One to Watch

Macklin’s double-double run through D-League stirs Pistons optimism

Vernon Macklin has five double-doubles since joining the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
Dan Lippitt (NBAE/Getty)
WASHINGTON – In five games since the Pistons sent Vernon Macklin to the NBA D-League to soak up game experience, he’s posted five double-doubles. The most impressive came in Macklin’s most recent outing, a 24-point, 20-rebound game as Fort Wayne won at Idaho on Saturday night.

After the game, Mad Ants GM Jeff Potter sent Pistons vice president Scott Perry this e-mail: “Vern with 24 and 20 tonight and the nastiest tip dunk I’ve seen all year. Dominated for 48 minutes. Took a huge charge toward the end of the game. He was unreal. Congrats on drafting him.”

The Pistons drafted Macklin 52nd last June, a spot where you roll the dice and hope to get someone good enough to crack the roster. Anything more than that, history suggests, is unlikely. But when a player does what Macklin has done in the D-League, it at least expands the bounds of possibility for his NBA future.

“The best NBA guy who came to play for us was Dahntay Jones,” Potter said of the nine-year NBA veteran who’s been a solid role player for Memphis, Denver and Indiana. “He was dominant. I kind of put Vernon on that level. When you dominate in this league, history shows you’re going to be a pretty good player in the NBA.”

In five games, Macklin’s numbers have been dominant: 16.6 points and 17.2 rebounds, including 6.6 offensive boards per game; 2.4 assists, 1.2 blocks and a .530 shooting percentage. And it wasn’t one or two phenomenal games that skew the numbers, either; in all five games, Macklin has posted a double-double.

“He was anxious to go down and play. He’d been working very hard here in practice,” Perry said. “He went down there with the right attitude, mental focus and understanding of what he needed to do to make an impression and gain some confidence and I think he’s doing all of those things.”

The Pistons are likely to let Macklin finish the D-League season in Fort Wayne, Perry said, which consists of five more games and concludes April 7. He would then return to the Pistons for the final three weeks of the season. It will be up to Lawrence Frank whether Macklin could crack the frontcourt rotation then, but the Pistons feel pretty good that Macklin has a future that belies his draft status.

Macklin, a McDonald’s All-American out of high school, spent two years at Georgetown, where his path to playing time was blocked by future NBA first-rounders Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert. He transferred to Florida, where he played solidly – 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds as a junior, 11.6 and 5.4 as a senior – but didn’t do any one thing well enough to distinguish himself as a sure-fire NBA player.

Yet the Pistons saw something in Macklin down the stretch of his senior year at Florida.

“We felt positive about him when we drafted him,” Perry said. “We had a good handle on his story. What he showed the last year at Florida, the last 10 games, he started to realize some of the potential people felt he had and gaining confidence. That was big for him. This is the very beginning for him. He’ll be the first to tell you. But we really like what he’s doing down there.”

The eyebrow raiser for Macklin is his rebounding prowess in the D-League. He didn’t exhibit dominant rebounding skills in college, but he’s been all of a dominant D-League rebounder. That, more than anything, could be his ticket to a rotation spot with the Pistons.

“It’s hard work,” Perry said. “It’s a focus of his. Being around our team, being around a guy like Ben Wallace who has talked to him about roles for players in the league … it was one of the things Joe (Dumars) talked to him about – being that rebounder, using his size and athleticism to his advantage, something he could do each and every night. He’s made up his mind that’s something he can control a lot easier than post touches or something of that nature. He knows every time there’s a shot up on the glass, it’s all about effort and desire to go and retrieve the ball.”

“Vernon has been unreal since he got down here,” Potter said. “From the very first time he stepped on the court, he’s just changed everything. And he just keeps getting better and better. His stamina wasn’t great, because he hadn’t played a ton, but as his stamina gets better, his offense gets better and he’s able to sustain a high level of play throughout the game. The first couple of games, he was gangbusters at the start but would tire in the second half. The last game or two we haven’t seen that at all.”

Macklin’s 24-point, 20-rebound night came in a head-to-head meeting with ex-Piston Mikki Moore, a 12-year NBA veteran.

“He was not going against a scrub,” Potter said. “Mikki Moore has been around a long time and knows how to play, but he had no answer for Vernon. Vernon is not only long but really quick. He could get anywhere he wanted to go and wreak havoc. The other thing he’s done for us is really improve our defense. He only blocked one shot, but that doesn’t really tell the tale. Guys wouldn’t go in there or he’d change the shot. Any rebound, he’s just so quick to the ball. He’s not waiting for that ball to come to him. He’s going out and getting it.”

It’s the attitude he took to the D-League – going out and getting it – and one the Pistons hope, like Ben Wallace before him, will help Vernon Macklin carve out a niche in the NBA someday.