A Tough Call

Multiple factors at play as Pistons hone in on No. 9 pick

Several names--with various factors attached to each--are still in the running for the Pistons to pick at No. 9.
Getty Images Sport
Keep this in mind as you assess which big man would most appeal to Joe Dumars and the Pistons in the June 28 draft: This decision, like all a forward-thinking front office must execute, will not be formulated in a vacuum.

For the sake of argument, let’s limit the possibilities to the seven big men we’re in the midst of profiling now as part of a 14-part True Blue Pistons draft series. (It’s not even that simple, of course, as we outlined other possibilities in Part II of the series on Tuesday.)

It will not come down merely to the player among those seven – Arnett Moultrie, Meyers Leonard, Perry Jones III, Terrence Jones, Jared Sullinger, John Henson and Tyler Zeller – the Pistons believe is the best pure player, though surely that will be a factor.

It also will depend on which player they think is the best fit with Greg Monroe. That means if they want to take one of the two true centers in that group of seven, Leonard or Zeller, then they have to ask themselves which one’s skill set would best complement Monroe’s ability to play power forward off of him.

And if they decide to go with one of the five power forwards – and, in the case of both Joneses, there is debate whether they are better fits at small forward – then they similarly have to ask which player’s skill set would best complement Greg Monroe the center.

There’s another factor to consider, though, and if you’ve been paying attention to the NBA playoffs, you might have a clue to what that is: More and more, NBA teams are fielding smaller and more athletic five-man units.

Miami often plays without a point guard or anything approaching a center. In Thursday’s Game 2, the frontcourt was Chris Bosh, Shane Battier and LeBron James to start the game. In many ways, it’s the vision for the future that Pat Riley talked about when the Bad Boys were playing his Lakers for the 1988 and ’89 NBA titles and Showtime was in its heyday. Riley spoke of the day when there would be five players like his Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper – sleek, athletic wing players with multidimensional skill sets – on the court at a time, defying positional pigeon-holing.

It hasn’t been unusual for the Heat to go with a unit of James, Dwyane Wade, Bosh, Battier and Mike Miller during this postseason. Oklahoma City starts games with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, but usually finishes with only one of those two on the floor and Kevin Durant – whose NBA career began with him at shooting guard – playing power forward.

The Pistons have to worry first about making the playoffs and fielding a team that has an honest chance at winning when it takes the court for each of 82 games, but it’s a copycat business – always has been. It’s been trending this way for a while now, teams playing with four out and one in. More than ever, versatility and athleticism trump power and height.

But … if the Pistons see in the 20-year-old Leonard, a 7-footer who plays above the rim, someone who in a few years can do for them what Andrew Bynum does for the Lakers, paired next to Monroe, who in his evolution could evoke Pau Gasol’s inside-outside versatility, well, then everybody that’s followed the trend and gone small is going to have a quandary matching up with the Pistons.

Joe D and his staff are 2-for-2 in their trips to the lottery, hitting big on Monroe in 2010 and Brandon Knight in 2011. In order to take that next leap forward, they’ll need to go 3-for-3.

The Pistons have not quite two weeks to sort through the avalanche of data they’ve compiled. They still have at least a handful of workouts ahead of them to get one last tiebreaking bit of evidence. Maybe inside their draft room, one or two of those big men will clearly separate from the field. From outside the room, it looks like an agonizing decision awaits them, one they don’t have the luxury to make in a vacuum.