Pistons to Pick 9th

NBA lottery plays to form, giving Joe D another shot to land a gem

The Pistons have a plethora of options to choose from with the ninth pick in the upcoming draft.
Mike Ehrmann/Ronald Martinez/Streeter Lecka/Getty Images Sport
Joe Dumars and Lawrence Frank might have briefly fantasized about the impact that adding Anthony Davis to their young core would have had on the Pistons, but the 1.7 percent chance of it becoming reality steered their preparation for 2012-13 and beyond in other directions.

The Pistons will pick No. 9 in the June 28 draft after the lottery played to form. Other than New Orleans jumping from No. 4 to No. 1 – pushing Charlotte, Washington and Cleveland down a spot apiece – there was no disruption in the 1-14 order. That means they’ll go into overdrive starting now to set up individual workouts for the candidates who fall within that range – with the emphasis on big men, considered the strength of the 2012 draft.

“I think the depth from the bigs this year is a little deeper, so just from a depth standpoint it probably gives you more of a chance,” Dumars said by phone from New York, where the lottery was held. “It’s going to come down to who that guy is - those guys coming in to work out and sitting down to interview to see if any of those guys are a fit for you.”

The lottery did the Pistons no favors in either of the past two years, either, when it kept them at No. 7 in 2010 and bumped them one spot to No. 8 in 2011. Yet the Pistons came out of the draft both years elated at landing Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, and feel even better about those players – regarded as twin pillars of the franchise’s future – today.

“All of the work we’ve been doing for months has been geared towards us being at the ninth pick,” Dumars said. “When your chances are 1.7 percent of moving up to the No. 1 pick, you don’t put a lot of stock into that. You really put all your work into what the ninth pick is going to be. Without getting into any names right now, it’s the names you’ve probably been seeing in that range for quite some time now.”

The names you’ll be reading about between now and the June 28 draft: Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones III, Terrence Jones, Meyers Leonard and Arnett Moultrie. At least three or four of them, possibly five or six, and potentially all seven could be on the board for the Pistons. Here are snapshot looks at them, based on observation and casual conversations with NBA scouts across the league over the course of this season, including comparisons to present or past NBA players:

  • Tyler Zeller – His freshman brother, Cody, would have gone ahead of him had he left Indiana, but Tyler Zeller had a solid North Carolina career capped by a stellar senior season in which he averaged 16.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, numbers all the more impressive on a team with perhaps four lottery picks. A good blend of size, skill and athleticism, though Zeller is less than an explosive athlete. Runs the floor well and can shoot from the perimeter, though not to the 3-point line. Scores with both hands around the basket. Listed at 7 feet – if he measures up to that at the predraft camp on a 250-pound frame, that’s another plus. Some see him as the safest pick of the bunch but perhaps with less than an All-Star ceiling.

    Plays like: Zeller is similar as a prospect coming out of college to Brook Lopez leaving Stanford.

  • John Henson – Shares some traits with Anthony Davis – long, slender and a shot-blocker who had a late growth spurt in high school and transitioned from guard to big man. But Henson doesn’t appear to have the frame or potential to add the bulk Davis does. Still, he had a terrific junior year at North Carolina – 13.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.9 blocks – and comes to the NBA as the two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year. At 220 pounds (maybe; Henson’s weight will be a closely studied number at the Chicago draft combine) on a 6-foot-10 frame, Henson has actually gained 30 pounds since arriving in Chapel Hill out of Tampa. But without perimeter skills, he’ll almost surely have to be an NBA power forward; can he hold his position well enough at either end to allow his athleticism to flourish?

    Plays like: If Henson hits his mark, he could be similar to Serge Ibaka or a scaled-down Marcus Camby.

  • Jared Sullinger – Sullinger stirs mixed reactions from scouts. Some look at his remarkably consistent numbers over his two years at Ohio State – about 17 points and 10 boards both seasons – and expect that level of production to continue in the NBA. But there are widespread concerns about Sullinger’s lack of lateral quickness and explosion that will limit him on both ends of the floor – as a defender of the pick and roll in the first case and as an interior scorer in the second. Sullinger has struggled with weight and conditioning. He played as a sophomore at about 15 pounds under his listed freshman weight of 280, yet it didn’t seem to help his quickness or endurance. Draws high marks for character and competitiveness.

