True Blue Pistons - May 2013
(Editor’s note: Sixth in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Monday: Otto Porter.)
They grew up in opposite corners of the United States, one a right-hander and the other a lefty. One’s a classic center with game-changing ability despite nothing in the way of a signature offensive move, the other a prototypical small forward who must prove he can do something besides score to thrive at the NBA level.
For all of their stark differences, Shabazz Muhammad is to the 2013 NBA draft what Andre Drummond was 12 months earlier. They both entered their college freshman seasons in the thick of discussion to be the No. 1 pick the following spring, then saw their stock gradually sink as each passing month raised more questions about their ability to transition to the NBA.
Muhammad’s stock peaked last April, when he scored a record 35 of Team USA’s 75 points at the Nike Hoop Summit, as well scouted by NBA personnel executives as any annual event in the world. He was universally regarded as the nation’s No. 1 recruit by major scouting services, choosing UCLA from the usual slew of powerhouse offers.
Just as Drummond was considered 1 and 1A with Anthony Davis a year earlier after he reclassified to be in the high school class of 2011, so Muhammad and Nerlens Noel were 1 and 1A throughout last summer.
Posted Thursday, May 30, 2013
Down the stretch of the season, when some Pistons fans were debating whether it was better to win games or lose to better their lottery odds and the media focused on Lawrence Frank’s job security, Khris Middleton savored every minute of every opportunity granted him to establish his NBA future.
After appearing in just eight games over the season’s first four months, Middleton joined the rotation for the season’s final 19 games, nearly one-quarter of the season. He averaged 20 minutes a game as Kyle Singler’s backup at small forward and showed in increasing glimpses his innate scoring gifts. Middleton averaged 7.1 points and shot nearly 50 percent.
Especially encouraging was his improvement from start to finish of that six-week stretch. Over the season’s final five games, Middleton averaged 9.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists while making 18 of 37 shots, 4 of 10 from the 3-point arc.
“It was huge for me,” Middleton said Wednesday after a workout at the team’s practice facility and a consultation with Arnie Kander, who told me earlier this month that continuing to build strength will dominate Middleton’s off-season agenda. “I just know what to expect from day one next season. I fought my way toward getting in there and proved what I was capable of doing, but now I want to take the next step next year.”
Posted Wednesday, May 29, 2013
(Editor’s note: Fifth in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Friday: Shabazz Muhammad.)
It speaks to how thoroughly Tom Crean has restored Indiana to its customary elite status after the NCAA put the Hoosiers in shackles over Kelvin Sampson’s recruiting transgressions that Victor Oladipo probably wouldn’t be on Crean’s A recruiting list these days.
But for where the Hoosiers were four years ago, when Oladipo was a rising senior in suburban Washington, D.C., and playing at storied DeMatha Catholic as the nation’s 41st ranked shooting guard, according to Rivals.com, Crean saw a building block – a highly athletic player who would play hard and play defense, even if his athleticism on the offensive end seemed a long, long way from being harnessed.
Posted Tuesday, May 28, 2013
The most frequently asked question at Pistons Mailbag these days goes like this: “Who are the Pistons most likely to draft at No. 8?” That’s kind of like asking who’ll finish eighth in the Indy 500 before the race is run. It helps to know who’ll finish first through seventh.
Let me put it another way. Asked that question each of the last three springs, here are three names I would not have answered: Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond.
I don’t think Joe Dumars, George David and company are sitting back and waiting for another unexpected name to drop to them on June 27. They’re going about the work of assessing 100 players or so, an unusually large number simply because they’re drafting at three distinctly different areas – the top 10, the middle, the bottom 10.
But I’ll guarantee they’ll be spending as much time looking at Otto Porter and Anthony Bennett and Trey Burke – players widely projected to be off the board when their time on the clock at No. 8 rolls around – as they are on the perceived next tier of players. That’s a group that includes Cody Zeller, C.J. McCollum, Michael Carter-Williams, Shabazz Muhammad and Alex Len – and a few more, to be sure – that seems more likely to produce the next prospect to don a Pistons baseball cap while shaking David Stern’s hand.
Posted Tuesday, May 28, 2013
(Editor’s note: Fourth in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Wednesday: Victor Oladipo.)
Drawing a bead on Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams might be one of the most challenging assessments among potential 2013 lottery picks. Is he the player who posted eight points and assists double-doubles during a sophomore season in which he led the Orange to the Final Four? Or is he the player whose season ended with a clunker, putting up two points and two assists, shooting 1 of 6 with five turnovers, in Syracuse’s national semifinal loss to Michigan?
