Still Murky

Nothing obvious for Pistons as draft countdown nears its end

Cody Zeller, Trey Burke
With the draft looming, Keith Langlois looks at which players could fall to the Pistons.
Andy Lyons (NBAE/Getty)
If you want to root for the Pistons to come out of the draft with the best possible player at the best probable fit, then root for Alex Len to be taken before they pick. Considering he’s firmly in play at No. 1 for Cleveland – with obvious landing spots at four (Charlotte) and six (New Orleans) if the Cavs go elsewhere – there’s a good chance that wish will be fulfilled.

The fact it’s draft day and we still can’t rule out Len, Nerlens Noel, Anthony Bennett, Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter or Ben McLemore as Cleveland’s pick at No. 1 is only one reason it’s a shot in the dark to guess whom the Pistons might take at No. 8.

Not knowing who’s there – not knowing which player they don’t expect to drop but might, in fact, be available to them – is just a part of the uncertainty for the Pistons.

There’s also the fact that even if all six of those players are gone in the first seven picks, not much is cleared up. There is very little apparent separation among the remaining players to make the choice obvious for the Pistons.

Point guards Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. McCollum might get 10 votes apiece if NBA front offices were polled as to the best NBA prospect. Cody Zeller is the next best big man after Noel and Len (and Bennett if you consider him strictly a power forward) by acclimation, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope the next shooting guard after McLemore and Oladipo, Shabazz Muhammad probably the next small forward after Porter.

But throw those six players on a ballot and, again, they’d split the vote as to which player front offices feel has the brightest NBA future.

Let’s throw one more factor into the mix to further cloud Pistons intentions. Their roster and their cap situation set them up to take a player at virtually any position. They could take a big man (with an asterisk), they could take a point guard, they could take a shooting guard or they could take a point guard.

The asterisk, the “virtually,” is that the big man ideally would be one who could play with either Andre Drummond or Greg Monroe. Zeller could do that. Bennett, should he slip, could do that. Len? Tough to see the fit with him and Drummond. And if they’re unable to play together, then minutes will be sparing for Len. It would be difficult to justify spending the No. 8 pick on a player who’ll be slotted behind a player who’s still 19.

Unless … well, let’s put another asterisk on it. If Len somehow slips by Cleveland, Charlotte and New Orleans and gets to eight, and if the Pistons see him as clearly the most talented player, then can they afford to pass on him for a lesser talent? If players are assets – and that’s what they are – then Len, if he’s clearly the best player, ultimately should benefit the Pistons most, either in their uniform or someone else’s, should the Pistons trade him once he more clearly defines his value.

Confused enough?

Let’s take it another step. If Bennett slips, I don’t think it’s quite on the level of Drummond slipping a year ago, even though you can make a compelling case that Bennett ranks with McLemore as the two players with the biggest upside. Their combination of athleticism and scoring potential is a pretty good formula for stardom.

But it’s fair to wonder if the same things that cause seven other front offices to choice otherwise – to lose a series of tiebreakers, as I put it earlier this week – gives the Pistons pause, as well.

It doesn’t surprise me a bit, to throw out one alternative name, that Cody Zeller now seems to be rising again. Zeller showed up every night at Indiana for a team that won the Big Ten championship. His athleticism was underscored at the draft combine last month. He gets glowing marks on character, competitiveness and work ethic. I don’t know that there’s another top-10 player that teams will feel they know exactly what they’re getting to the same degree the team that takes Zeller will believe.

And, of course, the Pistons probably have studied the three point guards – Burke, Carter-Williams and McCollum – until their eyeballs ache. It’s a pretty fair guess that they’ve tapped Mo Cheeks’ expertise since bringing him on board two weeks ago, as well. And their need for a scorer on the wings could ultimately lead them to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, where Joe Dumars views prospects with a studied eye.

Stay tuned. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.