Down to the Wire

Busy final days for Pistons as NBA draft nears

Jim McIsaac (NBAE/Getty)
A huge 24 hours on tap for the Pistons. Workouts Monday and Tuesday with a very interesting and perhaps influential meeting scheduled Monday night between Joe Dumars and Bismack Biyombo.

Those are close to the final pieces that will determine which player Joe D opts to take with the No. 8 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft. The Pistons know Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams will be gone when they pick. It’s almost as certain that Enes Kanter and Brandon Knight will be off the board. I suspect they’re holding out some hope that Jonas Valanciunas or Jan Vesely might be available to them – not saying they’d lunge at either player, but they’d definitely draw consideration – though the odds are against it.

So that’s six players with odds ranging from definitely gone to less than 50-50 to be available. Kemba Walker and Kawhi Leonard are wild cards. If they both go ahead of the Pistons – Walker could be in play at picks 3, 5 and 7; Leonard at picks 6 and 7 – then one of Vesely and Valanciunas will still be likely on the board. I’d peg Walker as a 50-50 and Leonard as likely to still be available.

And then there’s Jimmer Fredette. Nobody in the top seven is talking about him except Sacramento, where Fredette makes sense from both roster and public relations standpoints.

It’s a long shot, but there could be a scenario that puts all of the highest-rated big men other than Kanter (or, possibly, Valanciunas) in play for the Pistons. That would require Utah to grab Brandon Knight at 3, Toronto to take Walker at 5, Washington to go with Leonard at 6 and Sacramento to choose Fredette at 7. Don’t hold your breath, but all of those players have been variously linked to those teams. It’s close to certain that Cleveland will take a big man – Kanter or Valanciunas, with even some rumblings Vesely could be in play – with the fourth pick after taking Irving at No. 1.

Chad Ford of ESPN.com, who has proven a reliable source of information for many years on draft matters, has reported that Tuesday’s workout will include Biyombo, Tristan Thompson, Markieff Morris – all possibilities for the pick at No. 8 – plus two big men profiled by Pistons.com as possibilities for the pick at 33, Oakland University’s Keith Benson and Maryland’s Jordan Williams.

Wow. That’s a fascinating mix of prospects. Workouts aren’t usually make-or-break moments with the Pistons, but this one could be a little more pivotal than usual simply because of the limited exposure NBA teams have had to Biyombo.

The very reality of the workout, though, is another useful reminder that those who zealously follow the draft process would be wise to view mock drafts skeptically. The Pistons aren’t alone in holding key draft workouts in the final few days leading to the draft to help them separate Player A from Player B. The teams themselves are still adjusting their draft boards.

Now factor in the disinformation dynamic – teams intentionally leaking incomplete or inaccurate information to throw other teams off the scent. Bottom line: Take everything you hear with a grain of salt right up until draft day, when the news that leaks tends to be more credible as teams begin communicating their final decisions to agents – often the sources of the best information.

Remember, it was late on the night before the 2010 draft when it began to be reported that Golden State had veered toward Ekpe Udoh over Greg Monroe.

I’ve been skeptical that Utah will take Knight with the No. 3 pick, yet they’ve been linked nearly as often as Cleveland and Irving or Minnesota and Williams. If I had to guess today, I’d say Utah goes with Kanter or Valanciunas or even Vesely. Knight, then, probably winds up in Toronto. My best guess is Utah has been fine with rampant speculation that Knight is its odds-on choice, but the Jazz only within the last week have had No. 3 candidates work out. If you hear something linking Utah to one of those players in the next 48 hours, it might actually have some credibility to it at that point.

As for the Pistons, the Biyombo meeting Monday night comes on the heels of Saturday’s sit-down in New York between Joe Dumars, vice president Scott Perry and personnel director George David with Vesely. The Pistons, it has been reported, did not stay for Vesely’s Sunday workout – supposedly attended by Toronto, Washington and Sacramento, all picking ahead of the Pistons – but don’t read anything into that.

Between Dumars, Perry and David, the Pistons have had eyeballs on Vesely close to 20 times in the past two years. They didn’t need to see his workout. I’m pretty sure they’re confident they have a great feel for Vesely – they would have considered him last year with the No. 7 pick if Vesely hadn’t pulled out of the draft, but they wouldn’t have taken him ahead of Monroe – but went to New York because they wanted the insight that a private conversation can convey.

That’s why the Monday meeting with Biyombo is critical. Biyombo’s meeting with Perry and David two weeks ago in Spain reportedly went very well, lasting more than two hours. You can bet Dumars was apprised fully by them upon their return. But for a pick this valuable and a player with such a scant resume as Biyombo – 14 games, 17 minutes per game, over a few months in Spain – Dumars is going to need every bit of relevant evidence he can muster to make that pick with confidence.

The Monday workout, meanwhile, is believed to be for small forwards. Kansas’ Marcus Morris has Tweeted that he was scheduled to be a part of it. It’s possible that some or all of the other highly rated small forwards – a list that would contain Leonard, Tobias Harris and Jordan Hamilton – were invited to attend, as well.

That could indicate the Pistons are seriously looking at small forwards with the No. 8 pick – with Tayshaun Prince and Tracy McGrady both headed to free agency, it’s not a stretch to call small forward a priority need – but it could also open the door for the Pistons to trade down. Leonard and Marcus Morris could go in the top 10, but could slide out of the lottery, as well; Hamilton and Harris probably won’t be lottery picks. There are rumblings that the Knicks and Rockets, among others, are interested in moving up from the middle of the first round. If that’s so, the Pistons could get a phone call they find intriguing.

The Monday workout could be an indication the Pistons aren’t sold on the big men who could be left to them at No. 8 and now entertaining the idea of moving down to address their need at small forward. Or it could be a head feint.

A few more days of speculation. Then we’ll know what was real and what was part of everybody’s disinformation campaign.