The two players in whom the Pistons have invested so much of their future were never supposed to be Pistons. Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight stand as stark reminders that the predraft consensus is just that – the collective opinions of 30 teams, which blends disparate views. When a team is on the clock, the only consensus that matters is the one reached by its personnel executives, and two years ago Golden State – perhaps alone among NBA teams – thought Ekpe Udoh a better prospect than Greg Monroe.
In the opener of our True Blue Pistons 14-part draft series, we looked at four players that the consensus holds will be long gone by the time the Pistons pick ninth: Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal. There are two other players considered likely to be gone: UConn freshman big man Andre Drummond and North Carolina sophomore small forward Harrison Barnes.
But there’s a chance either one could tumble to ninth in much the way Knight, projected to go as high as No. 3 to Utah or, more likely, No. 5 to Toronto, fell to eighth and the Pistons in 2011. If Golden State taking Udoh was the triggering event for Monroe to fall to the Pistons in 2010, it was Cleveland taking Tristan Thompson No. 4 a year ago that sent Knight to the Pistons.
If the Cavs had played to form and taken Lithuanian 7-footer Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto was likely to take Knight – or, perhaps, to trade the No. 5 pick to the Pistons for the No. 8 pick. Joe Dumars, after drafting Knight, said he was on the phone with the Raptors talking about a swap of picks when Valanciunas got past the Cavs, ending talks. Carolina fell hard late in the draft process for Bismack Biyombo and – convinced the Pistons were going to take him, given their pressing frontcourt needs – traded up from 9 to 7 to get ahead of Detroit.
What are the scenarios that would send Drummond or Barnes tumbling?
As I wrote last week from the NBA draft combine in Chicago, Drummond could go as high as No. 2 to Charlotte or a trade partner. He’s also in play for Cleveland at No. 4 or Portland at No. 6. But he might not be the first choice of either Cleveland or Portland. The Cavs probably hope Charlotte takes Robinson at No. 2, a real possibility, which would give them whoever’s left between Kidd-Gilchrist or Beal, one of whom is almost certainly headed to Washington, picking third.
If Robinson goes 2nd, then the only logical landing spot for Drummond – barring trade – is to Portland. The teams picking seventh and eighth, Golden State and Toronto, are widely believed to be looking for perimeter players. The Trail Blazers, however, could be looking to package their picks at 6 and 11, either to move up or move out for veteran help.
Drummond’s potential is tantalizing. His wing span of 7-foot-6¼ was tops of the 61 prospects in Chicago and he was 6-foot-11¾ in shoes. He won’t turn 19 until August. Combined with what appears to be superb lateral agility and footwork, Drummond projects as a dominant defender with an offensive skill set rare among 7-footers. But the lack of production at UConn – 10 points, 7.5 rebounds a game – was troubling. A few highlight-reel plays every game broke up long spells where he seemed to have little or no impact.
Drummond admitted he underperformed at UConn, but bristled when asked about the perception he was a passive player.
“Me personally, some of the goals I set for myself I didn’t meet,” he said. “I always have a smile on my face and some people see that and say, ‘All right, he’s too happy all the time. He’s not really serious.’ Well, that’s just the person I am. I play serious all the time; I just always have a smile on my face. Basketball is a game … it’s like poker. You don’t show your face, how you feel at that certain time, so I always smile so you never know how I feel. I guess some people don’t really see that.”
Drummond’s bust potential might match his chances to match the careers of the players to whom he is compared for his physical skills, including Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudemire. There was nothing about his freshman season at UConn to give scouts confidence he’s ready to contribute immediately. Until late last summer, he was prepared to spend a year in prep school and then head to college later this fall.
Barnes might be a longer shot than Drummond to slip to nine, given that the team picking ahead of the Pistons, Toronto, has a gaping hole in its lineup at small forward, where former Michigan State journeyman Alan Anderson ended the season as the starter. But the Raptors have been more frequently linked to shooting guards Jeremy Lamb and Dion Waiters. Is that because the Raptors are expecting Barnes to be gone – perhaps to Cleveland at No. 4, if both Beal and Kidd-Gilchrist are gone? – or because they’re genuinely higher on the futures of Lamb and Waiters?
Barnes came out of high school in Ames, Iowa, two years ago being hailed as the next Kobe Bryant. He didn’t show that type of off-the-dribble athleticism at Chapel Hill, but a smooth shooting stroke at 6-foot-8 goes a long way. Some see Glen Rice in Barnes. He’ll impress teams when they sit down to talk to him, as well, coming across as intelligent and confident without exuding arrogance.
He also plays his cards close to the vest. When I asked him if he’d grant a workout to the Pistons despite their draft order, he said, “There’s really not (a cutoff point). A lot of teams are talking about moving up, a lot of teams talking about combining picks to move up. You never want to say I’m not going to work out for the 10th team, because they could become the No. 2 team.”
Lamb and Waiters are in that next tier of players who could defy conventional wisdom on draft night and get picked by the Pistons. You can put a few others in that group, as well, including Weber State point guard Damien Lillard, Washington shooting guard Terrence Ross and Baylor small forward Quincy Miller.
Lamb opened eyes in 2011 as a UConn frosh with an impressive NCAA tournament as the Huskies went all the way. UConn insiders believe he’s the closest thing to Ray Allen the school has produced. Waiters was sixth man on a stacked Syracuse roster, but some scouts see in him the potential to be a dynamic off-the-dribble scorer, drawing comparisons to Rodney Stuckey by some and Dwyane Wade by others.
The question for the Pistons with both would be fit, though as Joe Dumars proved in taking Knight, he’ll defer to talent over roster fit if the talent difference is clear.
Lillard is seen as the clear No. 1 point guard option and he could go as high as No. 6 to Portland after an impressive showing in Chicago. Ross might be the most athletic shooting guard of the bunch and also flashes high-end shooting range. There are some reports that he could go as high as No. 7 to Golden State, which also might fall for Lillard and push Stephen Curry back to shooting guard.
Perhaps the biggest shocker would be taking Miller at No. 9. He came out of high school as a top-10 talent in 2011, but also nursing an ACL tear that lingered into his freshman season at Baylor. Most expected him to return for his sophomore season, when with both Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy gone and that much more recovery time behind him, he’d get the chance to play himself into solid lottery status for a less-loaded 2013 draft.
Miller told me in Chicago he’s gained 15 pounds, up to 220, since the college season ended, and is beginning to show the intriguing offensive skills that made him such a high-profile prospect. He also said he’s got a workout scheduled with the Pistons for two days before the draft.
“It was a big decision, but it’s a decision I made,” he said. “Ever since I was younger, I wanted to become an NBA player. I just felt like if I could do it right now, why not?” Now at 100 percent, he says “a lot of teams say they didn’t expect me to have all the things I do.” At 6-foot-10, Miller projects as a big small forward who could find a home as a stretch four.
Smart money remains on the Pistons drafting a power forward or center in a draft loaded in players with high ceilings but certain flaws at those positions. We’ll start profiling seven of them on Wednesday when we look at Mississippi State’s Arnett Moultrie.