Options Aplenty

Pistons could go big, PG if draft doesn’t offer help on the wings

Greg Monroe
The Pistons could go several directions in the upcoming draft.
Noah Graham (NBAE/Getty)
The NBA deadline for college underclassmen to declare for the June draft passed at midnight Sunday with fewer than a handful of players who mattered still waffling. Adreian Payne and Isaiah Austin decided to stay in school at Michigan State and Baylor, while Andre Roberson chose to leave Colorado for the NBA.

None of those decisions will affect the Pistons with respect to their lottery pick. The only player considered a probable top-five pick who chose not to enter the draft is Marcus Smart, the Big 12 Player of the Year who announced his intention to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season.

What does it mean for the Pistons?

Assuming they don’t move into the top three during the May 21 lottery, there are only two players as of today who appear certain to be unavailable to them: Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore.

The best bets to be the four next players off the board – meaning gone before the No. 7 pick, on the 87 percent chance the Pistons don’t move into the top three – probably are Anthony Bennett, Trey Burke, Victor Oladipo and Otto Porter.

So if you buy the logic that the Pistons would be most focused on help at shooting guard or small forward in the draft, and if that next group of four after Noel and McLemore holds, then odds are their search will have to start with the top of a list that doesn’t include McLemore, Oladipo or Porter.

But the draft board and the reality of the equation for improving the roster this summer argues strongly that you shouldn’t buy that line of thinking. Sure, the Pistons are very likely to look to upgrade at the two and three this summer. But in a draft most concede is lacking star power at the top, if you force a pick to fill a positional hole, well … that hole will still exist if the player you pick isn’t good enough to leapfrog the talent on the roster.

With Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond already on board and turning in a 10-game sample size down the stretch to spur optimism in their future as a tandem, drafting another power forward or center might appear an unaffordable luxury at first blush.

But take a second look. Jason Maxiell is a free agent, sees the future with Monroe and Drummond and probably moves on. Charlie Villanueva has one year left on his contract and, as a stretch four, almost counts in a separate category at any rate. Jonas Jerebko isn’t a conventional power forward and could just as easily slot in at small forward. Slava Kravtsov didn’t prove himself to be a rotation-worthy big man as an NBA rookie.

In other words, if the Pistons are drafting seventh and Oladipo, Porter and McLemore are all gone, nobody should be knocked over if they draft another big man. They’ll have $25 million or more, in all likelihood, worth of cap space to use on signing free agents or facilitating trades to stock themselves at wherever they see the greatest urgency. This draft, where things could be more hit or miss than usual, they’d be best served by taking the player – regardless of position – they believe has the best chance to have the most productive NBA career.

There are eight big men currently ranked in the 7-18 range by DraftExpress.com: Maryland’s Alex Len (7), Indiana’s Cody Zeller (9), France’s Rudy Gobert (11), Duke’s Mason Plumlee (13), Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk (14), Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng (15), Pitt’s Steven Adams (17) and Kansas’ Jeff Withey (18). It’s possible all eight will be available when they pick. It’s certainly not inconceivable that the one they like best will be strongly considered to be their lottery pick.

The Pistons could just as easily go in another direction at a position that also doesn’t seem to be crying for an infusion: point guard. Yes, the players who ended the season 1-2 on the depth chart – Jose Calderon and Will Bynum – are both free agents. But Joe Dumars has publicly declared his intention to try to re-sign Calderon. Bynum has said he’d like to be back and would be a natural consideration, especially in the event Calderon – who figures to have strong options – signs elsewhere.

The fact that both Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey have spent more of their careers at point guard than shooting guard, where they played following the late-January trade that brought Calderon to Detroit, gives them the flexibility to draft a backcourt player – regardless of whether he’s a point guard or shooting guard – and then slot the pieces in for best fit.

That might mean, for instance, that Burke could be an option if he slides to their spot. The other point guard considered a possible top-10 pick is Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams, and Germany’s Dennis Schroeder opened eyes at the recent Nike Hoop Summit.

The wing who might go next after McLemore, Oladipo and Porter? UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, who will be heavily scrutinized in the two months from now until draft night. He was considered a potential No. 1 pick before the college season. He’ll be another player the Pistons will debate at length, another option for them in a draft that more than ever argues that they take the proverbial best player available.