Valued Voice

If Pistons look at point guards in draft, Joe D can tap Cheeks’ expertise

Jose Calderon, Will Bynum
Pistons head coach Maurice Cheeks will undoubtedly have an opinion on the team's options at point guard.
Allen Einstein/Sam Forencich (Getty Images)
There’s a decent chance the Pistons come out of next week’s draft with a point guard. It could happen with their lottery pick, where you can find no shortage of mock drafts that have either C.J. McCollum or Michael Carter-Williams tied to the Pistons. It could happen with the 37th pick, where I’ve identified eight point guards who could start coming off the board in the latter third of the first round.

The front office runs the draft for the Pistons with varying degrees of input from the coaching staff, which is how it works for most teams. NBA coaches are simply too consumed by the demands of their 82-game regular season to pay any attention to the college game. Coaches get involved on some level once the round of predraft group or individual workouts starts in the weeks leading to the draft, often leading those workouts and sometimes delving into videotape study.

But it’s the scouts who spend 12 months a year identifying and following draft prospects, seeing lottery prospects in person a few dozen times cumulatively and every one of the top 100 or so prospects at least a few times whose opinions count most when Joe Dumars gets on the phone to make the call.

All of that said, if the Pistons are going to grab a point guard with either the eighth or 37th pick in next week’s draft, I’d expect the likely candidates will have been thoroughly vetted between now and then by Maurice Cheeks.

Everybody who watched Cheeks lead the Dr. J-Moses Malone era 76ers, and later the Charles Barkley 76ers, knew they were watching a bona fide, 100 percent pure NBA point guard. Cheeks was the ultimate orchestrator for those great 1983 NBA champions, one of the most powerful teams assembled in the league’s golden era.

But not everybody could see that in Cheeks when he was at West Texas State. (And let’s get this clear: West Texas is now forgotten, rebranded as West Texas A&M and relegated to the Division II Lone Star Conference. But when Cheeks was there, West Texas belonged to the Missouri Valley Conference, which only recently had lost members like Cincinnati, Memphis and Louisville but still counted Wichita State, Creighton, Bradley, Illinois State and Indiana State with Larry Bird among its members. That was a very high level of college basketball. And when Cheeks was named a three-time Valley first-teamer, he joined Oscar Robertson as the only other player so honored.)

Joe Dumars has been involved in scouting since 1999, the year after his retirement as a player when he moved into the front office for a one-year apprenticeship under Rick Sund before ascending to Pistons president of basketball operations in June 2000. He’s a video addict, kidded by his staff for the hours he spends watching Synergy video cutups of all the draftable prospects. It’s fair to say he’s comfortable evaluating all players, but feels uniquely qualified to judge shooting guards.

I’m going to go ahead and guess that Cheeks feels the same about his ability to project point guards from one level to the next, and that Joe D will give him more latitude than he normally would a coach to inject himself into the process. Not only would Cheeks figure to be an excellent judge of the qualities a college guard might possess that would translate well to the NBA, he also has a vision for the type of offense he’d like to run and the type of player who could best turn that vision into reality.

The point guards the Pistons could take come in all shapes and sizes at both 8 and 37. While Trey Burke is more likely than not to be gone before the Pistons get their shot at him, it’s a long way from a lock. It would be helpful to have Cheeks’ opinion on the table if the Pistons are conflicted between the 6-foot-1 Burke and the 6-foot-6 Michael Carter-Williams. If they’re unsure what to make of C.J. McCollum – is he a big-time NBA scorer or something less than that, and if so, does he have the makeup to be a Damian Lillard-level distributor? – who better than Cheeks to make that assessment?

The same sort of variety is at play among second-round candidates, who range from the diminutive (Pierre Jackson, Isaiah Canaan, Phil Pressey) to the lanky (Nate Wolters, Lorenzo Brown) and everything in between. They come from different backgrounds, with different levels of competition, different NBA calling cards and different stages of maturity.

The Pistons made clear their desire to bring back Jose Calderon when they traded for him in late January. But he’ll have options in free agency and the Pistons can’t be certain on draft night they’ll be able to keep him. Will Bynum, likewise, is a free agent, and if he heads out of town, the legacy he’ll leave behind will include the value of finding a slick pick-and-roll operator in any attack that will include Andre Drummond.

Joe Dumars will lean heavily on the opinions of George David, Doug Ash and Speedy Walker, mainstays of the scouting core, as he’s done in the past. But if the Pistons grab a point guard in the draft next week, it stands to reason he’ll have solicited the opinion of his new head coach, too.