Draft Preview: Wings at 37

Could Michigan’s Hardaway be a Pistons fit if he lasts to the 2nd round?

(Editor’s note: Fourteenth in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Friday: centers and power forwards that might be under consideration with the No. 37 pick.)

History says there will be a talented wing player available somewhere around where the Pistons are picking in the first third of round two in the June 27 draft. The Pistons themselves have plucked two forwards from that area over the past four drafts, Jonas Jerebko in 2009 and Khris Middleton in 2012, both with the 39th pick.

Two years ago, Houston grabbed Chandler Parsons with the 38th pick. In 2010, New York found Landry Fields at 39 and Indiana took Lance Stephenson at 40.

Two such candidates this season, each offering something quite different than the other, are Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. and Colorado’s Andre Roberson.

Hardaway, leaving Michigan after a junior season that ended with a loss in the NCAA title game, has moved himself into first-round consideration with a strong predraft showing that began at the May combine in Chicago. Hardaway’s shooting performance in drill work was among the most dazzling and he tested better than anticipated athletically.

Not a marquee recruit coming out of Florida, where he grew up the son of the ex-Golden State and Miami star point guard, Hardaway put together three very solid, productive years as a building block of John Beilein’s restoration of Michigan basketball.

Hardaway averaged 14 points in 31 minutes a game as a freshman on a team led by Darius Morris, whose unexpected departure for the NBA after that season opened the door for Trey Burke to become a freshman star the following season, when Hardaway seemed to regress. His 3-point shooting slumped from 37 to 28 percent before rebounding to 37 again as a junior.

Scouts will want to get to the bottom of that type of swing, which typified Hardaway’s three college seasons. Overall, he was a very good player in a very good conference on a team that got better during his days there. But week to week, month to month, Hardaway’s progress waxed and waned.

On a Pistons team looking for perimeter scoring, size and athleticism, though, Hardaway would be an intriguing fit at shooting guard should he still be on the board at 37. But with Kim English, taking with the 44th pick last June, already at shooting guard, the Pistons might be looking for a different type of player at this spot – unless they’re convinced Hardaway would upgrade the position as a rookie.

“I wouldn’t mind playing with the Pistons,” he told me in Chicago. “I see myself as a good fit there. I’m comfortable with the city. I’m comfortable playing in that gym. I played there three or four times my whole career at Michigan. I definitely feel very, very comfortable playing with them if they need a two guard.”

While Hardaway has enough size and athleticism to be developed into a solid NBA defender, it’s his offense that will get him drafted. It’s probably Roberson’s appeal on the defensive end that could intrigue the Pistons at 37.

“They see me as a defender at multiple positions and hitting the wide-open shot,” Roberson told me after interviewing with the Pistons at the combine. “Being able to defend multiple positions, for sure, that’s one of my strong points already, right now. That’s what they told me.”

Roberson’s offense is a work in progress. He won’t come to the NBA as a 3-point threat, attempting only two a game and making less than a third of them. He averaged 10.9 points in 33 minutes a game, but doesn’t really have a bread-and-butter option in his arsenal.

It’s the 11.2 rebounds and 2.2 steals that will intrigue teams as the 6-foot-7 Roberson, who checked in with a 6-foot-11 wing span and a 36½-inch vertical leap at the combine, projects to develop into a first-rate wing defender.

That sets him apart from the rest of the candidates in this range, a list that includes Glen Rice Jr., DeShaun Thomas, Rickey Ledo, Tony Snell, James Southerland, Spaniard Alex Abrines and Serbian Nemanja Nedovic.

Rice, like Hardaway, is the son of a former NBA All-Star with ties to Michigan. Glen Rice played on one of Michigan’s all-time great high school champions at Flint Northwestern, then shot Michigan to the 1989 NCAA title game. His 184 points over six tournament games that year is a record that still stands 24 years later.

