To Be Determined

Late impressions jumble draft – as Pistons can attest

Perceptions of players can change as the draft date nears.
Chris Chambers/Streeter Lecka/NBAE/Getty Images
Two years ago at this point, Ekpe Udoh’s name was barely a blip on the radar. It was ludicrous to think Greg Monroe might fall to the Pistons only because Udoh would go ahead of him.

A year ago now, Bismack Biyombo was a man of mystery thought to have a shot at perhaps sneaking into the late lottery. Come draft night, Michael Jordan was so fearful Biyombo wouldn’t be there at No. 9 – one spot after the Pistons – that he swung a trade to get up to 7 so he could claim Biyombo for his Charlotte Bobcats, dropping Brandon Knight into old rival Joe Dumars’ lap.

I rehash those draft anecdotes as cautionary tales for those who read even the most credible mock drafts three weeks out and take them as gospel.

Those most credible mock drafts might well be an accurate reflection of the current mood, but consider them the equivalent of political polling three weeks before the election – when a large number of voters are only starting to consider the factors most important to informing their decisions.

NBA teams have been in information-gathering mode for months where the draft is concerned. They still are. Joe D and his staff, plus Lawrence Frank, headed to Chicago this morning and will be there three full days, starting the interview process tonight. They get 18 sessions over three days, in roughly 20-minute windows, and hope to hit as many of their preferred candidates as possible. (The NBA grants the interviews, generally taking into account draft projections relative to each team’s draft slot.)

But they’ll be bringing most of those players, if not all – plus a few dozen others – to Auburn Hills over the next three weeks, as well. As thick as their dossiers might be on all the familiar names – Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Perry Jones III, et al – they are focused on collecting and analyzing as much data and as many impressions of these players as possible.

And then – and only then, in the last few days before the draft – do they solidify their draft board and game plan for every contingency.

That’s why for most conceivable and legitimate questions you might ask – like many I’ll entertain in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag, coming Thursday – the answer is basically, “it depends.” For instance: Would the Pistons be interested in trading up to No. 5 from No. 9 if Sacramento, as rumored, is more interested in adding veterans to a roster already loaded with lottery picks and other young players? Or: Would the Pistons trade down from No. 9 in a deal that sends Houston’s two picks at 14 and 16 back to them?

Until Joe D and his staff meet with these players – get to look them in the eye and get a real sense for their fiber – they won’t have a handle on how they’ll mesh with the current young core of the roster, Monroe and Knight and Rodney Stuckey and Jonas Jerebko foremost, or how they’ll respond to Frank’s everyday insistence on 100 percent focus and effort. In some cases, there will also be great value in seeing those players go through the individual workouts the Pistons tailor for them, ideally seeing whether Sullinger, for instance, can get his shot off inside when paired against a defender with great length, or whether Henson, whose lack of bulk is his biggest negative, can hold his position in the post.

If a player has some question marks about him – and for virtually every possible player who’ll be under consideration at 9, there are questions – they’ll want to see how they address the concerns. It gives them a window into projecting whether the issues can be overcome or not.

When that process concludes – and it won’t conclude until perhaps the day or two before the June 28 draft, when the Pistons often hold workouts – only then will they be able to draw the lines that separate their preferred candidates from those they feel less confident will have significant NBA impact.

How many players land on one side of that line and how many on the other are the things that determine whether the Pistons will feel perfectly comfortable staying at No.9, or look to move up a few spots, or be happy to slide down a handful of spots if the right opportunity arises.

Is there an Udoh out there that will send a more coveted prospect tumbling to the Pistons? Is there a Biyombo who leaps ahead of their spot this season? Three weeks until the polls close and we find out for sure.