Draft Preview: Sleepers at 8

International crop leads field of potential surprise Pistons lottery picks

Kelly Olynyk
The Pistons could choose from a group of guards that includes Gonzaga guard Kelly Olynyk and Duke’s Mason Plumlee.
Streeter Lecka (Getty Images)
(Editor’s note: Twelfth in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Monday: A look at a group of point guards who could be under consideration for the Pistons with their first of two second-round picks, No. 37.)

With two major interior building blocks in place and more than $20 million in cap space looming to rebuild their perimeter, the Pistons go into the 2013 NBA draft empowered to take purely the best talent.

Over the past three weeks, we’ve identified players at every position who could be in the mix. Not all of them will be available at the No. 8 pick, but half of them – assuming Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore are off the board – will be within reach of the Pistons from among the group that includes center Alex Len, power forwards Cody Zeller and Anthony Bennett, small forwards Otto Porter and Shabazz Muhammad, shooting guards Victor Oladipo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and point guards Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. McCollum.

But the search for another franchise cornerstone to join forces with Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond – the fruit of the past three NBA drafts – isn’t limited to that list. The Pistons are likely to bring in a number of other players generally considered as top-20 talents for individual or group workouts and interviews. Most have a bit of mystery to them as only one, Duke’s Mason Plumlee, is an American native who played college basketball in the United States.

Two others, Pitt’s Steven Adams and Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk, played collegiately in the United States but were born elsewhere, Adams in New Zealand and Olynyk in Canada. The others are German point guard Dennis Schroeder, French 7-footer Rudy Gobert, Croatian small forward Dario Saric and Russian small forward Sergey Karasev.

Plumlee is the second of three Indiana brothers, all of whom attended Duke. Miles was Indiana’s first-round pick in 2012, while Marshall played sparingly in 2012-13 as a Duke redshirt freshman. Mason adds a greater skill level to the athleticism that allowed Miles to push himself into the first round despite an unspectacular Duke career in which he averaged only 20 minutes a game as a senior with 6.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.

Mason Plumlee put up far more impressive numbers for the Blue Devils as a senior, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds and shooting 60 percent. Much as Zeller and Bennett could be utilized as power forwards in a three-man interior rotation that would work due to Monroe’s ability to play both interior spots, Plumlee could intrigue the Pistons.

A hole in Plumlee’s game is the lack of a jump shot. Those 17 points a game he scored at Duke came mostly around the rim, where an unrefined post game would need polish in order to make him a legitimate offensive option in the NBA. But he’s good in transition and probably will convince teams his bread and butter will be using his quickness, strength and leaping ability to dive to the rim off pick-and-roll plays and cleaning up offensive put-back chances. Plumlee believes there’s a side to his game NBA teams haven’t seen.

“A big that’s mobile, that can get out and run, play above the rim, get on the boards,” Plumlee said of his ideal NBA role. “Those are all the things I did at Duke and I think in workouts, teams will see how comfortable I am with the ball in my hands, scoring on the block. There’s a lot more to be seen.”

Olynyk is bypassing his senior season at Gonzaga after a breakout junior year – 17.8 points, 7.8 rebounds – that validated his unusual decision to redshirt in 2011-12 after already having logged two years for the Bulldogs. His overriding NBA appeal lies in his scoring consistency, versatility and instincts. Only twice in Gonzaga’s 32-3 season did Olynyk not score in double figures and in both games, each a lopsided win, he scored eight points.

He did his damage on just 10.7 shot attempts per game and shot an outstanding 63 percent. Olynyk spent most of his time on the perimeter early in his Gonzaga career, when Lakers backup Robert Sacre was at center, but bulked up during his redshirt year and became an efficient inside-outside scorer as a junior. While his lack of high-end athleticism and short arms – Olynyk measured 7-foot-0 in shoes at the NBA draft combine last month with only a 6-foot-9¾ wing span – probably make power forward his ideal position, he’s got the bulk to play center in many matchups.

“It depends on the team,” said Olynyk, who told me in Chicago he followed the Pistons a little due to his connection to fellow Gonzaga product Austin Daye. “I could be a four/five, kind of versatile, depending on what they need or want at the time. It gives them some options, hopefully.”

It stands to reason that Adams would have to wow the Pistons to put him into the forefront of their thinking at No. 8. He’s a pure center all the way, which would make it difficult for him to share the court with Drummond. But he created quite a stir in Chicago when he showed a skill level that wasn’t much in evidence during his only season at Pitt.

Just 19, Adams looks physically ready to step into an NBA starting lineup today. At 7-foot-0 and 254 pounds with 6.7 percent body fat as measured at the combine, Adams could be a solid two-way center with a 7-foot-4½ wing span that should serve him well as a rim protector. He blocked two shots in his 23 minutes a game in his only season at Pitt to go with 7.2 point and 6.3 rebound averages. The physical tools are all there, but Adams – who indicated in Chicago that his decision to enter the NBA was based largely on the need to help his family financially – is likely to need time, and perhaps a lengthy D-League internship, to find his way into even a lottery team’s rotation.

