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Pistons near end game as draft evaluation process heats up

Big man Enes Kanter will likely be a top-10 pick.
Sam Forencich/Getty Images Sport
The draft picture remains murky with just a week remaining until it takes place, but a vague outline is at least starting to take shape following last weekend’s Eurocamp – a more critical piece of the puzzle than ever before because of the number of international players likely to go in the lottery – and the clues that last-minute workout schedules can provide.

What does it all mean for the Pistons, sitting with the No. 8 pick?

Here’s what we know:

  • Joe Dumars said on May 17, after the lottery slotted the Pistons eighth, that it was more likely than not that they would wind up drafting a big man. That makes sense on two fronts: the Pistons could use interior help and that’s the strength of a draft rife with uncertainty.

  • The big men considered universally worthy of a top-10 pick are Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely. Close on their heels are Tristan Thompson and Bismack Biyombo.

Take it from there. The odds are probably 90 percent that the hand David Stern shakes upon his eighth trip to the podium in Newark next Thursday belongs to one from among that list of five. You can throw a net over another group of five players – Kemba Walker, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Alec Burks – and give them a collective 10 percent shot of being the Pistons’ pick.

Walker and Burks worked out already for the Pistons and the other three could still be doing so. The Pistons traditionally stack their workouts for the first round late in the draft process, while most high lottery candidates also hold off until the end to do their more selective workouts. The Walker and Burks camps both left Auburn Hills thinking their clients did everything they could to impress the Pistons. It’s conceivable, of course, that Dumars and his staff conclude one among that group of five radiates star power and that wins the day.

But back to the big men, the more logical course. Of our group of five bigs, Kanter is a virtual certainty to be gone. The only conceivable scenario that would allow Kanter to slide all the way to eight is if Washington trades into Minnesota’s pick at No. 2 and selects Derrick Williams. Even at that, if Minnesota winds up with Washington’s pick at No. 6 in the deal, Kanter still probably doesn’t get past that point. Leonard reportedly had a very good workout for the Wizards, but they’re not passing on Kanter for Leonard – and probably not passing on Valanciunas or Vesely for Leonard, either.

They are, after Kanter, the two big men least likely to be available to the Pistons. I’d put both of them at about 80 percent likely to be gone. Either could go anywhere from three to seven. Toronto holds a key to allowing one to slip to eight. The Raptors almost certainly would take Brandon Knight if he were there, but if Utah grabs Knight at three, then Toronto could help push Vesely or Valanciunas to the Pistons at eight by taking Walker fifth.

Even that wouldn’t guarantee the Pistons a shot at one of the two Euros, though. If Cleveland takes Valanciunas and Washington grabs Kanter, Vesely could be attractive to Sacramento at seven – although the thinking is that the Kings are going to grab a marquee name to help sell tickets, and Vesely won’t come close to the marquee appeal of Walker, if he’s still there, or Jimmer Fredette.

If Cleveland takes Kanter over Valanciunas at No. 4, Valanciunas has a chance to slip to the Pistons, though either Toronto or Washington would give him serious consideration. (And if Cleveland takes Derrick Williams over Kyrie Irving at No. 1, believing it will get Knight at No. 4, then all bets are off.)

If Kanter, Vesely and Valanciunas are all gone and the Pistons value the big men left as much or more than anyone from the five 10 percenters – Walker, Leonard, Burks and the Morris twins – then it could come down to this decision for the Pistons: Biyombo or Thompson.

And I think that will be a very tough call. Both offer more help on the defensive than the offensive end. Thompson, though he played just one season at Texas, is probably more ready to help immediately as his rough edges aren’t quite as jagged as Biyombo’s. (Of Valanciunas, Vesely, Thompson and Biyombo, Valanciunas probably has the highest ceiling but is least ready to play; Thompson is probably most ready of the four; for Vesely to have the high impact near the rim his athleticism suggests, he’ll probably need a year of serious weight training.)

It was reported by Chad Ford of ESPN.com on Wednesday night that Biyombo’s camp has called both the Pistons and Knicks, picking 17th, to inform them he could be available to work out before the draft. If accurate, that suggests Biyombo has been led to believe the Pistons are the first team likely to strongly consider drafting him.

There are indications from Biyombo’s side that their meeting in Spain last week went very well and that he is intrigued by the idea of playing for the franchise that saw Ben Wallace – the player to whom he is most often compared – capture four Defensive Player of the Year awards.

If Biyombo indeed agrees to work out for the Pistons and they could possibly arrange it so that he and Thompson work out opposite one another, it would give Dumars and his staff an important piece of evidence heading into the draft that should significantly inform their decision.

Ford, by the way, posted today on ESPN.com his annual draft tiers story that lumps Irving and Williams into his top grouping, Tier 2 – nobody was given Tier 1 status this year, which has gone to select few players like John Wall and Blake Griffin in the past two drafts – while Kanter, Knight, Leonard, Valanciunas, Vesely and Walker were in Tier 3 and Biyombo and Thompson highlighted seven players from Tier 4.

That probably explains Ford linking the Pistons to Walker in his latest mock draft – Walker was the last remaining player from Tier 3 at the No. 8 pick. But the tiers are Ford’s device, based on consultation, he says, with a handful of NBA teams that use a tier system to draft. The Pistons use a variation of that system – Dumars said last year that their groupings had Greg Monroe ranked in the same tier with DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors – but there is no indication how Ford’s composite tier rankings stack up to Pistons evaluations.

Stay tuned. Our 15-part draft series wraps up next week with a Monday look at possibilities for the second of the Pistons’ two second-rounders at 52 – the final look at candidates for 33 will be posted Friday, point guards – and then a Wednesday look at players who could be attractive to the Pistons if they were to trade down in the first round. We’ll take a stab at our mock draft for the first round – down to the 33rd pick – on Thursday morning, the day of the draft.