True Blue Pistons - May 2011

About Keith Langlois
Award-winning journalist Keith Langlois, most recently lead sports columnist at The Oakland Press, joined Pistons.com as the web site editor on October 2, 2006. Langlois, who brings over 27 years of professional sports journalism experience to Palace Sports & Entertainment, serves as Pistons.com's official beat writer and covers the team on a daily basis.

Questions and comments on Keith's posts can be submitted via the Pistons Mailbag. Or follow Keith on Twitter.

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Posted Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Draft Overdrive
by Keith Langlois, Pistons.com | @Keith_Langlois

With three weeks and change to go until the 2011 NBA draft, not too much has changed in the two weeks since the lottery drawing and the Chicago draft combine. We’re still lagging most years with regard to the decision-making timeline. Other than Kyrie Irving as the likely No. 1 pick to Cleveland, nothing is certain.

The Pistons announced a list of guards they brought to Auburn Hills last week to work out, but none of those players are considered likely first-round candidates. It’s possible the Pistons won’t bring their candidates for the No. 8 pick in for individual workouts and interviews until after Joe Dumars and his top two assistants, vice president Scott Perry and personnel director George David, return from the Adidas Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy, which wraps up on June 13 – a mere 10 days before the draft.

The likelihood that five international big men – Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesley, Bismack Biyombo and Donatas Motiejunas – will be taken in or near the lottery complicates the evaluation process this year. That’s the case not solely because of their international status – scouting them is more certain than it was a decade or more ago, in part due to technology and in part to NBA experience in scouting the world over that decade – but because of special circumstances.

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Posted Thursday, May 26, 2011
Perfect Partner
by Keith Langlois, Pistons.com | @Keith_Langlois

In a complicated draft, Greg Monroe is a non-complicating factor.

The uncertainty of the 2011 NBA draft means Joe Dumars and his staff must analyze a wider pool of players in play with the No. 8 pick than would normally be the case. The depth of the draft in their range is in big men. It’s no stretch to say if that’s the direction the Pistons take – as Dumars indicated was the likelihood last week – there are at least a half-dozen power forwards or centers to study and prioritize over the next four weeks.

That’s a daunting enough process. At least Monroe allows the Pistons to analyze the players purely on their own merits. His versatility – the ability he showed as a rookie to play either position, offensively or defensively – gives the Pistons the latitude to consider players who fall into any category up front: pure centers, pure power forwards, or, like Monroe, players who could man either spot.

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Posted Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Sign of Respect
by Keith Langlois, Pistons.com | @Keith_Langlois

It managed to remain a tightly held secret until it didn’t much matter anymore, but late in the draft process last year the Pistons flew DeMarcus Cousins into town for a workout and sit-down with Joe Dumars even though all sides understood it was a long shot the massive Kentucky freshman would slide all the way to the Pistons at No. 7.

Some teams not only don’t try to conceal the slate of players they bring in for interviews and workouts, they freely announce the schedule and invite media to meet them and ask questions.

The Pistons, like most teams, are more guarded with that information. But the secrecy over the Cousins workout was at least as much to protect the player’s interests. His camp granted a workout to the Pistons but didn’t want everyone past the point they believed Cousins merited selection – and in his case, that was the top five – to think similar requests would be granted to them.

It was a measure of the respect Joe D engenders in those circles, a status reaffirmed within the past week when Enes Kanter’s agent, Max Ergul, spoke with SI.com’s Sam Amick about why he granted interviews to some teams seemingly out of range of his client but not to others, some even in the top 10.

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Posted Monday, May 23, 2011
Wide Open
by Keith Langlois, Pistons.com | @Keith_Langlois

An old friend and diehard Pistons fan asked me over the weekend which player I thought they’d wind up picking in June’s draft. He asked in part because a year ago at this time, I told him that I thought the player they’d love to land would be Greg Monroe but that it didn’t seem very likely he’d slide all the way to No. 7. (And there was no chance, I figured, that DeMarcus Cousins, a player everyone understood the Pistons really liked, would fall that far.)

“I have no idea,” I told him. “A year ago, on the night of the lottery, you felt pretty safe saying these five or six guys, in some order and within a player, maybe two, would be the first ones off the board. This year, after Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams, it’s anybody’s guess what happens next.”

The players that wind up going 3-4-5 could just as well go 6-7-8 … or 8-7-6.

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Posted Thursday, May 19, 2011
Eager and Ready
by Keith Langlois, Pistons.com | @Keith_Langlois

Joe Dumars admitted slipping one spot to No. 8 in the lottery wasn’t what the Pistons went to New Jersey hoping would happen, but said he still feels they’ll come away with a good player in the June draft.

I don’t know if they’ll come away with a player who can do for them what Greg Monroe did as a rookie, but I like their chances of landing another five-star citizen, as Monroe proved to be – someone who’ll help the Pistons re-establish the culture that pushed them into the NBA’s elite for both of their championship eras.

That impression was formed Thursday in talking with a few of the players who will be prominently on the Pistons’ radar over the next five weeks.

