Scoping Out the Draft

Will Pistons again draft a player who expected to be gone before their pick?

Greg Monroe
The Pistons nabbed Greg Monroe at No. 7 in the 2010 Draft.
Jennifer Pottheiser (NBAE/Getty)
The surprise Joe Dumars and his staff expressed at being able to pluck Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond from the past three drafts wasn’t the typical drummed-up enthusiasm common to breathless postdraft celebrations.

The fact not one of those players agreed to come to Auburn Hills prior to their drafts to work out for the Pistons is compelling proof that their agents, too, were taken aback by their draft-night plunges. It’s the job of agents to put their clients in the most favorable light during the draft process, a balancing act that includes resistance to granting workouts to teams below what they see as their client’s deserved landing spot.

For Monroe, it was Golden State, picking one spot ahead of the Pistons. For Knight, it was Toronto, picking three spots ahead of them. A year ago, Drummond’s agent Rob Pelinka held off on workouts beyond the top six teams or arranging a meeting with the Pistons until two nights before the draft, when he invited Dumars and assistant general manager George David to New York for a meeting.

What are the odds the Pistons will again draft a player who doesn’t come to Auburn Hills prior to the draft?

“Good question,” David told me this week before heading for Treviso, Italy for the three-day Eurocamp event. “That’s usually something that I have a pretty good feel for closer to the actual draft. Right around the time we’re in right now, you’re trying to still get a read on what’s happening above you. As every day and every week goes by, you get a little bit more of a clearer picture and you can start narrowing it down. But right now, it’s too early.”

The Pistons have had a number of six-player workouts – that’s the maximum allowed – including three this week before David left Wednesday night for Europe. But those workouts have involved players the Pistons would consider drafting in the second round with their two picks, 37 and 56. Around the league, most lottery teams are only beginning to work out likely top-10 picks, and the closer teams are to the top of the draft, the greater their control of the process.

Because the Pistons have picks in three distinctly different areas of the draft, they’ll almost surely wind up working out a greater number of players this year than in a typical year, David said.

“It definitely increases the amount of players that you have in. It also increases the amount of players that you’re able to get in because of the distance of the picks,” he said. “For example, if you had the 20th and 21st picks, you’re probably going to get the same players in. You’re not going to get more players in just because you have two picks, because they’re right next to each other. But when you have the picks we do, spread out like we do, it’s a pretty wide range of players.”

An unusual element of this draft is the tremendous uncertainty at the top. There’s usually a strong indication of a top four or five – even if the order is unclear – with three weeks to go until the draft. Ben McLemore was seen as a strong candidate to be the No. 1 pick until Cleveland – which drafted shooting guard Dion Waiters at No. 4 last year – again beat the odds to win the No. 1 pick.

Some believe Trey Burke, for another example, could go No. 2 to Orlando, yet others believe he’ll be on the board until No. 7 to Sacramento.

And nobody has a clue what the Kings are really thinking, since ownership was recently transferred and there’s not a general manager in place. Throw in the medical question marks on three players who are consensus top-10 picks – Nerlens Noel, Alex Len and Anthony Bennett, none of them able to work out for teams prior to the draft – and the picture grows murkier. There’s a decent chance the Pistons will go into draft night with only educated guesses as to what will happen in the first seven picks.

Could that soften the stance of agents of players seen as likely top-five picks, perhaps making them more inclined to make their clients available for workouts than in the past?

“I think the amount of players we’ll end up working out for our eighth pick this year will probably fall in line with the number we’ve worked out in the past few years picking in that range,” David said. “Within each draft, it’s relative to who’s in that draft.”

The picture might clear marginally for David over the weekend in Italy, where all 30 NBA teams will be represented and a fair amount of figurative poker will be played. When David returns, nailing down the workout schedule for the No. 8 pick will be the priority.

“We’re still in the process, which is normal,” he said. “Any time you have a top-10 pick, that scheduling is much more delicate, from both sides. It’s normal for that process to be a little more delicate and time consuming.”

The Pistons go into the NBA draft combine unsure which players they’ll be able to bring to Auburn Hills for workouts and interviews, but this year an added layer of uncertainty was present because the order of the lottery had yet to be determined, unlike previous years. If they get a chance to talk to players in Chicago they aren’t sure will accept an invitation to come to them, it changes the nature of those Chicago interviews, David said, as the team’s only chance to talk to the prospect before draft night.

That was the case for both Monroe and Knight and would have been for Drummond, had Pelinka not arranged their late meeting in 2012. Will the Pistons wind up drafting a fourth consecutive lottery pick who expected to be gone before their turn on the clock? Stay tuned. We’re at 21 days and counting.