Drafting Diamonds

Monroe, Stuckey, Daye, Jerebko: Joe D’s drafts pay dividends

Austin Daye, Greg Monroe and Jonas Jerebko are vital parts of the Pistons' future.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
You wouldn’t get very far down any credible list of the Pistons’ organizational assets without tripping across the names of Greg Monroe, Austin Daye, Jonas Jerebko and Rodney Stuckey. Given their age, production and contract status, in fact, there’s a decent chance they would comprise a consensus top four in one order or another.

What they have in common, besides representing the cream of Joe Dumars’ last four draft hauls, is that all would be taken higher – in most cases, much higher – than where the Pistons drafted them.

John Kuester went out of his way twice in the last two days to credit Joe D and his staff – vice president Scott Perry, personnel director George David and scouting director Doug Ash have been constants in that time, with scouts Durand Walker and Harold Ellis integral to the last few drafts – for providing what essentially shapes up as the Pistons’ nucleus for the foreseeable future.

A quick review of the 2007, 2009 and 2010 drafts – the Pistons traded out of the 2008 first round, when they were picking 29th – shows just how right Dumars got it each time.

  • 2007 – The Pistons got Stuckey 15th. Redo that draft today and he might go fourth. Only Kevin Durant, Al Horford and Joakim Noah would be locks to go ahead of him. Stuckey would almost certainly be gone by the No. 7 pick, ahead of at least eight players who were taken before him: Mike Conley, Yi Jianlian, Corey Brewer, Brandan Wright, Spencer Hawes, Acie Law, Julian Wright and Al Thornton.

    You could make a compelling case that he goes before three others: the oft-injured Greg Oden, that year’s No. 1 pick; Oklahoma City’s Jeff Green, No. 5; and Philadelphia’s Thaddeus Young, No. 12. ESPN.com’s Chad Ford, in his list of the most desirable restricted free agents, listed Stuckey No. 3, ahead of Oden (5), Green (4) and Young (6) and behind two players who weren’t in the 2007 draft.

    How about players taken after Stuckey? Could the Pistons have found someone better from the pool of players available to them at 15? On draft day, the Pistons debated Stuckey vs. Nick Young. Young went next. He’s emerged this season as the scorer the Pistons projected him to be, but he has big holes in his game. Stuckey is pretty clearly the better all-around player.

    Young cracks Ford’s list at No. 8. Three others taken after Stuckey in the 2007 first round make his top 10 – Wilson Chandler (7), Aaron Brooks (9) and Arron Afflalo (10). Afflalo, of course, was the Pistons’ pick at 27.

    The Pistons identified Stuckey early in the evaluation process as a player to track. Perry saw him in his first season at Eastern Washington and put the word out to the staff that this was a player who bore watching. It wasn’t easy scouting games in Eastern Washington’s Big Sky Conference, but the Pistons made it a point for all front-office eyes to catch him – and they didn’t see many other NBA scouts at those games.

    It was the type of due diligence that leads to finding an above-average NBA starter, and potentially more than that, at a spot in the draft where history says your odds of landing a player who can crack the rotation is maybe 50-50.

  • 2009 – The Pistons found another player who projects to that level – above-average NBA starter or more – in the same spot of the draft two years later. The Pistons considered a number of players with the No. 15 pick in 2009, but by draft day they’d zeroed in on Daye over their other candidates: Earl Clark, James Johnson and Byron Mullens. Clark went to Phoenix, one spot ahead of the Pistons. Johnson went to Chicago, one spot behind them. Mullens went to Oklahoma City with the No. 24 pick.

    Daye is clearly the best of that bunch so far. He also would likely be selected, even by conservative estimates, ahead of a handful of others: Hasheem Thabeet, Jordan Hill, Terrence Williams and Gerald Henderson among them. Only Blake Griffin, Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry and Brandon Jennings would be consensus picks to go before Daye.