Scouts who tend to be less confident in Carter-Williams’ NBA future acknowledge he has a high ceiling as a rangy (6-foot-5¾) point guard with dazzling passing skills, as underscored by his 7.3 assists in his only season as a Syracuse starter – he came off the bench behind 2012 lottery pick Dion Waiters and All-Big East point guard Scoop Jardine as a freshman.
But those scouts simply aren’t as comfortable as others that Carter-Williams will put it all together to reach what many see as All-Star potential. The most common comparison is to Shaun Livingston, the No. 4 pick in 2004 straight out of high school whose promising career was derailed in his third season by a devastating knee injury. Others see a little Jrue Holiday in his game at the same stage, but whether his career parallels Holiday’s will depend on how Carter-Williams’ offensive game develops – mostly, his ability to develop as an efficient scorer to enhance the threat of his passing skills.
Posted Friday, May 24, 2013
(Editor’s note: Third in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Monday: Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams.)
C.J. McCollum’s story is a little like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard’s: a lightly recruited guard who winds up at in college basketball’s netherworld and shines so brightly he emerges as a top-10 draft prospect.
What league personnel executives will be asking themselves repeatedly between now and the June 27 draft is if McCollum has the same chance as those dynamic players to see his small-college success carry over to the NBA.
There’s no question that McCollum will strike a cord with those executives when he sits down with them in predraft interviews. He spent four years at Lehigh and graduated with a degree in journalism and minors in mass communication and sociology days after last week’s NBA draft combine in Chicago. He’s bright-eyed, articulate and congenial and will instantly dispel any doubts about his maturity and readiness to stand on his own.
Posted Thursday, May 23, 2013
Nerlens Noel might indeed turn out to be a very good NBA player, perhaps even a great one. But it speaks to the uncertainty of this draft that a 206-pound center with a torn ACL who’ll miss a big chunk of his rookie season is the presumptive No. 1 pick.
The run-up to the draft is a strange time in which there is an intense focus on what players can’t do, the reverse of what happens once a guy’s been in the league a few years. At that point, he becomes an asset, trade or otherwise, based on what he can do, his strengths exploited by a good coach, his weaknesses understood and accommodated.
Which explains, in large measure, how Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond were nit-picked to the great good fortune of the Pistons in the weeks leading to the past three drafts. And gives hope that they’ll benefit again by the scrutiny due over the next four weeks that could send another gem into their arms at the No. 8 pick.
Think back three years to how Monroe was perceived. Passing ability was identified as Monroe’s biggest asset. And while that’s certainly been on display during his three seasons with the Pistons – something Lawrence Frank worked to incorporate into his offense, an attribute that argues for the success of a Monroe-Drummond pairing – it wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing you’d tick off if someone who’d never seen him play asked for a scouting report.
Posted Wednesday, May 22, 2013
(Editor’s note: Second in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Friday: A look at Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum.)
No position is more difficult for NBA scouts to project than point guard. College basketball is rife with undersized guards who dominate their sport, but good luck finding the one among a dozen of them whose skills will translate to the radically different NBA game.
Trey Burke oozes the intangibles that weaken the knees of NBA general managers whose teams lack that critical catalytic ingredient a dynamic point guard brings to the equation. The right point guard draws out the potential of the teammates at his side and elevates the whole above the sum of its parts.
Thirteen years ago, a point guard who oozed all of those same intangibles led Michigan State to the NCAA championship and put the onus of assessing how his mix of below-average height, modest quickness and limited shooting range would translate to the NBA on general managers. In a historically weak draft – Kenyon Martin, Stromile Swift, Darius Miles and Marcus Fizer were the first four taken – Joe Dumars grabbed Mateen Cleaves No. 1 with his first pick as Pistons president of basketball operations at the 14th position, right between the soon forgotten Courtney Alexander and Jason Collier.
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Timing is everything. What at first blush might appear crushing disappointment in Tuesday’s lottery results … well, not really.
If there was a common refrain I heard last week in Chicago among team personnel executives at the NBA draft combine, it was some variation on this theme: If there was ever a year you didn’t want to exhaust your supply of lottery luck and draw a top-three pick, this was the one.
Joe Dumars and his staff aren’t going to lose any sleep over Tuesday results. Oh, sure, they would have preferred to stay at No. 7 rather than getting bumped to No. 8 – the exact scenario that played out two years ago, when they wound up taking Brandon Knight – and they wouldn’t have given back the No. 1 pick if it had turned out that way.
