A little perspective on Pistons keeping – or losing – their lottery pick

Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The 2014 NBA draft was targeted two years ago as a transformational one, compared for potential impact to the 2003 draft that produced LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

It’s worth noting that the No. 8 pick that year was T.J. Ford, who went immediately after Chris Kaman and Kirk Hinrich.

NBA drafts, almost invariably, are judged by the quality of the top three, four or five picks. Maybe because the NFL draft has become such a headline-grabbing monster, all other drafts are viewed through its prism. And in the NFL, fans expect their teams to draft instant impact in the first round and starters into the draft’s third day, even if reality shows plenty of top-10 busts and spotty success throughout the draft.

But people still talk about the 2003 draft, more than a decade later, purely for the identity of its top five picks.

That’s all preamble for this: If the lottery doesn’t play to the 82.4 percent odds that will allow the Pistons to keep their No. 1 pick this season, it won’t be a paralyzing blow.

Will it hurt? Yup. Pistons brass, led by new coach and president Stan Van Gundy, just got back from the NBA draft combine in Chicago, where they got to put a face and a sense of makeup to the players whose names have populated the top 100 board assistant general manager George David has compiled for the past six months.

I have little doubt that the consensus opinion among them is that if they stay at No. 8, the spot they occupy going into Tuesday night’s lottery draw, they’ll land another really good player they’ll be confident to count among their core.

Maybe not Greg Monroe, taken No. 7 four years ago, and maybe not Andre Drummond, selected at No. 9 two years later. Or, on the other hand, maybe someone just that good, given the track record for recent drafts with David running point. Or maybe somebody like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who exited his rookie year with a jaw-dropping 31-point game at Oklahoma City in which his defense affected the game as loudly as his scoring.

Of course, the teams picking in the six to 10 range in that 2003 draft probably anticipated the same type of help then, too.

Kaman, for a time, was about as good as it gets in the category of that dying breed of back-to-the-basket scorers. He played in one All-Star game. Hinrich has been one of the league’s best backcourt defenders for a long time, a versatile and valuable piece who can play either spot, start or come off the bench. Ford might have been the dynamic, game-changing point guard scouts envisioned without a run of injuries that robbed him of his electric quickness.

But that’s the story of every NBA draft … lots of what-ifs and might-have-beens.

If form holds Tuesday night and the Pistons stay in the lottery, we’ll spend the next five-plus weeks looking at the possibilities their No. 1 pick would hold. From today’s perspective, there appear to be a number of tantalizing possibilities.

There’s a good chance one of the three one-and-done power forwards – Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh and Aaron Gordon – will still be available. One of the top two point guards, Marcus Smart or Tyler Ennis, should be there. The safe assumption is that Van Gundy is going to scour all avenues to add 3-point shooters this summer and the Pistons might well have their pick of Doug McDermott and Nik Stauskas at No. 8. And the best prospect in Europe, Dario Saric, supposedly comes with the offensive flair that would ideally benefit the Pistons.

But history tells us that, a decade from now, the 2014 draft class will have done very well if half of that group pans out.

So resist the urge to throw a brick through your flat-screen TV if the lottery taps the brakes on the momentum the Pistons gained with last week’s bold stroke to put the franchise’s fortunes in the hands of Stan Van Gundy. The likelier chances for improvement the Pistons have for next season will rest in Van Gundy’s coaching chops, the internal gains made by young players like Drummond and Caldwell-Pope, and the veteran acquisitions they make via trades and free agency.

And if they lose their No. 1 pick by getting bumped to No. 9, thereby forced to hand over their pick to Charlotte? Consider the impact made by the No. 9 pick in the 2003 draft still held up as transformational. Look up the career contributions of one Michael Sweetney.