Pistons could mine deep perimeter crop with two 2nd-round picks
If the Pistons land a big man in the first round they feel confident is ready to step into their frontcourt rotation, the focus with their two second-round picks might shift toward adding to their perimeter depth and versatility.
That could mean adding a player who stretches the floor offensively with shooting ability – or it could mean finding players who shrink the floor defensively with plus size or athleticism for their position.
In the first group would be players like Kentucky’s Darius Miller, Tennessee Tech’s Kevin Murphy and Missouri’s Kim English. In the second you might find Marquette’s Jae Crowder, Memphis’ Will Barton and Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham.
It’s a deep group this year, one that should allow the Pistons to pluck a player with the first of their second-rounders, at 39, and perhaps with their pick at 44, who challenges for playing time. As the 2011-12 season ended, Joe Dumars said it was his charge to find players who better fit Lawrence Frank’s vision and needs. It’s a pretty safe bet that after frontcourt size, perimeter athleticism is near the top of the wish list for Frank, who thinks of what a player can contribute on the defensive end first.
Miller predated John Calipari’s arrival at Kentucky, yet he won Calipari’s confidence and proved a remarkably reliable and compliant teammate, accepting a sixth-man role as a senior while Calipari’s endless stream of young McDonald’s All-Americans dominated the headlines. Three freshmen, led by lottery locks Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and two sophomores comprised Kentucky’s starting lineup, yet Miller, 6-foot-7½, still managed 26 minutes a game and often was the go-to scorer in the few relatively close games the Wildcats endured.
“Teams are looking to see if I was only successful because I had great teammates,” Miller said at the Chicago draft combine earlier this month after meeting with Pistons executives. “They want to see how good I am. I feel I’m doing a pretty good job of showing what I’m capable of. I’ve been on a lot of talented teams with a lot of pros, so I feel like I’ve already been in that situation. If I have to step in and take a certain role, I feel I’ll be comfortable doing it.”
Far away from the national spotlight, Murphy proved one of college basketball’s most explosive scorers, averaging more than 20 points and shooting 42 percent from the 3-point line. Murphy, a wiry 6-foot-6¼, scored 50 points in one game as a senior. Teams wonder about his ability to hold up at the other end, he said.
“They want to see my defense,” said Murphy, who worked out in early June for the Pistons with a group that he said included Khris Middleton, Marcus Denmon and Darius Johnson-Odom – others who could be in consideration for second-round selection. “Playing defense on a consistent basis and work ethic, showing I can compete. A lot of them say I’m not big enough. I’m 194 (pounds) right now; if I can get to 205, I’ll be all right.”
English had a strong senior season at Missouri, averaging 14.5 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 46 percent from the 3-point line, and has generated considerable buzz through the workout process. At 6-foot-5¾, he sees himself as a versatile two-way player who would be ready to help as a rookie. He also worked out for the Pistons before the combine, he said, with a group that included Cunningham, Orlando Johnson and Alex Young, and was well-versed on the Pistons and high on their future.
“Some shooters could help them out a lot,” he said. “I think they’re close. Detroit is on their way. They had 25 wins in a 66-game season after only 27 wins in 82 games. My role in college was different from year to year, but my role in the league is going to be a guy who can stretch the floor, be a good teammate and knock down shots. I’m just going into these workouts and competing and being myself. I am knocking down shots, attacking off the dribble and playing defense.”
Defense will be Cunningham’s calling card, at least initially. At 6-foot-5, he is capable of playing either backcourt position and likely will be able to guard all three perimeter spots. The fact he got to the foul line 270 times last season as a junior speaks to his mentality and penetration skills.
“Whatever the team needs me to play, I can play that – point guard, shooting guard,” he said. “A lot of teams are surprised I’m shooting the ball as well as I do now and just being a defensive player, that’s what they like – big guards, that versatility. I can give great value to a team.”
Crowder, the Big East Player of the Year, averaged 17.5 points and 8.4 rebounds as a Marquette senior. At a ripped 241 pounds, he has the strength – Crowder’s 20 repetitions in the bench press at the draft combine led all participants – to compensate for being a slightly undersized (6-foot-4¾ without shoes) small forward who feels he can guard pretty much any position from point to power forward. His toughness and selflessness attract teams.
“That energy, that defensive mind-set, being focused, taking pride on defense and being able to knock down a shot,” Crowder said of his NBA credentials. “Playing a good role – I can do that. I had to do that at Marquette, playing with a (2011) first-round pick, Jimmy Butler. I’ve played both roles and teams know I can play a role.” As with Cunningham, Crowder said teams are interested in him for being able to guard multiple positions.
Barton averaged 18 points and eight rebounds a game as a Memphis sophomore. His slight frame – Barton weighed 174 pounds at 6-foot-6 in Chicago – is a concern, but Barton strikes many as a pure basketball player who some teams like late in the first round.
“I’m trying to show I can be a real good defender,” Barton said. “I like to compete and get after it, but I can make plays for myself as well as my teammates.”
Among other possibilities, Georgetown’s Hollis Thompson is a versatile scorer at 6-foot-8 who averaged 12.8 points and shot 43 percent from the 3-point line in 2011-12 as a Hoyas junior. Texas A&M’s Middleton is a similar player, though under a new coach he struggled as a junior and shot just 26 percent from the arc. Missouri’s Denmon, at 6-foot-3¼, doesn’t offer the same size or positional versatility as others, but he was even more productive as a senior (17.6 points, 5.1 rebounds) than his teammate, English, while shooting 40 percent from the 3-point line.
Cal Santa Barbara’s Orlando Johnson, 6-foot-5¼, has bumped up his stock since the season ended by impressing in workouts with his athleticism. He was highly productive throughout his four-year career, which included a redshirt season, and at 23 might be closer to a finished product than many other candidates. Syracuse’s Kris Joseph, also 23, said in Chicago he would be working out for the Pistons today among a group that also includes Baylor’s Quincy Miller. An Ontario native, Joseph is cousins with Cory Joseph of the San Antonio Spurs and Oregon’s Devoe Joseph, a late second-round prospect.
Ohio State’s William Buford developed a reputation as a clutch shot-maker over his four years in Columbus, knocking down a buzzer-beater to knock off Michigan State on the road in the Big Ten regular-season finale in March to give the Buckeyes and Michigan a share of the title with the Spartans. There might not be a more pugnacious player in the draft than Crowder’s Marquette teammate, Johnson-Odom.
If the Pistons look to address their point guard situation in the second round, the candidate most likely to be in their draft range is Iona’s Scott Machado.
“I’m a pass-first point guard,” Machado said. “I’m a real point guard. I like to run a team, be a leader – a leader by example, not only speaking it. I’ve been in college basketball for four years now and I’m experienced. I feel like I keep learning.”