If Pistons go big at 38, no shortage of options

Greg Monroe’s pending restricted free agency complicates draft planning for the Pistons, who might need to look at someone like Florida’s Patric Young for the immediate help he could figure to provide.
Mark Ehrmann (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

(Editor’s note: Pistons.com continues a five-part draft series with a look at the group of centers and power forwards. Coming Tuesday: a look at backcourt candidates with the 38th pick.)

Everything Stan Van Gundy has said in his six weeks on the job points to Josh Smith spending nearly his every waking minute at power forward next season. He’s talked about the possibility of Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe all playing somewhere around 32 minutes to accommodate a workable frontcourt rotation. He’s said they would represent the best such trio in the Eastern Conference. He’s said the results when all three played together last season – with Smith at small forward – were less than inspiring.

So maybe adding another center or power forward with the only pick the Pistons hold going into Thursday’s draft at No. 38 isn’t high on their priority list.

But the draft comes five days before free agency opens and the Pistons can’t be sure whether they’ll still have Monroe when the team gathers back in Auburn Hills for training camp in October. Even given the history of restricted free agency and the inherent advantage the home team holds, the Pistons have to at least weigh their options if Monroe fetches an offer sheet from another NBA suitor for the maximum allowed.

No doubt, they’ve already had those discussions internally. And maybe they’ve decided that their response will be swift and absolute: to match any offer sheet, even the maximum, and keep Monroe.

But maybe they’ve decided there are only so many resources – only so many of the projected $63.2 million salary cap dollars – they can afford to expend at two positions when their perimeter needs a boost. And maybe there’s a tipping point where they decide their most prudent course is to negotiate a sign-and-trade deal with a team of Monroe’s choosing.

In that case, then finding a player at 38 who can at least press to be in the mix for backup minutes behind Drummond or Smith moves up a notch or two on that priority list.

If it follows that a team willing to spend big on Monroe would do so because of a glaring frontcourt need, then it’s unlikely that team would have frontcourt players to spare as the return in a sign-and-trade deal. At least not ones good enough to pencil in for the minutes void Monroe’s departure would create. So the Pistons would have to restock the shelves from other sources – with however much cap space they have left after executing a Monroe trade, foremost, but also with the draft.

If it comes to that and the Pistons prioritize landing a college big man ready to compete for NBA minutes immediately, it looks like they’ll at least have some decent options – not always the case in that draft range.

There are at least four or five three- or four-year college players who figure to get past the first round. Here’s a quick look at that group.

  • Jarnell Stokes – Probably the least likely of this group to still be available at 38, although Stokes most recently was rated the No. 38 prospect by DraftExpress.com. He’s a bull with a nose for scoring inside, though undersized at 6-foot-8½ given that he’s strictly an interior player. With all such players – think DeJuan Blair, perhaps – the question scouts have is how he’ll adjust to scoring in a similar way over consistently bigger and more athletic NBA big men. Stokes, a junior, is the youngest of this group at 20 and because of that might convince teams he has the highest ceiling.

  • Cory Jefferson – A four-year player who outperformed many McDonald’s All-Americans during his Baylor career, including Perry Jones, Quincy Miller and Isaiah Austin. At 6-foot-9, Jefferson plays with a ferocity that will hold great appeal to NBA teams. They’ll wonder about his 218-pound frame, though, and whether he can hold up against players who’ll outweigh him by 20 or more pounds. At 23, they’ll also wonder if he has much room to grow. Jefferson has shown flashes of developing a good enough mid-range jump shot that he’ll need to be grow into more than a spot reserve in the NBA.

  • Dwight Powell – A four-year player at Stanford and a Toronto native, Powell – though measuring 6-foot-11 at the May draft combine – probably projects more naturally to power forward than center. He’s a versatile scorer, though, in an era where the ability to create space for teammates has become a precious commodity. If teams believe he still has room to fill out from the 234 pounds he weighed in May then he becomes all the more appealing.

  • Patric Young – Young was targeted before he ever played a game at Florida as a potential one-and-done lottery pick. He wound up staying all four years and left with an impressive resume, including SEC Defensive Player of the Year. That’s a fitting honor for a guy who looks like a dead ringer for the young Ben Wallace, before he came to the Pistons in 2000. Young, who measured 6-foot-10 and 247 at the draft combine, doesn’t block shots or collect steals at the rate that made Wallace a transformative defender, though, and he’s limited offensively. He is what he is, but he accepted his role at Florida and comes to the NBA as a “what you see is what you get” prospect. It won’t hurt that Young was a three-time winner of the SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year award.

  • Jordan Bachynski – He’ll be 25 before he plays an NBA game and his skills are still considered raw. But he’s also 7-foot-2 and 254 pounds, long and athletic, runs well and plays hard. No one is under any illusions that Bachynski projects as an NBA starter or heavy-minutes rotation big man. But if the Pistons draft a center, they wouldn’t be expecting anyone to job share with Andre Drummond – just provide another big body capable of stepping in to dole out six hard fouls and absorb some minutes when needed. Another Canadian, by way of Arizona State, Bachynski ended his college career with a flourish, scoring 25 points in a two-point loss to Texas in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

  • Khem Birch – The third Canadian in our group, Birch spent three years in college – a half-season at Pitt before transferring to UNLV for his sophomore and junior seasons – and finished by averaging 11.5 points and 10.2 rebounds a game for the Rebels while winning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors both seasons. Like Jefferson, he’s a little undersized at 6-foot-9¼ and 209 pounds to bang in the NBA paint, but that’s where his skill set demands he play. There’s not much to see offensively, but he gets his points the way Drummond has – put-backs, running the floor, lobs.

  • Johnny O’Bryant – He’s a third-year player from LSU who’s a little undersized at 6-foot-8½ and, as a former 300-pounder who now is closer to 260 might call to mind someone with a similar resume – Glen “Big Baby” Davis. O’Bryant is a physical guy who plays below the rim and in the paint, but he can rebound and he’s more nimble than he might appear. He’s productive, too, averaging 15.4 points and 7.7 rebounds a game. Taking him at 38 might be a little high, but he’s worth a look.

Two European players also deserve mention here. It’s not as likely they’d be able to offer immediate help, but their long-term potential could be greater. Here’s a quick look at them.

  • Walter Taveras – A relative newcomer to basketball, Taveras, 22, plays in the highly competitive Spanish ACB league. He’s huge – a reported 7-foot-3 – and, as it figures, projects as a shot-blocking, rebounding, rim-protecting force. But he’s also a very large project. Whoever drafts him probably will do so not expecting much in the way of immediate help. That makes Taveras a draft-and-stash candidate, perhaps even for a team picking late in the first round that wishes to avoid tying up the cap space required by the guaranteed salary slot that comes with a first-round pick unless the player declares his intention to remain in Europe.

  • Artem Klimenko – The 7-foot-1, 230-pound Russian, only 20, is another who requires considerable projection. The best guess with Klimenko is that he, like Taveras, is a few years away from being a realistic NBA rotation option. The mere fact he played in Russia’s second division underscores that point. But he’s lanky and a fluid athlete for his size who passes the look test with a frame that appears able to easily accommodate another 20 to 30 pounds.

A third player, Baylor’s Isaiah Austin, would have been included in this group. A former highly touted recruit projected as a potential lottery pick, Austin on Sunday announced that medical testing conducted as part of the draft combine revealed he has been diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a serious condition that will force him to quit playing basketball.