Wherever he winds up, though, once Adams earns minutes he’s going to develop a big following. He flashed a winning personality and an impish grin at the combine, saying he was looking forward to attending the draft in New York because, “I’ve heard they’ve got some pretty good food there.”

Gobert would present the same conundrum for the Pistons as Adams. As a 7 footer – Gobert registered an astounding 7-foot-8½ wing span at the combine to go with a 7-foot-2 reading in shoes and a 9-foot-7 standing reach, just 5 inches short of touching the rim – Gobert is a pure center all the way, and a raw one, at that. Until so-so testing results in Chicago, there was some thought Gobert could even be off the board by the time the Pistons are on the clock. That now seems less likely, though he sees himself as a high lottery pick.

“I expect to be in the top seven – that’s my goal,” he told me in Chicago. “I’m just trying to do my best and if I get it, good. If I don’t, I’m going to keep working.”

Only 20, Gobert probably would be best served by spending another year or two in France’s pro league, but that would be an easier sell for a team picking outside of the lottery, or at least outside the top 10.

Keep in mind that international players like Gobert, Saric, Karasev and Schroeder have until June 17 to pull out of the draft. There are indications that Saric, in fact, is seriously considering doing just that, despite rumors that he could go as high as No. 6 to New Orleans and probably no lower than 13th, to Dallas.

Karasev, 19, played in the Nike Hoop Summit in April and then returned to the United States to work out in Las Vegas at an event arranged for NBA scouts by clients of ASM Sports, led by agent Andy Miller. Pistons assistant general manager George David attended that workout. Afterward, Karasev returned to Russia, leading to widespread speculation that he’d been given a first-round promise with speculation focused on Atlanta, with two picks at 17 and 18.

The Hawks might find Karasev – son of Vasily Karasev, one of the top point guards in Russia’s history and now a pro coach – attractive not only for his gifts but for the possibility of drafting him and keeping him stashed in Europe so he wouldn’t count against the salary cap in a summer when the Hawks could have the capacity to attract two maximum-contract free agents, if they make all the necessary moves at their disposal, with their sights set on a long-shot haul of Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.

Of course, the Pistons could take Karasev long before the Hawks get the chance. His calling card – elite perimeter shooting ability – is one of the ingredients the Pistons would figure to find attractive given their need to surround Andre Drummond with shooting.

Saric, 19, is inevitably compared to countryman Toni Kukoc, but it appears apt beyond their size and position. Saric, like Kukoc, will make his mark in the NBA for his all-around offensive flair, especially in ballhandling and feel for the game. He’s not especially athletic or a deadly shooter, but eventually teams see a player who can run the offense from the small forward position where his 6-foot-10 length and vision could make him a uniquely effective playmaker.

Schroeder, also 19, is a late riser, establishing himself as a lottery candidate at the April Hoop Summit when he led the international team to a win over a stacked United States roster. At 6-foot-2, Schroeder flashed long arms and lightning quickness at the Hoop Summit, evoking comparisons to a young Rajon Rondo. He attended the Chicago combine and has remained in the United States, where he’s already worked out for several teams picking in the middle of the first round. As with Karasev, there are rumors Schroeder has received a first-round promise, but the fact he’s continued to work out for teams argues against that theory.

It’s likely that at least one of the top three-rated point guards in the draft will be on the board for the Pistons. So Schroeder, assuming he works out for them, would have to really open eyes when he comes to Auburn Hills. In a perfect world, the Pistons would have him scheduled to go up against McCollum and Carter-Williams – Burke has only agreed to work out individually for teams picking higher than No. 8, so it’s unlikely he’ll participate in a Detroit group workout unless his camp receives signals he won’t be picked before then – and that would give Schroeder his chance to turn their heads.

In most years, the chances of a long shot like Schroeder making up that much ground in the weeks leading to the draft would be unlikely. But in a draft like this one, widely characterized as having very few sure things, the Pistons might be more inclined to roll the dice.

Next week, we’ll do three parts on possibilities with the Pistons pick at 37, broken down by position. You won’t see a number of familiar names in those stories, because I’m going to assume several attractive candidates will be guaranteed to be gone. That list includes, but perhaps isn’t limited to, Jamaal Franklin, Tony Mitchell, Gorgui Dieng, Shane Larkin, Allen Crabbe, Jeff Withey, Reggie Bullock, Giannis Adetukunbo and Archie Goodwin.

Certainly, a number of other players will be gone by 37, as well – that’s simple math. But once you get past the top 25 names or so, what separates players can be very little, and a player that might be a close second to the team choosing at No. 26, say, might last until midway through the second round if he’s also second or third on the list of a number of other teams at the time they go on the clock.