Draft Breakdown

Where Knight fits, a role for Singler, assorted post-draft thoughts

The Pistons feel confident they've found gems in their picks from Thursday's draft.
Lecka/Lyons/Cox (Getty Image Sport)
In another lifetime, Jack McCloskey added Joe Dumars with his No. 1 pick to an already stacked backcourt. Isiah Thomas was by then, 1985, a perennial All-Star. Steady John Long, in the middle of a 14-year career, was his running mate, a deadly spot-up shooter. And Vinnie Johnson was establishing himself as the best sixth man of his generation.

So where was Dumars going to fit? He started out as the No. 4 guard, getting spotty minutes on Chuck Daly’s bench. But with the Pistons a little too much up and down in February, Daly made the switch. Joe D became the starter, essentially flipping roles with Long, and the rest of the story is revealed in the banners adorning The Palace’s rafters and the plaque bearing his name in Springfield.

Nobody’s enshrining Brandon Knight just yet, but the larger point is that you milk the draft for the best available talent and sort out the roster down the road. So let’s start with that point:

  • Draft for need and what happens more often than not is you’ll wind up drafting for the very same need a year or two later. I don’t know what would have happened if one of the big guys who’ve been linked to the Pistons for the past several weeks – Tristan Thompson, Bismack Biyombo, Jan Vesely and Jonas Valanciunas – had been on the board when the Pistons’ turn came up.

    But they were all gone. And that meant a player nobody ever thought would be available in all the war-room gaming that preceded Thursday’s draft was still there. Rather than reach for the next big guy – probably Markieff Morris, who wound up going to Phoenix with the 13th pick – they went with a player the overwhelming consensus of opinion had ranked as a top-five, top-six talent in this draft.

  • The Pistons were certain of the content of Greg Monroe’s character when they drafted him a year ago and everything Monroe did as a tumultuous first season played out around him reinforced their belief. College players of Monroe’s rare emotional equilibrium and maturity don’t come to the NBA very often.

    But the Pistons think they found the perfect complement to Monroe in Knight, a kid who could have gone to an Ivy League school, racked up enough credits in one year at Kentucky to qualify for junior academic standing and has drawn raves for his work ethic and competitive fire from no less an authority than John Calipari.

    The Pistons laugh at the predraft rap on Monroe: too laid-back. They always thought he had a competitive streak, but they had no idea how deep Monroe’s desire to be a great player ran until they got him under their control. They feel really strongly that Knight is going to become a strong Monroe ally and someday form the leadership core of this team.

  • Ultimately, where does Knight fit? He bristled, politely, during the predraft probing when asked if he was really a point guard. He sees himself as a point guard, through and through, as a leader, as the guy with the ball in his hands in the lonely moments when a game is on the line.

    But he’s also an adept catch-and-shoot player who showed at Kentucky he knows how to come off screens and launch before the defense gets to him. He said Thursday night he’s happy to play wherever they play him.

    Down the road, though, I think the expectation is that Knight primarily will play the point, though he and Stuckey will form a virtually interchangeable backcourt that will give whoever the next coach is great latitude to exploit the most favorable matchup.

    If whoever’s guarding Stuckey gives Stuckey a clear advantage, then they’ll put the ball in his hands or run plays to throw him the ball in the post, where he’s developing as a real weapon. If Knight’s speed and craftiness in running the pick and roll give him the advantage, they’ll put the ball in his hands and let him attack to score or set up teammates.

  • A year ago at this time, the high school graduating class of 2010 had three guards that the most prominent talent evaluators lumped at the top: Kyrie Irving, Brandon Knight and Josh Selby. Ask three different sources who was the best of the bunch and you ran a very good chance of hearing three different answers.

    A year later, Irving is the No. 1 pick, Knight was expected to go No. 3 or 5 and Selby – after a rocky year at Kansas that began with NCAA suspension and ended with him nursing an injury and riveted to the bench – went 49th to Memphis over concerns about a potential knee problem.

    It’s going to be interesting to chart their NBA careers, particularly Irving vs. Knight, divisional rivals on opposite sides of Lake Erie. NBA teams gave Irving the edge based primarily on a greater certainty that he’ll evolve as a true point guard.

    Knight averaged 4.2 assists at Kentucky and Irving 4.3 at Duke. Those numbers don’t mean much, I suppose, especially considering Irving’s minute sample size of 11 games. Knight shot a little more often than Irving, averaging 13.5 shots a game to Irving’s 9.5. But Irving had a much deeper and more balanced cast around him than Kentucky. Knight and fellow frosh Terrence Jones were Kentucky’s primary scorers. Calipari often used only six or seven players. They needed Knight to score – plain and simple.