His son didn’t experience anywhere near that type of success at Georgia Tech, and in fact was kicked off the team by coach Brian Gregory last March. Rice opted to play in the D-League last season and, after a rocky first half of the year, blossomed into a dominant player, averaging about 18 points and eight rebounds a game after becoming a starter. He’s not the shooter his dad was – not many are – but his perimeter shot became an outstanding weapon in the D-League and he remains an effective slasher, as well, with a solid frame that should allow him to play both wing positions.

Thomas led the Big Ten in scoring at nearly 20 points a game. He’ll come to the NBA as one of the most instinctive scorers and creative shooters available in this draft, but the looming question for scouts remains if he’s got enough athleticism to become more than a situational player.

Thomas’ lane agility time of 12.94 was the worst of the 52 who tested at the Chicago combine, which is borderline alarming for a player who projects to small forward at 6-foot-5 without shoes, 6-foot-7 with them. For comparison’s sake, Hardaway’s time was 10.68, Roberson’s 11.36, Snell’s 10.36 and Ledo’s 10.72. Even lumbering French teen Rudy Gobert, 7-foot-2, bested Thomas with a time of 12.85.

But as a player who left Indiana as the No. 3 all-time scoring leader in a state that’s sent the likes of Oscar Robertson, George McInnis and Larry Bird to the NBA, to say nothing of prep legends like Steve Alford and Damon Bailey, in the right system Thomas could flourish as a second unit’s scoring option.

Ledo presents scouts with a quandary. He, too, is seen as a gifted natural scorer, but the team that drafts Ledo will be taking a leap of faith. A highly recruited high school player, Ledo never logged a minute of college basketball, ineligible last season at his hometown school, Providence. He went through a series of high schools before that, another issue front offices will address before being comfortable selecting him.

But Ledo’s all-around offensive skill set is going to make a few pulses race. It’s not often a player who stands 6-foot-6 and can shoot and create offense slides to the low 30s. If he’s on the board for the Pistons, it’s tough to believe he wouldn’t be on their short list.

Snell is more shooter than scorer, but his size (6-foot-7¼, 6-foot-11½ wing span), range and knack for finding open shots coming off of screens or moving to exploit holes in the defense should set him up for a long and productive career as an off-the-bench scorer, at minimum.

Like Hardaway, Rice and Ledo, Snell is a candidate to go in the bottom third of the first round if the draft aligns right for them. He averaged just 12.5 points for a balanced offense under Alford at New Mexico – Snell took less than 10 shots a game – but shot nearly 40 percent from the 3-point line.

Southerland has great size as a 6-foot-8 small forward, but he’s perhaps more one-dimensional than most players on this list. More than half of his shot attempts this season were 3-pointers. He shot 40 percent from the arc, taking a whopping 6.2 tries a game, while averaging 13.3 points in 30 minutes a game for a team that got to the Final Four, losing to Hardaway’s Michigan. Whether Southerland can show enough as a defender and rebounder to convince teams he’s worth a high second-round pick will be his challenge in predraft workouts.

Abrines decided to stay in the draft this year after toying with the idea of entering the 2012 draft as an 18-year-old. He didn’t play much for Spanish League power Barcelona last season, averaging 5.1 points in 11 minutes a game during Barcelona’s Euroleague schedule. Scouts know all about him, though, and see a well-rounded offensive game that slots to shooting guard. DraftExpress.com ranks Abrines behind only Sergey Karasev, one spot ahead of Dennis Schroeder, among international players born in 1993.

Nedovic, 22, has been regarded as one of the Europe’s most athletic young guards for the past few seasons. Scouts aren’t sure if he’s a point guard or a shooting guard, but the 6-foot-4 Nedovic has the physical tools and a track record against high-level European competition. He, like Abrines, might interest the Pistons if other coveted targets are gone by 37 and they see the appeal in keeping them stashed overseas instead of adding another rookie to a roster that absorbed five of them a season ago.

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