Expect the Unexpected
Whatever appears certain in the days leading to the NBA draft can turn 90 degrees with a surprise pick or a trade that skews the logical order of a run of picks. The Pistons were reminded of that dramatically a year ago, when one surprise pick and one trade sent guards Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker tumbling and sucked up all the big men they’d focused on in the weeks prior to the 2011 draft.
Cleveland threw the first big curveball by taking Tristan Thompson at No. 4. A three-team trade that went down just a few hours before the draft vaulted Charlotte into the No. 7 spot, replacing Sacramento, which needed perimeter help and was believed to be choosing between Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette.
When Cleveland unexpectedly took Thompson, Toronto happily snapped up Jonas Valanciunas. Had the Cavs taken the 7-foot Lithuanian, as widely anticipated, Detroit and Toronto might well have been trade partners. Joe Dumars, after happily taking Brandon Knight, said that night he had all but completed a trade with the Raptors that would have resulted in a swap of picks, moving the Pistons up to No. 5. Charlotte, at No. 7, took Bismack Biyombo.
So where are the trap doors that could send the 2012 draft in unexpected directions?
A number of teams picking ahead of the Pistons, who hold the No. 9 pick, have been at least rumored to be shopping their picks for a return of multiple assets – a later pick plus a veteran. Charlotte (No. 2), Sacramento (5), Portland (6), Golden State (7) and Toronto (8) have all been reported as interested in dealing up, down or out.
Let’s look at three specific scenarios that could yield a draft-night surprise:
- Andre Drummond slips to No. 9. Chances? Not great. He could go No. 4 to Cleveland. Barring trade – and the latest is Houston looking to move up, perhaps to No. 5 where Sacramento now picks, with Drummond the target - the real tripping point for Drummond looks like No. 6. It’s Portland’s pick, as of now. The Blazers have a new GM, ex-Clippers GM Neil Olshey, and this is his first major decision.
You can bet he’ll have laid out the gamble Drummond represents to ownership. How much of a gamble? He’s been compared to Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudemire on one end … and to Kwame Brown and Hasheem Thabeet on the other.
Drummond easily passes the eye test. At the Chicago draft combine earlier this month, he weighed nearly 280 and measured one-quarter inch less than 7 feet with the longest wing span (7-foot-6¼) of the 61 attendees. His athletic testing underscored why teams were so high on him prior to the college season.
Drummond underperformed as a UConn frosh, averaging about 10 points and seven rebounds and shooting an especially dreary 30 percent at the foul line. But Drummond’s intoxicating potential is going to be enough for some top-10 team to convince itself UConn’s dysfunctional environment – among the factors, coach Jim Calhoun was in and out with health ailments and Huskies point guards were criticized for dominating the ball – camouflaged Drummond’s massive promise.
Outside of Portland, though, it’s tough to find the team with a pronounced enough frontcourt need to roll the dice on Drummond while surer talents – even with lesser ceilings – are still on the board.
That brings us to scenario No. 2 …
- Like last year, a team picking 10th or lower targets a big man but believes he won’t get past the Pistons, so trades into one of the two spots ahead of them. Golden State at 7 and Toronto at 8 – the Raptors, especially – could be looking more at perimeter players. But if they don’t particularly love the options available to them, or if they simply believe they can find similar quality a half-dozen or so picks later, they could trade down.
Perhaps Drummond would be the target. But perhaps it would be John Henson, Perry Jones III, Terrence Jones or Arnett Moultrie, all of whom have had workouts with teams picking ahead of the Pistons.
Milwaukee, picking 12th, is looking for a center after trading Andrew Bogut to Golden State to acquire Monta Ellis. Bucks executive Billy McKinney, former Pistons general manager, openly talked of Henson with admiration after a workout last week, saying he wouldn’t be available at 12 but the Bucks would investigate the viability of moving up to land him. (Seems like a smokescreen. With Ekpe Udoh and Larry Sanders, the Bucks already have two young power forwards who fit Henson’s athletic mold. The Bucks clearly need a center.)
Houston, with the 14th and 16th picks and 2011 first-rounder Donatas Motiejunas due to arrive from Europe, is solidly in position to combine assets to move ahead of the Pistons.
Of course, nobody knows if the Pistons would have taken Thompson or Biyombo over Knight a year ago, and nobody is likely to really know which of those big men the Pistons covet most.
Which brings us to scenario No. 3 …
- The Pistons see Drummond go ahead of them but have their choice of the seven big men we’ve profiled on Pistons.com when the No. 9 picks rolls around – and get an offer to trade down.
Trading down isn’t a viable option unless the Pistons are comfortable that the player they can land at the spot where they move back has a reasonable chance to be as good as the one they would take at No. 9.
This is just the type of draft that could inspire such confidence.
Let’s use the two teams from scenario No. 2, Milwaukee and Houston. If all seven of the big men are available and the Pistons are comfortable that three of them are capable of shouldering 20 minutes a game as rookies and growing into a capable starter and frontcourt complement to Greg Monroe, trading down a few spots is an easy call.
But if the Pistons only see one or two of the seven as certain upgrades, then trading down even three spots – and risking not landing one of those two – would be unlikely.