Potential Pistons

Bennett, Burke head list of those who might fall to No. 8

When we launched our draft series back on May 20 – the day before the lottery set the draft order – I started from the premise that there were only two players who would certainly be gone before the Pistons picked if they didn’t move into the top three: Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore.

Now we’re three days before the draft, at a time when the picture most years is at least coming into a soft focus, and I’m less sure that Noel and McLemore will be unavailable than I was then. Yeah, it’s that volatile this time around.

The odds are still lopsided that Noel and McLemore will go in the top five, but they’re no longer the sure-fire 1-2 or 2-1 combination they were a month ago. In fact, you can talk yourself into believing that anyone and everyone is a potential Pistons pick at No. 8.

Remember, Greg Monroe was supposed to go no lower than No. 6 in 2010, Brandon Knight no worse than No. 5 in 2011 and Andre Drummond no lower than No. 6 in 2012.

This year, the consensus top seven – the players likeliest to be unavailable to the Pistons – are Noel, McLemore, Otto Porter, Anthony Bennett, Alex Len, Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo.

And I make it somewhere close to 50-50 that one of those players is shaking David Stern’s hand Thursday night wearing a Pistons cap.

Which one? Let’s throw darts.

  1. Nerlens Noel – Odds he’ll be a Piston: 1 percent.

    Noel seems like the guy most teams would pick No. 1 if the knee injury had never happened. But it did. There are mixed reports about how teams view his prognosis. Best case, Noel won’t be available until late December. I think you can add a month to that, at least. And probably more.

    He’s likely going to a very needy team. That team is likely to have a very poor record by the time he’s getting closer to a return. Just as the Pistons were cautious with Andre Drummond last year, so will Noel’s team err on the side of caution in bringing him back. Then consider this: Next year’s draft is loaded up top, with a clear front-runner to be the No. 1 pick in Andrew Wiggins, held up as the best newcomer to the NBA since LeBron James. In other words, there will be motivation to keep losing and improve lottery odds. Teams might be OK drafting Noel and letting him recover at a very leisurely pace.

    So the odds seven teams, almost all of them more than one player away, would pass on Noel because they wouldn’t want to be without a lottery pick for a half-season are slim.

    Beyond that, the Pistons would have to ask themselves if there wouldn’t be too much overlap between Noel and Drummond and whether they could ever reasonably be expected to play together.

  2. Ben McLemore – Odds he’ll be a Piston: 4 percent.

    It’s hard to know what to make of the fairly consistent reports of unimpressive workouts logged by McLemore for the high lottery teams. But if they’re credible, lumped on top of the whispers over his laid-back demeanor that emerged from interviews conducted at the NBA draft combine in Chicago, then I’d give it about a 1 in 25 chance that seven teams pass up a player with a very sweet jump shot and a 42-inch vertical leap.

    Short of an athletically explosive and offensively gifted small forward – think: Wiggins – McLemore fits the profile of what the Pistons could most use, a wing who projects to be a high-level scorer and blends it with athleticism. Just as the Pistons giggled at the perceived risks associated with Drummond a year ago when drafting ninth, my hunch is they’d have their choice of McLemore in with 4:59 left on the clock if he somehow doesn’t go in the top seven.

  3. Otto Porter – Odds he’ll be a Piston: 2 percent.

    Porter, viewed as the safest pick in a draft marred with potholes, is almost certain to be gone. If he gets past Cleveland and Orlando, the top two, you could make a case for every other team picking ahead of the Pistons – Washington, Charlotte, Phoenix, New Orleans and Sacramento – finding great appeal in landing Porter. You could make that same case for the Pistons, though I don’t know that it’s a slam dunk he’d come in ahead of both Kyle Singler and Khris Middleton on the depth chart.

  4. Anthony Bennett – Odds he’ll be a Piston: 15 percent.

    You’ll find scouts who think Bennett is right there with McLemore with the potential to be viewed as the best player in the draft three years out. But there are enough question marks with Bennett that he might lose the series of tiebreakers in seven other NBA front offices needed to make him available to the Pistons.

