Draft Preview: Point Guards at 37

If Pistons pass on a point guard at 8, plenty of options will remain in 2nd round

South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters and Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan
South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters and Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan
Andy Lyons/Gregory Shamus (Getty Images)

(Editor’s note: Thirteenth in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Wednesday: shooting guards and small forwards possible at 37.)

The Pistons finished last season with a four-guard rotation that consisted entirely of players who’d spent the bulk of their NBA careers running offenses from the point. Jose Calderon and Will Bynum split time at point guard with Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey occupying the bulk of their minutes at shooting guard until a late-season Calderon injury moved Stuckey back to the point.

Yet there’s a decent chance the Pistons will spend one of their first two picks on a point guard in the June 27 draft. That speaks both to the uncertainty at the position going into the 2013-14 season and the quality of the draft at the 8th and 37th picks. Calderon and Bynum hit free agency on July 1 and Stuckey, with a year left on a partially guaranteed contract, could be Joe Dumars’ most valuable trade chip assuming he doesn’t wish to dip into the young core of Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Knight, whose ability to play either spot gives the Pistons flexibility both on the draft and trade fronts.

The three likeliest possibilities with their lottery pick are Trey Burke, C.J. McCollum and Michael Carter-Williams, all profiled previously in our True Blue Pistons draft preview series. If the Pistons are wowed by German teen Dennis Schroeder’s potential, he’s a long-shot possibility to be their lottery pick.

But if the Pistons go in another direction in the first round, there will unquestionably be a point guard or two on the board with the 37th pick who some scouts believe will prove himself worthy of a first-round pick.

Among the candidates potentially available, based largely on the buzz generated from the NBA draft combine in Chicago in May and subsequent hints emerging from the trail of predraft workouts, is a group of eight experienced college point guards. Seven of them played at least three college seasons, including four seniors – Nate Wolters, Pierre Jackson, Erick Green and Isaiah Canaan. Ray McCallum, Lorenzo Brown and Phil Pressey are juniors and Myck Kabongo a sophomore.

Wolters and Canaan were big fish in small ponds at South Dakota State and Murray State, which might strike a cord with new Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks, who came out of West Texas State in 1978 as a second-round pick – at 36, one spot ahead of where the Pistons will be picking in the second round.

Wolters carried the Jackrabbits to the NCAA tournament, where they lost in the first round to eventual NCAA runner-up Michigan. That game, coincidentally, came at The Palace, where Wolters and Burke went head to head and turned in among the most modest scoring games of their college careers.

“It was definitely frustrating,” Wolters, limited to 10 points, said of that game, which was heavily scrutinized by NBA scouts who wanted to see how he’d perform on a bigger stage against superior talent. “As a team, we couldn’t get anything going and personally I couldn’t get going at all. I had plenty of open shots. I thought I contributed in different ways – held Trey Burke to a pretty low-scoring game and facilitated all right. I did other things to help my team stay in the game.”

Wolters, who at 6-foot-4¾ brings plus size to the position, averaged 22.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists while logging a heavy 38 minutes a game, shooting 48 percent overall and 38 percent from the 3-point arc, where he took a healthy five a game. He knows he’ll settle into a different role in the NBA.

“I was such a huge scorer in college. I think with the guys I’ll be playing with – just amazing talent, obviously the best in the world – I’ll be able to be more of a facilitator and kind of play my natural point guard position and make plays for others.”

Canaan, meanwhile, led Murray State to the NCAA tournament a year ago when they were 31-1 before losing to Marquette in the second round. He averaged 21.8 points and 4.3 assists as a senior, when Murray State went 21-10. Canaan attended Chris Paul’s camp during his college career and struck up a bond with him.

“I talked to him all season long and try to pick his brain and see some of the things I can look forward to and some ways I can make my game better,” he said. “He’s like a bigger brother to me.”

Canaan is similar to Burke – a little undersized (Canaan measured at 6-foot-0 in shoes at Chicago) and a scorer at heart, displaying the same fearlessness and embrace of big moments Burke did at Michigan. The Pistons interviewed Canaan in Chicago and are likely to bring him in for a workout, as they probably will attempt to do for every guard in this group.

Jackson is smaller still, checking in at 5-foot-10 ½ in Chicago. A junior college transfer, Jackson became an immediate major contributor on a team loaded with NBA prospects, including 2012 draft picks Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy. As a senior, Jackson averaged 19.8 points and 7.1 assists. He’s the kind of player some teams will love and some will write off due to size, but if he lands in the right system where he’s surrounded by shooters and an athletic finisher, he could be a devastating weapon off the bench in pick-and-roll situations – perhaps another Bynum.

Green is a different type of point guard still, a pure scorer who led the NCAA as a senior with a 25.0 per game average. At 6-foot-3, he isn’t an elite athlete but has enough size and strength to develop into a capable defender. Virginia Tech had a very poor season and needed Green’s scoring, though he averaged almost four assists and handles the ball well enough that teams are looking at him more as a point guard. If Green never rises to the level of starting point guard, he’s got enough size and scoring ability that teams could use him at either spot off the bench, perhaps increasing his appeal in this draft range.

McCallum is likely most familiar to Pistons fans and certainly most familiar to Pistons president Joe Dumars, whose son Jordan was a high school teammate of McCallum’s at Detroit Country Day. He led the Yellowjackets to the 2010 Class B state title before turning down scholarship offers from the likes of UCLA and Kansas to play for his father at the University of Detroit Mercy.

With adequate size (6-foot-1¾) and very good athleticism (40-inch vertical jump), the only real rap on McCallum is his lack of a reliable perimeter jump shot. McCallum made less than a third of his 3-point attempts from the shorter college distance, but there have been reports of strong workouts for McCallum in the days since the combine. The Horizon League Player of the Year, McCallum averaged 18.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals for a team that looked for him to carry the offense consistently.

Brown’s fate on draft night will be an interesting storyline. He came into his junior season considered a potential lottery pick, pegged mainly to his superb size for the position at 6-foot-5¼. But despite proving himself a point guard – Brown averaged 7.2 assists last season – his season was considered a disappointment and it’s now more likely than not that he slides out of the first round.

Like McCallum, it’s the lack of a jump shot that puts his NBA future in doubt. Brown wasn’t an efficient shooter either inside or outside the arc, shooting 42 percent overall and 26 percent as an infrequent 3-point shooter. The team that takes Brown will be convinced he’s better suited to the NBA game, where his great size and playmaking flair could be better exploited.

Pressey, a teammate of Kim English’s at Missouri, is in the mold of Jackson – an undersized (5-foot-11½) point guard with a flair for the dramatic whose NBA appeal will center on his potential as a pick-and-roll operator off the bench. The son of longtime NBA star Paul Pressey, Phil Pressey averaged 11.9 points and 7.1 assists but shot under 40 percent from the field. Inconsistency and a tendency to try for the spectacular play are common question marks scouts raise.

Kabongo is another in the growing core of talent to emerge from Ontario in recent years, though he fell short of expectations in his two seasons at Texas, the last of which was limited to just 11 games due to an NCAA probe into his amateur eligibility. He averaged 14.6 points and 5.5 rebounds with too many turnovers, 3.4 a game, and issues with his shot. The team that takes Kabongo will be projecting him for his upside, which remains considerable. No one questions his position – Kabongo is a point guard all the way – with a lanky build (a 6-foot-6¼ wing span on a 6-foot-2¾ frame) and the potential to be a very good defender.