Pistons could use 38th pick to address their 3-point need

DeAndre Daniels of UConn.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

(Editor’s note: Pistons.com continues a five-part draft series with a look at a group of players who could help the Pistons improve their 3-point shooting. Coming Monday: a look at big men possible with the 38th pick.)

When the Pistons won their second NBA title in 1990, only 7.7 percent of their shot attempts came from beyond the 3-point arc and they made less than a third of them at 32.7 percent. Fourteen years later, when they won their third title, they took almost exactly twice as many triples per game as a percentage of their total shots, 15.3 percent coming from the 3-point line. Their accuracy had improved, as well, up to 34.4 percent.

In the season just ended – only a decade after their last NBA title – a full 22.2 percent of Pistons shot attempts were 3-pointers, but they still lagged the league by a good distance. More than a quarter of all NBA shots last season, 25.8 percent, were 3-pointers.

You get the idea. When the Bad Boys ruled the NBA, the 3-point shot was still mostly a gimmick – a device used primarily by overmatched teams as a way to mitigate their shortcomings or by trailing teams in the waning minutes. Even when the Goin’ to Work Pistons won a decade ago, the 3-pointer influenced games more than team blueprints or entire NBA seasons.

Today, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to field a championship-worthy roster without at least middle-of-the-road 3-point shooting. Given the league’s history of attempting to replicate successful models, the fact San Antonio just won the NBA title after finishing No. 1 in both regular-season and postseason 3-point shooting – 39.7 percent over 82 games and a staggering 40.9 percent in the playoffs – it’s more likely than not that an even bigger premium will be put on acquiring 3-point shooters this off-season.

No wonder Stan Van Gundy says he told his staffers before his first week on the job as Pistons president of basketball operations was out that the “holy trinity for us is tough, smart and can shoot.” Not only did the Pistons take 2.2 fewer 3-pointers a game than the average team, they shot them at a rate well below the league average of 36 percent. The 2013-14 Pistons shot it slightly worse than the Bad Boys did nearly a quarter-century ago, hitting only 32.1 percent – 29th in the league.

Keep that in mind as the Pistons twiddle their thumbs waiting for the first 37 picks to go off the board during next Thursday’s NBA draft. The premier perimeter shooters – guys like Michigan’s Nik Stauskas and Creighton’s Doug McDermott – will be long gone by then. But there will be a handful or two of the “3-D” types – players who can knock down 3-point shots and match up defensively along the perimeter – who figure to be on the board at the top of the second round.

One of the players most likely to fit the profile of what the Pistons are looking for – tough, smart and can shoot, combined with high character and highly competitive – is Virginia’s Joe Harris. A client of high-profile agent Mark Bartlestein, Harris has been based in Chicago working out with other Bartlestein clients including Stauskas and McDermott.

“Oh, man, it’s like iron sharpening iron,” Harris told me at the May NBA draft combine in Chicago of the competition in shooting drills that drives the group. “We shoot at such a high level and you’re competing against the best shooters in the draft class. To go up against that every single day, I’m lucky to have that. It only makes you better.”

Harris spoke the day after Van Gundy had been officially hired as Pistons coach and president of basketball and it wasn’t lost on him that Van Gundy’s influence on a roster that will be built around 20-year-old big man Andre Drummond would make Detroit a preferable landing spot for him.

“You always talk about trying to find the right fit with the right system,” he said. “A coach like Stan Van Gundy, he’s shown that that’s the way he likes to coach. That’s the way he wants to play. That fits my style of play. That’s what (Bartlestein) is considering. He’s trying to find the best fit for you and hopefully I’ll be under consideration.”

Harris, 6-foot-6, was a four-year starter at Virginia who hit better than 40 percent for his career from the 3-point line. He comes with the reputation of having a high basketball IQ, playing sound defense and going all out. The knock is less than elite athleticism.

“I like to consider myself a 3-D guy – a guy who’s a real capable 3-point shooter, shoots it at a high clip and is not a real liability defensively. I can guard guys and then, obviously, my strong suit is shooting the basketball.

“I think I could be a good fit (with the Pistons), to be sure. You can never have enough shooters on a basketball team, especially in today’s game. The NBA is kind of adapting to be like that. It’s a guard-driven league and when you have someone like Drummond, who’s a franchise-type player in the middle, it’s important to surround him with guys who are capable of coming in and being able to defend, play solid, have toughness and be able to knock down shots. That’s something I bring to the table.”

Here’s a look at another wave of players who, to varying degrees, bring some or all of those qualities, as well:

DeAndre Daniels – The UConn junior had a strong NCAA tournament and decided to strike while the iron was hot. He’s long (6-foot-9) and can shoot it, but almost surely needs to gain strength to be able to guard NBA small forwards.

Bogdan Bogdanovic – The 6-foot-6 Serbian shooting guard is a scorer, first and foremost. There is uncertainty if he’ll come to the NBA next season and serious doubt about his chances to hold his own defensively, but his offensive potential – including a 3-point stroke – is unusual for this point in the draft.

Markel Brown – Marcus Smart’s backcourt mate at Oklahoma State projects as a poor man’s Ben Gordon – an undersized shooting guard who could develop into a superb off-the-bench scorer. Streaky shooter but he’s got deep range.

C.J. Wilcox – Built along the lines of Rodney Stuckey though not as dynamic taking the ball to the rim, Wilcox figures to come off the board right around 38. He can shoot the NBA 3-pointer and projects to be a solid defender.

Jabari Brown – Missouri’s Brown, not unlike Big 12 rival Markel Brown, is a slightly undersized and inconsistent shooting guard with superb shooting range and good athleticism.

Travis Bader – Local favorite from Oakland University who leaves college having broken J.J. Redick’s Division I record for 3-pointers. He’s right in the mix with Stauskas and McDermott as best shooter in the draft, but the red flag with Bader is whether he’s got the NBA body to defend. Still, after teams watched the way San Antonio used the 3-point shot to storm to an NBA title, he’s going to get long looks.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo – Older brother of last year’s No. 1 pick by Milwaukee, Giannis Antetokounmpo, this 21-year-old with a 7-foot wing span played in the D-League last season and has been reportedly impressing teams with his athleticism in predraft workouts.