    The shoulder injury that will limit his summer workload, necessary in the case of a 19-year-old with a limited background to make him ready to contribute as a rookie; possible concerns about an asthma condition and a nagging back injury that dates to his junior year of high school; reports of gaining nearly 20 pounds since undergoing surgery; questions whether he can hold up at power forward at 6-foot-7 even given his athleticism and generous wing span … there’s enough in there to make Bennett this draft’s Drummond.

    As with McLemore, I think the Pistons would figure all of those risks are easy to incur with the No. 8 pick, but there might be someone outside this group of seven they like just as well. In other words, Bennett might have to win a tiebreaker in Joe Dumars’ war room to go eighth if he’s still available at that spot.

  5. Alex Len – Odds he’ll be a Piston: 5 percent.

    Over the past week, Len has gained momentum among draft prognosticators to go at No. 1 to Cleveland. Given Cleveland’s recent history of subterfuge, I’d be very skeptical of the herd mentality on this one.

    But Len will make sense for at least a few other teams picking ahead of the Pistons – Charlotte and New Orleans, in particular – so odds are pretty good he’ll be off the board, in spite of ankle surgery that will make him unavailable until close to training camp.

    The real hurdle for the Pistons, though, would be one of compatibility. Len is a pure center. A power forward – someone like Bennett or Cody Zeller – still makes sense for them because of Greg Monroe’s ability to play both spots. But drafting a center means Monroe spends all of his minutes at power forward and Drummond and Len would have to carve up the 48 minutes available at center.

    If Len is there at No. 8 and the Pistons see him as a cut above everybody else, then you might have to go ahead and take him, at worst using him as trade bait down the road. But he’d have to be a winner by knockout over any other candidate to be the eighth pick if seven others pass on him first.

  6. Trey Burke – Odds he’ll be a Piston: 15 percent.

    The grapevine says Burke’s grip on the No. 1 spot among point guards is slipping. Of this group of seven, he’s probably the one with the best shot of sliding to the Pistons. He might present them with the biggest dilemma of all. Unlike Len, blocked by Drummond, the Pistons wouldn’t take points from Burke based on his position.

    Brandon Knight’s presence and ability to play both guard spots gives Joe Dumars the same flexibility to draft either backcourt spot as Monroe’s ability to play either frontcourt spot presented him a year ago.

    The complicating factor: Does Joe D have an inkling which way free agency will go? Does he think Jose Calderon is coming back? Does he have a bead on landing a scoring shooting guard via trade?

    There are legitimate concerns that if the Pistons draft Burke, they’ve then locked Knight in at shooting guard and they’ll be significantly undersized in the backcourt. But if they see Burke as growing into both a dynamic pick-and-roll operator – maximizing Drummond’s great offensive skill set – and a take-charge leader he showed at Michigan, then you draft that player and sort out the implications.

  7. Victor Oladipo – Odds he’ll be a Piston: 5 percent.

    The volatility of the draft figures to make Oladipo one of the players more likely to go before the Pistons get a chance to pick him. Next to Porter, teams might look at Oladipo as giving them a near-certain value even if he hits the low end of expectations, which would be to evolve into an elite wing defender even if he falls short offensively.

    Put another way, in a draft without a wealth of impact players, getting the next Tony Allen might not be a bad thing, even though teams picking in the lottery are usually in need of scoring punch.

    Would the Pistons be intrigued by Oladipo if his lack of scoring somehow makes him this draft’s tumbler? Tough to say. They’d surely love to get more athletic on the perimeter and any new coach is going to want to establish his team’s defensive bona fides early, and Oladipo would surely help on that count. But the Pistons are cognizant that they need to find shooters to surround Drummond.

Again, what Joe D feels are the likeliest outcomes of free agency and the trade market could affect how the Pistons view Oladipo’s appeal.

Keep this in mind: As unlikely as it seems that any particular player from the top seven falls to No. 8, it will be less of a surprise than it was that Monroe, Knight or Drummond tumbled to the Pistons in each of the past three drafts.

Coming Tuesday: I’ll look at the next wave of candidates and how they might fit.

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