    There is far more room for debate on how a redraft of second-year players would turn out as opposed to players from Stuckey’s 2007 class, who have had three-plus seasons to find their niche. But Daye would win some draft-room debates over players such as James Harden, Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, DeMar DeRozan and Tyler Hansbrough.

    A number of point guards taken on Daye’s heels have had promising starts to their careers. Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson and Darren Collison, taken between 17 and 21, all play important roles for their teams.

    But Daye’s unique scoring ability and all-around game – deep shooting range, ballhandling, passing, rebounding and rare length for a perimeter player – would make him the winner in not a few draft-room discussions over any or all three of those point guards.

    The Pistons landed Jonas Jerebko, a 2010 All-Rookie second-teamer, with the No. 39 pick of the second round. His case is another that underscores the perseverance of Joe D’s staff. David went to Europe to scout Jerebko and several others, but on the day his itinerary took him to Biella, Italy, where Jerebko played for two seasons before entering the NBA draft, the coach of Angelico unexpectedly called off practice.

    David showed up anyway and, lo and behold, got to see Jerebko working out on his own, getting a great insight into his skills, character and work ethic. David also stuck around at the European version of the NBA’s Chicago draft combine an extra day to catch Jerebko’s workout, after many teams’ scouts had left, when Jerebko was a late arrival due to his team’s unexpected first-round playoff win in the Italian postseason.

    One of the forgotten stories of the 2010-11 season is how Jerebko’s presence might have turned losses into wins on all those nights the Pistons lacked for a spark. A common rap on the Pistons is that they have too many players who do similar things. But they have no one quite like Jerebko. If they do the 2009 draft over again, he’s a lottery candidate.

  • 2010 – It’s even tougher to project how a redo of the 2010 draft would turn out, but it’s a lock that Greg Monroe wouldn’t go any lower than his No. 7 standing and it’s a good bet that he’d go at least a few spots higher.

    John Wall hasn’t hit the NBA with tidal-wave force, as many expected, but there’s little question he’d again be the No. 1 pick. All bets are off after that. Though no one is ready to slap the “bust” label on anyone, it’s fair to say Evan Turner has failed to meet expectations for the No. 2 pick and Wesley Johnson, though playing major minutes in Minnesota, has largely failed to answer critics who questioned his ability to be more than a stand-still shooter and dunker.

    Golden State’s decision to take Ekpe Udoh with the No. 6 pick opened the door for the Pistons to land Monroe. Udoh, who broke his wrist last summer, has only had a month’s worth of games to validate the Warriors’ decision, but so far his impact has been minimal.

    Monroe, meanwhile, has in many ways exceeded expectations. In the month since he’s become a fixture in the starting lineup, Monroe has averaged 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds while shooting 61.8 percent.

    Befitting a player the Pistons described at the time they drafted him as intelligent and coachable, Monroe keeps adding new elements as he soaks up NBA experiences. Early in the season, he had frequent trouble getting shots off near the rim without having them blocked. Now it happens no more to Monroe than anyone else, it seems. Then he began to display superb hands defensively. Over the last 15 games, he’s averaging 1.7 steals.

    More recently, Monroe has shown a knack for making himself available for passes near the rim and converting them to points.

    Still to come, the front office that scouted him and the coaches who work with him daily feel, are evidence of the passing skills that make him a candidate to have the offense run through him and honing a jump shot from the baseline and elbows.

    As the weeks passed, Monroe’s inclusion in the 2011 All-Star weekend’s Rookie-Soph Challenge came to be considered a lock. So it was no surprise this week when he was announced to the roster.

    Stuckey would have been there as a rookie if he hadn’t missed the season’s first 27 games and was picked in his second year. Jerebko went as a rookie and almost surely would have repeated if not for the Achilles tear. And if Daye hadn’t fallen out of the rotation early in the season after opening the year as a starter – a move John Kuester at the time said, in so many words, was no reflection on Daye but made to add more bulk to the lineup – there’s a strong chance he’d be on the roster this year, as well.

    That’s a pretty good run of drafts for Joe D and his staff – and better positions the Pistons for the future than their record would suggest.