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Here’s what the Pistons would tell you about the process through which the NBA determines draft order: It’s better to be lucky on draft night than on lottery night.
The Pistons haven’t moved into the top three in any of the previous three lotteries, their standing unchanged in 2010 and ’12 while getting bumped down one rung in 2011. But they’ve come away with franchise cornerstone big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond to go with the fiercely competitive Brandon Knight, a backcourt staple. Combined with the ample cap space Joe Dumars takes to the marketplace this July, those three players are at the heart of what the Pistons believe will be a playoff push under a new coach in 2013-14.
The odds are long that the Pistons will land the No. 1 pick or pull into the top three when the NBA holds the lottery at 8 tonight from Times Square in New York, televised by ESPN prior to Game 2 of the Western Conference finals between San Antonio and Memphis. In fact, they’re longer than they were in both 2010 and ’11, though slightly better than they were a year ago.
Posted Monday, May 20, 2013
(Editor’s note: First in a recurring series leading to the June 27 NBA draft. Coming Wednesday: A look at Michigan point guard Trey Burke.)
In a draft pocked by uncertainty, this much the Pistons can take to the bank: The only two players they won’t have any shot to draft without moving into the top three when the NBA draft lottery is held Tuesday night are Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore.
It’s not a lock that those two players will go 1-2 or 2-1, necessarily, but no one believes they’ll last to No. 7 – the earliest the Pistons could pick unless they are one of the three teams that vaults to the top of the lottery when the results are made public before Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.
Most lottery teams, it’s widely believed, would take Noel with the No. 1 pick. But it speaks loudly to the lack of sure-fire impact talent that a player coming off a torn ACL, who won’t be available until late December at the earliest and who weighed a mere 206 pounds at last week’s NBA draft combine in Chicago, is not only a lottery lock but the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 pick.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013
CHICAGO – Beauty – or a red flag – is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to the NBA’s measurements registered as part of the league’s annual draft combine. Some organizations place more of a premium on what the numbers say than others, but nobody really lets the numbers scare them away from a player they believe can improve their roster.
Then again, nobody wants to put up a number that furrows eyebrows.
So it was big for Trey Burke that he measured a little better than 6-foot-1 in shoes after some fears he’d check in at under 6 feet. Victor Oladipo’s athleticism and work ethic are likely to outweigh most concerns that he’s a tad undersized, at 6-foot-4¼, for shooting guard, but a 6-foot-9¼ wing span will give him an offsetting boost.
Cody Zeller was relieved that his wing span measured 6-foot-10¾ – the same as his height. Anything less than an even ratio between height and wing span is considered a negative for a big man.
“It’s still not good,” he shrugged, “but it’s better than 6-8,” a figure that had been making the rounds before Chicago set the record straight.
Posted Thursday, May 16, 2013
CHICAGO – The Pistons ended last season with a four-guard rotation that consisted entirely of players who’ve spent the bulk of their careers as point guards. Yet it’s conceivable they’ll draft one with their lottery pick on June 27.
Both Jose Calderon and Will Bynum are scheduled to hit free agency less than a week after the draft and there’s no guarantee either one, let alone both, will be back. Rodney Stuckey has only a year left on his contract before he hits free agency, but he could be perhaps the most attractive trade chip in Joe Dumars’ arsenal in what shapes up as an active summer. And Brandon Knight’s ability to shoot off of screens – and a motor that figures to get him open frequently to do just that – means his move to shooting guard could become permanent.
So it’s not hard to see the way to an opening for the Pistons to grab one of the three point guards considered top-10 picks: Michigan’s Trey Burke, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams and Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum.
They all bring something different to the table. Burke carried Michigan to the NCAA title game and oozed the qualities of a leader and winner in a player who can score in a variety of ways but also set up his teammates. Carter-Williams is more of an old-school point guard with the great size that remains Burke’s biggest question mark. And McCollum is more of a scoring point guard who many teams like for his ability to handle either backcourt spot.
Posted Thursday, May 16, 2013
A year ago, Kim English and his class of 2012 draft mates were in the shoes – some of them stuffed with extra-thick socks to pad height – of the hopefuls who’ll be filing from one hotel conference room to the next and station to station for testing and measurements this week at Chicago’s Harrison Street Athletics Facility.
Many approach the NBA draft combine as a job interview, and English did to a degree, as well. But he went confident that showing what he was – both on the court and in conversations with the NBA executives who ultimately would decide his fate – would be enough to sell his case. He did no exceptional preparation, either to dazzle scouts with his athleticism or executives with his interpersonal skills.
