Easy as 1-2-3

A look at Pistons options should they land a top-3 pick

The Pistons will have several options should they land a top-three draft pick.
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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?

The consensus is pretty clear in this draft: Duke’s Kyrie Irving and Arizona’s Derrick Williams are considered the top two prospects. But it’s just as clear that most teams rank Irving ahead of Williams in the pecking order. Indeed, it’s likely only Washington among the lottery teams ahead of the Pistons would take somebody other than Irving – and that’s because the Wizards addressed their needs at point guard emphatically by winning last year’s lottery and taking John Wall.

The Pistons have long maintained that they see Rodney Stuckey as a combo guard capable of playing either backcourt spot. Drafting Irving No. 1 would not be their admission that Stuckey isn’t capable of playing point guard at a high level, but affirmation that they think he’s equally likely to flourish as a shooting guard alongside a true point guard.

If they evaluate Irving as not only the best player in this draft, but a point guard capable of putting teammates in the most advantageous positions to score, then he’d be an easy choice at No. 1. Irving’s size and physical attributes would give Pistons coaches the flexibility to cross-match in the backcourt if they choose. An Irving-Stuckey combination could be as dynamic on the defensive end as offensively.

No. 2 – If the Pistons land at No. 2 and anybody but Washington pops up at No. 1, don’t automatically assume that Williams would be the choice.

The Pistons will still be tempted to grab a big man with Enes Kanter emerging as the consensus top frontcourt prospect. Greg Monroe is a fixture, of course, coming off an enormously promising rookie season.

But if the Pistons think they can land another one like him – a player with All-Star potential who makes them bigger and better at both ends – then they would have to be convinced that Williams will become a dominant scorer to consider him the better option.

There are questions about Williams, for all the promise he holds. In college, he scored inside and out and got to the foul line about nine times a game. But Williams sees himself as a small forward, while many believe his chance to be an impact player will require him to play power forward.

Some worry about him defending small forwards. If he balks at defending power forwards and can’t create off the dribble to be a fit offensively at small forward, it doesn’t mean he can’t still be a highly effective NBA player – but it would argue against drafting him at No. 2 if a team sees a potential All-Star big man at that spot.

For the Pistons, it might come down to this: Do they believe Williams can play to an All-Star level at either forward spot? Or do they believe his tweener status will limit his potential at either spot?

No. 3 – If Irving and Williams go 1-2 – and while that’s the most likely scenario, it’s not the slam-dunk it was in 2007 (Greg Oden, Kevin Durant) or 2008 (Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley) – Kanter seems to be emerging as the consensus No. 3 pick and he clearly fits a need

Further, Kanter’s resume at least suggests he’d be a nice complement to Monroe. Monroe has proven he has the skill set to adequately fill either frontcourt spot, power forward or center, at both ends. Kanter appears to fit the same description.

That doesn’t mean they’re carbon copies. Kanter has shown more of a scorer’s mentality and shooting touch beyond the mid-rage. A scorer to pair next to Monroe would only draw out Monroe’s strengths as a passer and offensive rebounder. They should be virtually interchangeable defensively.

The risk with Kanter is obvious. He hasn’t played an organized game since April 2010 when he outplayed Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, going for 34 points and 13 boards in just 22 minutes at the Nike Hoop Summit. But scouts who made the effort got plenty of chances to see him at Kentucky practices last season – the Pistons certainly did – going up against better talent than he would have most nights of the college season.

It doesn’t completely erase questions that likely could have been supplied by playing a 30-game college schedule, but Kanter’s previous international experience had put him on the radar of NBA scouts long before the Hoop Summit or his migration to Kentucky.

Who else would draw consideration, if not Kanter? Basically, it would be the same cast of names the Pistons would expect to mull if they stay at No. 7: Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, Jonas Valanciunas, Tristan Thompson and one or two more, perhaps. The difference is they’d be assured of getting their pick of the litter at No. 3.

Stay tuned. The picture will start to take shape once the order of the lottery is determined. Check back tonight after the lottery and I’ll take a stab at picking the top of the draft through the Pistons’ pick.