Start with Tristan Thompson. If we were going to put odds on which guy the Pistons are most likely to pick, I don’t know how high I’d go on Thompson. It wouldn’t be 50 percent. But I can’t think of another player any more likely to be the pick.

In part, that’s because I still can’t see Enes Kanter slipping that far – although I talked with DraftExpress.com president Jonathan Givony on Thursday, who has Kanter going eighth to the Pistons, and he stands by his belief that Kanter, because of his lack of a resume, will fall on draft night.

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Posted Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Grain of Salt
by Keith Langlois, Pistons.com | @Keith_Langlois

Mock drafts are great conversation pieces. They’re fun to read. But even the few conducted by those with unfettered access to the folks who’ll actually make the picks are little more than consensus-gathering at this point, and most everybody else bases their mock drafts off of those rare mocks with credibility. Bottom line, it’s guesswork.

And this year, the guessing is based on the flimsiest evidence. So here’s the best advice in the five weeks remaining between now and the June 23 draft: It’s impossible to predict what the people in position to act will do until those people finish analyzing their evidence – and if the process were a football field, they’re now somewhere a few yards on either side of mid-field.

They’re still collecting evidence, never mind sitting around the big table and making the hard choices: “What do we do if Player A slips? He’s probably more talented than the Player B we think might be there and definitely more skilled than the Player C we’re pretty sure will be and we believe to be more ready to help immediately, but is his upside worth his character risk?”

That’s the conversation a GM and his tight inner circle reserves for the last precious days before a draft, all the while networking with other NBA executives and player agents to get a feel for what the teams ahead of them are thinking.

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Posted Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Pistons to pick 8th
by Keith Langlois, Pistons.com | @Keith_Langlois

If there’s good news in dropping one spot in the NBA draft lottery, as the Pistons did Tuesday night, it’s that this might be the best draft for that to happen. As long as the Pistons didn’t nab the No. 1 overall pick and the right to take Kyrie Irving, no draft in recent years appears as likely as this one to produce uncertain results throughout the top 10.

In other words, the Pistons might land at No. 8 a player they wouldn’t have been disappointed to take at No. 2 or 3. And if the player taken at No. 8 this year turns out to be better than the one selected second, it won’t cause many jaws to drop.

“We still feel like we’re going to get a good player,” Joe Dumars said by phone from New Jersey, where he attended the lottery drawing at which Greg Monroe was the Pistons’ on-stage representative. “Obviously, we’re disappointed we dropped back one spot. That’s not what we were hoping for. But we’ve done our homework and we know we’ll get a good player, even dropping back one spot.”

The likelihood is that they’ll wind up taking a big man, Dumars said, which is thought to be the strength of a draft that could see five international big men go in the top 10 picks, complicating the evaluation process.

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Posted Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Easy as 1-2-3
by Keith Langlois, Pistons.com | @Keith_Langlois

What happens if the Pistons beat the odds tonight and draw a top-three pick? Here’s a guess as to what they would do with picks at No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3.

No. 1 – Even though they are slotted seventh in the lottery, as they were a year ago, the Pistons had a better shot of landing the No. 1 pick in 2010 than they do this year. That’s because the Pistons and 76ers tied for the No. 6 and 7 spots with identical 27-55 records and split the chances assigned to those two spots. So while the Pistons had a 5.3 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick a year ago, this year they’re at 4.3 percent.

What player would they take if one of the 43 four-digit lottery combinations – for a refresher on how the lottery works, read my NBA lottery FAQ – assigned to the Pistons is picked No. 1?

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Posted Monday, May 16, 2011
Work Ahead
by Keith Langlois, Pistons.com | @Keith_Langlois

If this turns out to be a normal NBA summer and Steve Hetzel gets a chance to work with Greg Monroe, his priority will be honing his mid-range jump shot. But first it will be to run Monroe into the ground.

“The main focus will be to get him game-fatigue shots,” the Pistons’ player development coach told me. “We worked the whole year on spot-up shooting, on his form, getting his shot down. But that is nothing compared to a game where you have adrenaline pumping and fatigue comes into play. I told him before he left, when he works out on his own, he needs to be doing a lot of conditioning and shooting drills so that he maintains his form when he’s tired.”

John Kuester said it often last year. Joe Dumars has talked about what’s next for Monroe. The key, all agree, for Monroe to take the next step in his ascension to a staple of the Pistons’ half-court offense will be his ability to develop a consistent 15- to 18-foot jump shot.

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Posted Friday, May 13, 2011
Quick Study
by Keith Langlois, Pistons.com | @Keith_Langlois

The first player to Pistons practices last season? Invariably, it was Greg Monroe. The guy there waiting to work with him before practice began? Always, it was player development coach Steve Hetzel.

So while Monroe’s improvement from the early days of the season to his ascension to the starting lineup two months later to the string of double-doubles he posted in a closing rush was startling to many, it was just part of the process Hetzel knew would happen on its own terms.

