Record of Success

Recent draft hits put Pistons on fast track for return to prominence

Greg Monroe was drafted with the No. 7 pick in 2010
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
The Pistons haven’t made the playoffs for three seasons and have ground to make up to prevent the streak from reaching four. But there’s more than a pinprick of light at the end of their tunnel. Whether the playoff drought ends this April or not, Joe Dumars and his staff are confident that the worst is well behind them.

And the overwhelming reason for their optimism – for their full-fledged belief that the Pistons aren’t merely close to returning to the playoffs, but capable of staying in the field for years and progressing toward a third championship era – is the success they’ve had in the draft for the past several years. Many franchises have had far steeper falls from far less lofty heights than where the Pistons began – six straight trips to the conference finals surrounding the 2004 NBA title – and have had to endure droughts that span entire NBA careers.

Of the 10-man Pistons rotation that’s sparked a 6-2 stretch of games and made talk of the playoffs a possibility, five players have been procured in the last four drafts. Go back to the 2007 draft and you can include a sixth, Rodney Stuckey, and keep in mind that although 2009 draftee Jonas Jerebko is currently outside the rotation he remains prominently in their plans.

Joe D makes the final call, of course, and he approaches scouting college and other amateur talent with utmost seriousness, a firm believer in the draft as the most efficient way of team building. But no one puts in more leg work or shapes the complex draft process to a greater degree than assistant general manager George David, who has risen steadily through the ranks as John Hammond left to become Milwaukee’s general manager and Scott Perry departed last summer for Orlando.

Every No. 1 pick the Pistons have exercised since taking Stuckey with the 15th pick in 2007 remains not just in the NBA but with the Pistons. They traded out of the late first round in 2008, then took Austin Daye with the 15th pick in 2009, Greg Monroe with the No. 7 pick in 2010, Brandon Knight No. 8 in 2011 and Andre Drummond No. 9 in 2012.

In addition, the Pistons took Kyle Singler with the third pick in the second round in 2011, Jerebko with the 39th pick in 2009, Khris Middleton 39th in 2012 and Kim English five picks after Middleton. That’s nine players from the 15-man roster taken in the past six drafts.

“I’d be the first to say there’s some luck involved,” David said Monday, the rare day since training camp opened in October when he hasn’t had either a Pistons game, a college practice or college game to attend – but he’s heading out Tuesday with a loaded itinerary before rejoining the Pistons for Friday’s game at Milwaukee. “In all of those drafts going back to Stuckey’s draft, all of those players have gone past other teams and quote-unquote fallen to us. Now, you still have to select them when they fall to you, but there is an element of luck.”

More under their control, though, are two other critical elements: The Pistons look to their past and believe in the blueprint, David said, and they also believe in the value of keeping their scouts close to home for frequent contact with the team for the perspective it lends when they evaluate college players in that context.

“We have a blueprint here that’s worked at the ultimate level,” he said. “We’re one of the few franchises in the NBA that has three NBA titles. If you go back to our ’04 team, part of the reason Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups were so good for us was they played so well together in terms of Rip’s strength coming off screens and Chauncey being a guy who wanted to facilitate and Chauncey being a premier shooter. They played off each other.

“Joe talks about similar things going back to his playing days under Chuck Daly. That’s something we’ve incorporated into our scouting when we go to watch players. Who would this guy play well with? What type of player? Is he a guy who’ll play well with a shooting guard or more with a guy who’s looking to be an athletic scorer? We put a premium on that.”

Though David assumed many of Perry’s responsibilities when he left as No. 2 to Joe D last summer, he has remained the point man for the draft, working closely with director of basketball operations Ken Catanella, scouting director Doug Ash, scout Durand Walker and Ryan Hoover, who moved into the front office from his role as director of player development in the aftermath of Perry’s exit. Hoover, among other duties, scouts the D-League and NBA personnel.

All are based in Detroit, by design.

“Where that becomes a factor is you see two or three of our games at home and then you go on the road and see five or six college games, come back and see two or three of our games and go back and see five or six more college games,” David said. “It’s important that you never lose the grasp of how good you have to be to be a good NBA player. The fact all of our guys see a good mix of NBA and college together, that’s important. All of the decisions we’ve made as a staff from a draft standpoint has definitely impacted the success of all of those guys.”

They are a string of decisions that have the Pistons poised to rejoin the playoff hunt having endured far fewer bleak seasons than these transitions usually require.