    Plays like: Some see a little Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap. Kevin Love has been mentioned, but roundly rejected by others. If he can’t score inside due to his lack of explosion, the comparison that might be more apt is to Glen Davis – more a pick-and-pop type who struggles to get his shot off near the rim.

  • Perry Jones III – A bigger wild card than Sullinger in that only Anthony Davis is a more naturally gifted player and yet few scouts would be surprised if Jones doesn’t live up to lottery status. He appears to be a legitimate 6-foot-11 with a lean, athletic frame that should allow him to add plenty of natural, sinewy strength. Jones is perhaps just a little too gifted in too many perimeter skills for his own good. He can handle the ball better than almost all big men – but not well enough to be the shooting guard he too often plays like. And he can shoot it with ease out past the 3-point line – but not consistently enough yet to be an efficient stretch four. You’ll find some scouts who insist Jones will flourish away from Baylor, where they say he wasn’t used properly or coached well. Of all players on this list, he’s the one with the best chance to wow a team picking ahead of the Pistons by dazzling in workouts.

    Plays like: What Jones should focus on becoming is a player like LaMarcus Aldridge. Instead, he appears to want to become Tracy McGrady. Which leads some scouts to fear he’ll end up like Jonathan Bender.

  • Terrence Jones – When he burst onto the scene as a freshman teammate of Pistons point guard Brandon Knight early in the 2010-11 college season, Jones immediately was mentioned as a potential top-five pick in the 2011 draft. But he tailed off quickly and decided to return to Kentucky for his sophomore season, where his inconsistencies continued to surface. Yet he was an important contributor to a national championship team who blended his skills with sure-fire lottery picks Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. At his best, Jones is built to flourish in the modern NBA – a multiskilled forward with an ideal body and the athleticism to play inside or out. But there are doubts that he does any particular thing well enough to immediately carve out a niche – not rebound, not shoot from mid-range or deep, not score around the rim. One of the tougher guys to project because some see him without a position.

    Plays like: Jones calls to mind Al Harrington for many, though he will have to prove he can hit the 3-point shot as Harrington does. Because he can handle it and pass it so well for a power forward, others see Lamar Odom in Jones.

  • Arnett Moultrie – Maybe the longest shot on this list to go in the lottery, Moultrie nevertheless has to be a consideration because on paper his size, athleticism and skill set comes pretty close to looking like the ideal fit next to Greg Monroe. If he measures as a legitimate 6-foot-11 at the Chicago draft combine next week, and assuming his other measurables check out just as impressively, then Moultrie is going to be another one with a chance to creep up draft boards across the league. His numbers as a Mississippi State junior were very good – 16.4 points, 10.5 rebounds, solid shooting numbers across the board – and his athleticism is the type that will show out well in individual workouts. Predraft interviews will be critical for Moultrie; teams are going to want to know why Mississippi State crashed toward the end of last season, falling out of the NCAA tournament field, and what role Moultrie is willing to accept in that failure.

    Plays like: This was a tough one for scouts. Moultrie can score facing the basket, defend, rebound and run. There aren’t a lot of guys at 6-foot-11 who fit that profile. One name I heard a few times: Antonio Davis, who had a productive 13-year career coming out of UTEP, where Moultrie began his college career. Another said a poor man’s Jermaine O’Neal.

  • Meyers Leonard – On potential, Leonard is a tantalizing prospect with the combination of size, skill and athleticism that usually is long gone by the No. 9 pick. He is expected to measure out at more than 7-foot-0 in Chicago next week with a solid frame that should easily allow him to add 20 pounds over the next two to three seasons. Leonard just turned 20 in late February. He runs and gets off the floor very well for a player of his size and has a decent touch, though a raw set of offensive skills. He averaged 13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks for a disappointing Illinois team that failed to make the NCAA tournament. The questions about Leonard are his feel for the game and his competitive fire.

    Plays like: Leonard has the daunting physical size of an Andrew Bynum or Roy Hibbert before filling out, but his playing style is perhaps more like Robin Lopez. He might offer less immediate help than anyone on the list, but he might be the one here with the most ability to be a dominant NBA big man.