the draft combine, though his vertical leap (32 inches) and speed testing were less than scintillating. He averaged 8.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists in helping a Kentucky team with a short bench get to the Final Four.
- David Lighty – Lighty was part of Ohio State’s ballyhooed 2006 recruiting class that included three players who entered the 2007 draft as freshmen: Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook. Lighty was a dynamic high school wide receiver, but suffered a torn ACL in his first year in Columbus and that seemed to rob him of some of the explosive athleticism that made him a coveted two-sport recruit. Lighty proved the ultimate teammate through five years at Ohio State, adapting his role as the Buckeyes changed personalities throughout the seasons. He averaged 12.1 points and four rebounds as a senior when freshman Jared Sullinger became the focal point of the offense. Fundamentally sound at both ends, Lighty is an ideal candidate for an end-of-the-bench option with the attitude and work ethic to work his way into the playing mix eventually.
- Xavi Rabaseda – If the Pistons take the 6-foot-7 Rabaseda with the 52nd pick, they could reunite him with Spanish league teammate Bismack Biyombo should they grab him with their lottery pick. Rabaseda averaged 8.7 points a game as the starting shooting guard in a balanced Fuenlabrada lineup where no one averaged as many as 11 points a game. Rabaseda isn’t an automatic candidate to join the NBA next season, but at 22 he’s probably as ready as he will ever be to challenge for playing time. He’s a good all-around offensive player with shooting range and strong ballhandling skills. Defense will be his question mark.
- Jereme Richmond – First-round talent undermined by questionable decision-making off the court. That’s the one-sentence essential on Richmond, who was in and out of Bruce Weber’s doghouse in a freshman season at Illinois that fell short of McDonald’s All-American expectations. That said, Richmond flashed just enough of the high-ceiling potential that NBA teams who would pass on him early in the second round – like the Pistons probably will – are apt to take a longer look in the lower reaches of the draft. At 6-foot-7, Richmond has the athleticism and all-around game that project to starting caliber down the road, if he can harness that potential. More scorer than pure shooter yet, Richmond could develop into a complete player who can defend, slash and be excellent in transition.
- Greg Smith – There’s a lot to work with for Smith, a Fresno State sophomore who surprised many by leaving school, but a lot of work to do, as well. At 6-foot-10 with long arms (7-foot-3 wing span) and massive hands (at 12 inches wide, they were biggest by a full inch over Keith Benson at the NBA draft combine), Smith oozes possibilities. But his footwork and post moves need massive refinement. Smith averaged 11.7 points and 8.1 rebounds for Fresno as a sophomore, not the dominance that was expected of him after a productive freshman season. He reportedly has made strides, both in conditioning and skill level, since declaring for the draft and working with a personal trainer. Individual workouts will be critical for Smith. Could be a boom-or-bust choice.
- Isaiah Thomas – As irresistible as the notion of the Pistons drafting a player named Isaiah Thomas might be, they would have to be convinced he’s the best player on the board at 52. Because the Pistons’ backup point guard is undersized Will Bynum, they are probably more interested in a third point guard with enough size to defend either backcourt position if that’s the direction they take. But Thomas has the “it” factor going for him, a charismatic player who was a hometown hero for attending Washington. More scorer than playmaker by instinct, Thomas had to adapt when highly recruited Abdul Gaddy was lost to the Huskies with a mid-season knee injury. Thomas finished with averages of 16.8 points and 6.1 asissts. A dynamic first step and a wicked crossover, combined with a soft touch on shots near the rim, are Thomas’ best weapons.
- Malcolm Thomas – Overshadowed at San Diego State by sophomore Kawhi Leonard, a likely top-10 pick, the 6-foot-9 Thomas projects as a defensive role player off the bench capable of guarding either forward spot. He averaged 11.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and two blocked shots a game for the Aztecs. His rebounding and shot-blocking ability suggest he can play near the rim, while he displayed enough perimeter defensive skill at San Diego State to guard out there, as well. He didn’t flash much offensively in college, but showed at the Portsmouth Invitational he has some potential in his jump shot and also can be an effective passer.