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Field of candidates for No. 8 pick to keep Pistons busy in month ahead

Enes Kanter could wear Pistons colors next season if he's available when Detroit picks at No. 8.
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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.

But the picture will come a little bit more into focus, gradually, over the next 31 days. NBA teams got to see Enes Kanter in Chicago, one critical piece of information they were missing, and it now doesn’t look like there’s much of a chance he gets past Washington at No. 6 – which probably doesn’t expect him to get past Cleveland at No. 4.

Williams is likely to be the No. 2 pick, but it might not be to Minnesota. Which team trades into that spot could alter what happens thereafter.

Utah at No. 3 is a wild card. The Jazz are thought to be in the market for a point guard – we started our 15-part draft series today on Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, an oft-mentioned candidate for Utah – but could just as easily fall for Jonas Valanciunas or perhaps even Jan Vesely. Utah is likely to lose Andrei Kirilenko to free agency; Vesely has been most often compared to … Kirilenko.

If Cleveland takes Irving at No. 1, as expected, the Cavs are almost certain to go big at No. 4. The buzz coming out of Chicago is that Valanciunas’ contract situation is headed for a favorable resolution, clearing the path for him to be taken high in the lottery.

If one of Kanter or Valanciunas is on the board when Toronto picks at No. 5, it would be hard to see the Raptors letting them drop any farther. The Raptors have an affinity for international players and a need for a big man to play the middle and allow them to shift Andrea Bargnani to power forward. But what if Utah goes big and both Kanter and Valanciunas are gone in the top four? Would Kemba Walker get the call? Vesely? Hometown kid Tristan Thompson? Mystery man Bismack Biyombo?

Washington might not see value in drafting any big man other than Kanter at No. 6. Its most glaring hole is at small forward, where Josh Howard is a free agent and Mo Evans the best option. Is six too high for Kawhi Leonard or Jordan Hamilton, the top small forwards? What about Marcus Morris, a hybrid forward but probably a surer thing at small forward?

Is it outlandish to think the Wizards could take Kemba Walker? Their backup point guard right now is Mustafa Shakur. If they love Walker, believe he can help further erase the stigma of the Gilbert Arenas gun-toting incident and are further enamored of his leadership and ability to score off of the ball, they could do worse. Walker could be Wall’s backup but also play alongside him down the stretch.

It will be interesting to see how opinions of Morris will be affected by his draft combine showing. He reportedly interviewed well. He’s a likeable kid. And he’s skilled. But in person, he seemed smaller than what the numbers say, with almost a slight frame, and his hands measured smaller than those of many guards. Morris’ hands measured 8.3 inches long and 8.5 inches wide. By contrast, Purdue guard E’Twaun Moore was 9.0 and 10.0; Kemba Walker, one of the shortest prospects in Chicago, measured 8.0 and 9.0. At the other extreme, Leonard’s hands were 9.8 and 11.3.

If I had to guess the players likeliest to be gone other than Irving and Williams, it probably would be Kanter and Valanciunas. That still leaves three openings ahead of the Pistons, and the list of candidates for those spots still has to include Walker, Knight, Leonard, Morris, Thompson, Vesely and Biyombo – at minimum. You could throw Donatas Motiejunas and maybe Hamilton and Kenneth Faried into the mix, as well.

It’s the kind of logjam that leads teams to think their interests might be best served by trading down – the trick will be to find a trade partner looking to move up for the one player it believes has separated himself from the pack and fits a specific need.

Other random observations and anecdotes from Chicago:

  • Washington point guard Isaiah Thomas has the same incandescent smile as Pistons icon Isiah Thomas and, it turns out, he has a link to him. They met in Thomas’ freshman season at Washington when the Huskies played at UCLA.

    “I have a great relationship with him,” said Washington’s Thomas, a junior. “I talk to him weekly. He’s like a mentor to me.”

    It’s no accident that Thomas wound up with Isaiah for a first name, either. His father, James, was a huge Lakers fan, and he made a bet with one of his friends, a Pistons fan, prior to the 1989 Finals that he would name his son after Isiah Thomas if the Lakers lost to the Pistons. That was fine with Isaiah’s mother, Tina, because “my mom grew up in the church,” he told me, “and she liked the name, but she wanted it spelled the Biblical way.”

    Thomas was the shortest prospect at the combine, measuring 5-foot-10¼ in shoes, and the Pistons already have a similar type of player in Will Bynum. But you never know. DraftExpress.com lists Thomas the No. 50 prospect – right in range of the Pistons’ second second-round pick at No. 52.

    “My mind is open,” Isaiah smiled. “Whoever falls in love, I’ll be glad to play for them.”

  • Among the big men who might be in range for the Pistons with their high second-rounder, No. 33 overall, a number of them showed out favorably in Chicago, including USC’s Nikola Vucevic and Maryland’s Jordan Williams. They both probably sneak into the bottom third of the first round. Oakland’s Keith Benson and Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson could be available to them, though whether the Pistons would again go big if they draft for size at No. 8 is questionable. One player who measured well, Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer – at 6-foot-11½ in shoes, he was just a quarter-inch shorter than Vucevic for tallest player there – could yet emerge as a first-rounder.

  • Among perimeter players in Chicago who helped themselves, Georgia Tech’s Iman Shumpert stamped himself as a first-round candidate by passing the eye test with flying colors. Shumpert might be seen as a perimeter stopper with his great size and strength – he measured at 6-foot-5½ with a wing span of 6-foot-9½, just a half-inch less than Marcus Morris. Another who measured well was Purdue’s Moore with the same 6-foot-9½ wing span.

    Shumpert knows Will Bynum from the shared Georgia Tech roots and said he ran into Bynum in the locker room at Tim Grover’s Attack Athletics facility. That’s where the draft combine was held and where Bynum works out in the off-season under Grover’s direction.