“The team staff and front office know what you can do,” he said. “They bring you in, they know what you can do. They’ve watched you to a crazy extent. Four years of them watching. So I wasn’t going to come in here and try to reinvent myself. I was just going to play hard and make shots and show them what I was going to do in the league.”
Some prospects spend the time between the end of their college seasons and the draft working out under trainers far away from campus, going to training centers in Los Angeles, Arizona or Florida. English eschewed all of that, choosing to stay in school – he earned his degree from Missouri last spring – and work out under the supervision of Bryan Tibaldi.
Posted Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Many of the hands David Stern will shake six weeks from Thursday, when NBA teams will parcel out the next wave of incoming talent at the draft, will belong to players teams have been tracking for three, four and five years. Even one-and-done prospects like Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore and Anthony Bennett were identified as NBA prospects long before they got to college campuses.
That said, these next six weeks will account for a huge chunk of the evaluation process. There are no more games to evaluate, of course, but individual workouts, formal interviews, more casual conversations over lunch, background probes, videotape review, medical evaluations and even psychological profiles will be conducted to gauge NBA readiness and potential, roster and cultural fit.
That process shifts into a higher gear starting Wednesday, when approximately 60 players – mostly college products with a few international prospects sprinkled in – gather in Chicago to be poked and prodded by representatives from all 30 NBA teams.
Posted Monday, May 13, 2013
Between the 7-foot extremes of Andre Drummond, taken in the lottery, and Slava Kravtsov, signed as an undrafted free agent, came the three other Pistons rookies on last season’s roster: second-round picks Kyle Singler, Khris Middleton and Kim English.
English was the first player off the bench in the season opener when Lawrence Frank was still auditioning for a more manageable rotation. Singler moved into the starting lineup when Rodney Stuckey came up ill in the ninth game with the Pistons still winless and never left. Middleton came from the back end of the bench to finish the season as Singler’s backup at small forward.
The window can open and close on second-round picks in a flash, but all three of Singler, Middleton and English go into a critical off-season in the plans for 2013-14 as it stands now. There are certain factors out of their control, including what happens in the June draft, July free agency and a summer-long trade market enhanced for the Pistons by the cap space they’ll have at their disposal.
Posted Friday, May 10, 2013
Given that the strong consensus heading into the June 27 draft holds that Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore are 1-2 or 2-1 atop the board, followed by a thick muddle, you wonder if the GM who’ll have to work hardest at forcing a grin come lottery night will be the guy who pulls the No. 3 pick.
Noel and McLemore are considered potential stars from a draft otherwise thought to be devoid of them. If you buy that a similar talent can be had through the top 10 as at No. 3, then the reality is that you’re paying 50 percent more – last year’s No. 3 pick, Bradley Beal, was slotted at $4.1 million; last year’s No. 7, Harrison Barnes, at $2.8 million – for a similar player.
Given that the Pistons will be well under the cap this year, and intend to use their cap space to leverage more talent on to the roster, that extra $1.3 million might come in very handy on the open market.
The Pistons have a 5 percent chance (OK, 4.91 percent) of landing the No. 3 pick, slightly better than their chances of getting the No. 2 (4.16 percent) or the No. 1 pick (3.6 percent). Their likeliest landing spots, far and away, are at No. 7 (59.93 percent) or No. 8 (25.3 percent).
But just for fun, what would they do if they landed at 1, 2 or 3?
Posted Thursday, May 9, 2013
Arnie Kander sees glimpses of elite explosiveness in Brandon Knight – the transition dunks where he breaks from a pack and gets to the rim in a heartbeat, the dynamic drive for the game-winner against Toronto last season – and envisions the frequency of those instances multiplying.
He’ll start by slowing Knight down.
“I’m going to really work at his process for changing speeds,” the Pistons strength and conditioning coach said. “Slowing way, way down. Getting better at the task, but more importantly getting better at what’s between tasks.”
Think Chris Paul, perhaps, or Tony Parker. Knight is in their ballpark for speed and quickness, but just as not every pitcher who throws 100 mph is as effective as Justin Verlander, neither is a steady diet of full-throttle pace a recipe for consistently beating defenders off the dribble.
Posted Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Two things – odds of the Pistons moving into the top three during the May 21 lottery and the emerging consensus at the top of the draft – likely mean there are six players who won’t be joining the young core of Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond culled from the last three NBA drafts.
Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Anthony Bennett, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke and Otto Porter certainly aren’t a unanimous top six for the June 27 draft, but they have risen to the status of “consensus” top six, it appears. Both DraftExpress.com’s Jonathan Givony and ESPN.com’s Chad Ford, the two most credible independent draft evaluators, have them in their top six, with Noel and McLemore – in that order – their first two.
The Pistons have a 12.67 percent chance to draw into the top three and 85.23 percent odds of picking either seventh (59.93) – that’s the spot at which they enter the lottery draw – or eighth (25.3).
So if you concede that Noel, McLemore, Bennett, Oladipo, Burke and Porter will be gone before David Stern has to step to the podium a seventh time, where do the Pistons turn for help?
Posted Monday, May 6, 2013
Greg Monroe’s move to power forward doesn’t fundamentally change the summer Arnie Kander has planned for him, but there will be tweaks made in his training regimen to acknowledge the change.
It might sound curious at first blush that the Pistons’ strength and conditioning coach will focus on getting Monroe stronger to play a position that will demand greater defensive range and mobility. Until you hear his logic, at least, and then it all makes perfect sense.
For the increased lateral mobility Monroe will need to guard the expanding number of range-shooting power forwards, Kander says, he’ll first need to strengthen his legs and hips.
“You have to first work on muscle strength to be able to get in those positions,” he said. “It means get better at basketball movement. What gets in your way? What blocks things? For Greg, it’s getting better at stances. On offense, he can get away with an upright stance. Defensively, he has to really learn defensive stance – stay wide. When you start narrowing your stance, it’s hard to go lateral. Great defenders stay wide.”
Posted Friday, May 3, 2013
Among the many expectations Andre Drummond exceeded in his rookie season? Andre Drummond’s.
“Yeah, I definitely did,” he said. “I think I did a lot better than I thought I was going to do. I knew it was going to be tough coming in with a lot of bigger guys, more athletes. We all know I don’t have much of an offensive game as of yet, so I just used what I know I was good at to help my team win games and help me get more comfortable in the league.”
While Drummond’s rookie performance for the Pistons – he finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting despite missing 22 games and starting only after he returned for the season’s final 10 games – might have surprised him, it didn’t fulfill him. A little success has only served to fuel his desire for a lot of success.
“I know when I start to get more adjusted to the league and learn different things, I’ll be a lot more successful and hopefully be one of the greatest players to play,” he said. “That’s my goal – to be great, never good.”
Posted Thursday, May 2, 2013
Tom Gores’ vow to use every available resource to restore the Pistons to greatness has led him to Phil Jackson, who has agreed to serve in an advisory capacity in the franchise’s search for a head coach.
“Phil Jackson is a friend and one of the best minds in the business,” Gores said. “We are thrilled to have him as an adviser as we make some very important decisions for this franchise. Joe (Dumars) and I discussed this and he and I are in full agreement that this is a great opportunity.”
A spokesman for Gores indicated that this is an advisory role and not a formal position inside the Pistons organization. Joe Dumars, president of basketball operations, said he welcomes Jackson’s input.
“Tom and I discussed using a consultant as part of our decision-making process in our search for a head coach and we feel that Phil Jackson is a great resource to use,” Dumars said. “I look forward to talking with Phil next week.”
Dumars is directly linked to all three NBA titles won by the Pistons, more than all but four other franchises. The Hall of Famer won two titles as a player with the 1989 and ’90 Bad Boys and as president of basketball operations built the 2004 NBA champions.
Posted Thursday, May 2, 2013
There are certain players Arnie Kander doesn’t want to see for a month. Brandon Knight, dealing with plantar fasciitis that stretches back to last summer, is one of them. Kyle Singler, who’s had precious little time off since signing to play in Spain in the summer of 2011, is another.
Andre Drummond is on a different list. Because he’s the youngest player on the team, still a teenager. Because until last summer, he’d never really been in a supervised weight-training program. Because just a few months under the eye of the Pistons’ esteemed strength coach in the months between last June’s draft and the October opening of training camp produced such dramatic results.
“I go back to last summer,” Kander said. “There are certain things I measure – stride length, stopping angles, how quick getting up, speed getting down the court, change of direction, how quick sideline to sideline – the level of improvement was off the charts. Everyone heard the word ‘potential,’ but it went way beyond that for me. Because when I saw the focus, the commitment, the dedication, potential becomes very easy to attain if you’re willing to put the work in and he did that all season. For me, he’s not even a piece of clay. He’s beyond a piece of clay.”