It was every bit the surprise to the Pistons when Kyle Singler fell to their pick early in the second round last June that it was when Brandon Knight tumbled to No. 8 in the first round. Chicago had two picks late in the first round and the Bulls were suspected to have a high level of interest in the four-year Duke product.
But the Bulls swapped one of those picks away to Miami and used the other on another small forward prospect, Marquette’s Jimmy Butler. Three picks into the second round – using a pick they had obtained from Toronto in the Carlos Delfino deal four years earlier – the Pistons grabbed Singler for themselves.
The Pistons aren’t picking quite that close to the back end of the first round this year. Their own pick comes at 39 and the one they obtained from Houston for a 2009 second-rounder is 44th. But given the depth of the 2012 draft, it’s possible that a player the Pistons have ranked as a first-round talent still will be on the board at 39.
Who might that be?
Start with Michigan State’s Draymond Green, who presents NBA teams with a conundrum. They all take Tom Izzo, whose opinion is highly respected across the league, at his word when he sings Green’s praises, yet there is a measure of doubt over what NBA position Green will be able to handle.
Green had a terrific senior season, leading the Spartans to a share of the Big Ten title and winning the league’s Player of the Year award over Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, joining him on the AP All-American first team. Green led Michigan State in scoring (16.1), rebounding (10.4) and steals (1.5) and finished three assists for the season behind point guard Keith Appling.
The Pistons likely know Green as thoroughly as they’ve ever understood a prospective draft choice. At the Chicago draft combine earlier this month, Green spoke of the value of his relationship with Joe Dumars, whose son Jordan and Green’s paths crossed on the AAU circuit.
“We can start out talking about basketball and then end up on something completely different, because we’re far beyond a basketball relationship,” he said. “That’s not where our relationship came from.”
While NBA teams might still be unsure whether Green is big enough for a power forward or quick enough for a small forward, he helped himself at the combine by measuring 6-foot-7½ in shoes with an outstanding wing span of 7-foot-1¼. The most impressive qualities Green brings to the NBA, though, are his smarts, leadership potential and competitiveness. More than the vast majority of players, the ball seems to find Green and good things usually ensue.
Those things make him a likely late first-rounder, going to a winning team that’s looking for somebody who can initially prove trustworthy and fit in as needed, then eventually morph into a valued rotation part.
Who else fits that profile? Start with Vanderbilt of the SEC, which has no less than three players who could all hear their names called in the first round … or slide into the early part of the second. Center Festus Ezeli and wings Jeff Taylor and John Jenkins helped Vandy to a 25-11 record.
Taylor, at 6-foot-7, is perhaps the draft’s premier wing defender who through his first three college seasons was seen as little more than an athlete. But as a senior, he averaged 16.1 points while shooting 42 percent from the 3-point line on more than four attempts per game. Jenkins is perhaps the best pure shooter in the draft, hitting 44 percent from the arc on nearly nine attempts per game in averaging 20 points.
Ezeli has holes in his game, but he’s got ideal NBA size – 6-foot-11½, 264 pounds and a nearly 7-foot-6 wing span. He played just 23 minutes a game for the Commodores, helping explain his modest stats: 10.1 points, 5.9 rebounds. His hands betray him, but he’s got the type of athleticism that gives him a strong chance of being taken before the Pistons get a shot at him.
Tyshawn Taylor of Kansas shares with Singler the fact he was a highly touted recruit who spent four seasons at a high-profile school, resisting an early departure from college despite indications he might have been a first-round pick. Taylor has ideal size and athleticism for a point guard, yet might slip out of the first round if teams looking to draft at that position aren’t comfortable with his instincts.
Andrew Nicholson took St. Bonaventure to the NCAA tournament as a senior, closing his senior season with a rush that saw him score 25 points or better in six of his final nine games. An Ontario native, Nicholson projects as an intriguing stretch four who can score not only from the perimeter but from the post and off the dribble. How well he can defend and rebound remains to be seen and likely will determine how much of an NBA impact he can make.
Doron Lamb was the least heralded of Kentucky’s 2010 recruiting class that also included Brandon Knight, Enes Kanter and 2012 lottery prospect Terrence Jones, but Lamb was still a top-25 recruit. If Vanderbilt’s Jenkins isn’t the best shooter in the draft, it might be Lamb, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who hit 47 percent from the shorter college arc as a Kentucky sophomore.
Could a few of those players – all potential first-rounders – really slip through the cracks and be available nine picks deep into the second round? In this draft, it might be a surprise if one of them didn’t.