Take the first and most obvious example of Monroe’s ability to adapt and grow: His growth from a player who would get a high percentage of shots near the basket blocked to someone who finished with great proficiency just weeks later.

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Posted Wednesday, May 11, 2011
More Motivation
by Keith Langlois, Pistons.com | @Keith_Langlois

Greg Monroe expected to be drafted before the Pistons had their crack at him with the seventh pick last June – that’s why he never came to Auburn Hills to work out for them before the draft. If he handles the disappointment of not making first team All-Rookie as well as he dealt with his draft-day mini-snub, then the Pistons will be happy to again benefit from Monroe’s motivation to prove wrong the NBA coaches who vote on the All-Rookie team.

Monroe might have expected, based on his superb play over the season’s final four months, that he would have been a hands-down choice to join Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin and 2010 No. 1 pick John Wall on the All-Rookie first team. Instead, he was beaten out by Landry Fields, DeMarcus Cousins and Gary Neal.

In the case of Fields and Neal, at least, Monroe was a victim of the Pistons’ lack of success. While Fields’ Knicks and Neal’s Spurs were playoff teams and frequently granted national television exposure, the Pistons fell under .500 permanently with a 0-5 start to the season that kept them off of national TV and well below the radar.

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Posted Tuesday, May 10, 2011
‘A Great Student’
by Keith Langlois, Pistons.com | @Keith_Langlois

Jonas Jerebko, more than an hour into another workout during what amounts to an extended personal training camp, gets an impish sparkle in his eyes as he throws down a dunk during a drill in which Arnie Kander has admonished him before: “No dunking!”

But that’s as far as he pushes it. Kander’s told him no basketball this summer – two on two, five on five, half court, full court – and Jerebko, to no one’s surprise, is dutifully following orders.

“He’s a great student,” the Pistons’ strength and conditioning coach says of Jerebko, who missed all of what should have been his second NBA season after tearing his right Achilles tendon in the preseason opener last October.

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Posted Monday, May 9, 2011
The Lottery Effect
by Keith Langlois, Pistons.com | @Keith_Langlois

If the lottery had played to form last year, there’s a very real chance Greg Monroe would have been well out of reach of the Pistons. It’s impossible to say, of course, because teams generally don’t have fully formed opinions about top prospects until the final days and weeks leading to the draft – and until they know where they’ll be drafting.

The lottery order sets in motion the events – including the individual workouts that separate candidates in the eyes of the teams making the picks – that determine the way draft night unfolds.

Let’s recall how the odds say the 2010 lottery should have fallen – as a useful exercise to better grasp how the results of the May 17 lottery could affect who’s ultimately available to the Pistons if they stay at No. 7.

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Posted Thursday, May 5, 2011
Stage Presence
by Keith Langlois, Pistons.com | @Keith_Langlois

The Pistons consider themselves lucky to have landed Greg Monroe in last year’s lottery, so why not pack him off to this year’s lottery to represent the team in the May 17 drawing?

Monroe stamped himself as a pillar of the franchise during a rookie season that started with him on the bench and ended in a flurry of double-doubles. Monroe averaged 12.5 points and 9.3 over the season’s final 48 games, moving into the starting lineup and posting 21 double-doubles in that span.

The Pistons go into the lottery just as they did a season ago – situated in the No. 7 slot. They’ll have a 4.3 percent chance to get the No. 1 pick and a 15 percent chance to land a top-three pick. Last year, they wound up staying right where they were supposed to draft, picking Monroe seventh.

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Posted Wednesday, May 4, 2011
To Stay or Go?
by Keith Langlois, Pistons.com | @Keith_Langlois

The NBA is fine with waiting on college players. The NBA, in fact, in most cases would prefer college players keep playing for State U. The pipeline will carry those good enough to the NBA eventually and the product at the tap will be less diluted if it spends a little more time in the aging process.

When you’re picking in the lottery and weighing not only the commitment of millions of dollars, but the percentage of available assets those dollars represent, the surer you can be about the return on investment, the better. And it’s tough to be confident about that return when you have to project future performance without much of a performance history as a model for projection.

There’s a better chance the wheat separates itself from the chaff in four years than in three, a better chance in three than in two.

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Posted Monday, May 2, 2011
Who’s No. 3?
by Keith Langlois, Pistons.com | @Keith_Langlois

There’s better than a four-in-five chance the Pistons don’t draw into the top three when order for the June 23 draft is determined by the May 17 lottery. But you can bet Joe Dumars and his staff are doing their due diligence should they draw into the top three. They’ll know as much about the top three picks as they will about the wider pool of candidates to study should they stay at seven or slip back a spot or two.

There is a growing consensus that the top two picks are going to be Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving and Arizona sophomore forward Derrick Williams. That doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk they’ll go 1-2 or 2-1 – there are certainly a few teams that would take somebody else at No. 2 if, for instance, Williams goes No. 1 and they don’t need a point guard – but let’s take a look at what the Pistons or teams slotted ahead of them would do with the No. 3 pick if Irving and Williams were off the board.

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