    Irving had Kyle Singler – more on him in a minute – Nolan Smith and the Plumlee brothers on a deep Duke roster.

    You wonder: If Knight had gone to Duke and Irving to Kentucky, what would the stats say and how might the NBA draft have played out.

  • As for Singler, the Pistons know exactly what they’re getting. He might never become a full-time NBA starter, but he’ll still be in the league 10 years from now and probably soaking up minutes and chipping in whatever is asked of him.

    Singler had to wear different hats throughout his four years at Duke, playing power forward earlier when the Blue Devils lacked much in the way of size and finishing up as a jack-of-all-trades. You know what Singler was? College basketball’s version of Tayshaun Prince. Some nights they asked him to score, some nights they needed him to defend, some times they required Singler to rebound.

    That’s what role players must be adept at doing if they’re to stick in the NBA. Singler is as fail-safe a pick as there was to fulfill that role with the 33rd pick. He played with a lot of talented players over his time at Duke – an ideal training ground for what he’ll be asked to do in the NBA.

    I was asked during a radio interview Friday morning if I thought Pistons fans could get past the bias against Duke players that might be a remnant of the Fab Five rivalry. I responded by saying if he played hard and helped the Pistons win, he’d get a pass on something that happened while he was still in diapers.

    Not much question Singler is going to play hard. Among the lasting images of the college basketball season were Singler diving into ESPN’s Dan Shulman, leaping tables on press row during the ACC tournament, and Singler lunging to knock a loose ball out of bounds to prevent a basket in what would be the last of his 148 games played at Duke, coming up with blood spewing from his forearm and elbow.

    So, yeah, if he picks up a few scars and floor burns, Pistons fans are going to love him.

  • And Singler comes in at what is now a position of need. With Prince, Tracy McGrady and DaJuan Summers all coming up on free agency, there’s an opening at small forward. Austin Daye is going to get a crack at a major role, Jonas Jerebko could see minutes there as well as at power forward, and trades and free agency could also address the position.

    But if the Pistons need Singler to give them five or six minutes a half, he’s ready for that role.

    One other possibility to consider at small forward: Rodney Stuckey. It’s long forgotten now, but some of the most promising moments of John Kuester’s two-year run came early in 2009-10, before the rash of injuries hit, when Stuckey would play with some combination of Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Will Bynum in a three-guard lineup.

    Playing Stuckey for five- or six-minute stretches – probably early in the second and fourth quarters, mostly against backups – at small forward is another way to open playing time for Knight, as well.

  • I wrote earlier this week that recent history suggests roughly 1 in 10 players taken between 50 and 60 stick long enough to leave a mark in the NBA. So the odds are against Vernon Macklin going in.

    But he’s got a chance. Macklin’s got an NBA body – 6-foot-10 and a chiseled 227 pounds with a long wing span – and showed late in his college career why he was a McDonald’s All-American who was a ballyhooed recruit at Georgetown. He got buried there behind Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert as a young player, then transferred to Florida where he found another loaded frontcourt.

    But Macklin came on as a senior, developing a highly effective half-hook over his left shoulder. Despite foul trouble that limited him to 24 minutes, Macklin put up 25 points in what would be his final college game, a 74-71 overtime loss to Butler with a Final Four berth on the line.

    Then he worked out for the Pistons this week with Tristan Thompson, Bismack Biyombo, Markieff Morris, Jordan Williams and Keith Benson and didn’t look at all overmatched, I’ve heard. The Pistons think he regained his confidence late in Florida’s season. With Chris Wilcox a pending free agent and Ben Wallace likely back for just one more season, Macklin could stick. And if they get a chance to develop him as a rookie, who knows where it will lead?

  • Wrap it up with this: The Pistons are thrilled that they not only added three talents at the three spots they felt needed attention – another versatile young guard with playmaking skills; a ready-to-play wing; and a big man who could help protect the rim – but three high-character players.

    It’s also worth noting that they come from college basketball’s biggest stage. Singler has four years of Final Four expectations and an NCAA title – during which he was named Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four. Knight took Kentucky – where the weight of expectation gets no greater – to the Final Four as a freshman asked to run the show, hitting big shots to win games along the way. And Macklin played at Georgetown and Florida, programs that also have banners flying in their rafters.