Playing the Odds

Despite Monroe-Drummond tandem, Pistons could go big in draft again

Andre Drummond
The Pistons could grab another big man in the upcoming draft.
Nathaniel S. Butler (NBAE/Getty)
Two things – odds of the Pistons moving into the top three during the May 21 lottery and the emerging consensus at the top of the draft – likely mean there are six players who won’t be joining the young core of Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond culled from the last three NBA drafts.

Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Anthony Bennett, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke and Otto Porter certainly aren’t a unanimous top six for the June 27 draft, but they have risen to the status of “consensus” top six, it appears. Both DraftExpress.com’s Jonathan Givony and ESPN.com’s Chad Ford, the two most credible independent draft evaluators, have them in their top six, with Noel and McLemore – in that order – their first two.

The Pistons have a 12.67 percent chance to draw into the top three and 85.23 percent odds of picking either seventh (59.93) – that’s the spot at which they enter the lottery draw – or eighth (25.3).

So if you concede that Noel, McLemore, Bennett, Oladipo, Burke and Porter will be gone before David Stern has to step to the podium a seventh time, where do the Pistons turn for help?

Well, perhaps they go big for the third time in four years. There is a consensus No. 7 pick according to Givony and Ford, as well. It’s Maryland 7-footer Alex Len, a Ukrainian native as is Pistons backup center Slava Kravtsov. Would the Pistons go big even though their two most coveted assets now are Monroe and Drummond, 22 and 19?

There’s a compelling argument to be made that they should, never mind could. Jason Maxiell is a free agent likely to land elsewhere. Charlie Villanueva is entering the last year of his contract and, at any rate, falls under the category of stretch four. That really leaves Monroe, Drummond and Jonas Jerebko, a hybrid forward, as the only long-term factors.

In other words, the cupboard isn’t crowded, not enough to pass on a superior talent for a lesser player at a position of arguably greater need. And the strength of the draft, it appears, at the spot the Pistons are most likely to be picking, is in big men.

Len appears to top a long list of big men who’ll go somewhere between the mid-lottery and the early 20s. Cody Zeller might go ahead of him. Others sure to follow include three other international players from American universities – Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng (Senegal), Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk (Canada) and Pitt’s Stephen Adams (New Zealand) – as well as France’s Rudy Gobert and two four-year American collegians, Duke’s Mason Plumlee and Kansas’ Jeff Withey.

If the Pistons have their pick of the bunch, it could – emphasis on “could” – give them some draft leverage. A lottery team behind them with a more desperate need for a big man might want to trade up into that spot to get the one they like best, if they see a clear separation that perhaps the Pistons don’t necessarily see the same way, or feel is most ready to play. Philadelphia, given the uncertainty of Andrew Bynum’s status, comes to mind.

Keep in mind, too, that the draft isn’t very likely to be the primary way in which the Pistons improve their roster this off-season. With about $25 million in cap space, the scoring and athleticism many believe are their greatest needs is more reasonably to be found among the pool of NBA veterans who’ll be on the move over the summer.

So in this draft, one that could be more hit or miss than most, the player most certain to have the best NBA career is the safest route.

Ideally, with Drummond as a pure center and rim protector and Monroe as someone who clearly can play center successfully, you’d probably lean more to a big man with power forward skills if it comes to splitting hairs. Zeller certainly has that versatility and Olynyk very likely does. If the Pistons dip into that deep pool of big men projected to be top-20 picks, they’d be likely to want one who could play with either Drummond or Monroe.

NBA front offices will descend on Chicago next week for the draft combine. I’ll be there, as well, and we’ll have a wealth of predraft coverage on Pistons.com.