Test Upping the Athleticism

Pistons grab 6-9 Tony Mitchell in 2nd, finish with Louisville’s Siva

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
The Pistons held their cards close to the vest in the days leading up to the 2013 Draft.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
About 20 minutes after taking Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and lauding the athleticism he’d bring to the Pistons, Joe Dumars volunteered that the quest wasn’t over.

"You need multiple wing athletes in today’s NBA," he said.

A few hours later, he proved it.

The Pistons took one of the top handful of pure athletes in the 2013 draft when they selected Tony Mitchell of North Texas State with the 37th pick. At 6-foot-8¾ and 236 pounds with a 38-inch vertical leap and 5.6 percent body fat, Mitchell was viewed as a lottery pick when the college season started.

But he had an underwhelming sophomore season in the Sun Belt Conference, averaging 13.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots after posting 14.7, 10.3 and 3.0 numbers as a freshman. His shooting also dropped off, from .567 to .440, and his stock plunged.

"From a talent standpoint, this is somebody who could very well be the best athlete in the entire draft," Pistons assistant general manager George David said.

The Pistons interviewed Mitchell at last month’s NBA draft combine in Chicago, but did not get the chance to bring him to Auburn Hills for a workout because Mitchell was expected to be long gone by the 37th pick.

David said the Pistons hope to be able to use Mitchell to guard both power forwards and small forwards.

"He's a guy we would like to see be able to guard threes and fours," he said. "What you do now in the NBA to identify whether you like a guy at a certain position or not, what can he defend? With his athleticism and his body right now, he’s a guy that we want to get a good look at him defending both positions. Being able to play above the rim like he does, it’s going to be interesting. That’s something we’re very interested in looking at in Summer League."

The Pistons capped their night by drafting Peyton Siva, point guard of Louisville’s NCAA championship team, with the 56th pick. Siva, a three-year starter, averaged 10 points, 5.7 assists and 2.2 steals a game for the Cardinals in 2012-13. He’s athletic, as well – his vertical leap at the Chicago combine was 41½ inches – and an in-your-face defender.

"He’s somebody who I’ve always looked at as being a deceptive athlete," David said. "He’s a much better athlete than maybe some people have given him credit for. He’s a guy who plays hard and knows how to make the right play, a guy that gets into you defensively. Those are the things we really valued with him."

Siva will play point guard on the Summer League team that opens play July 7 in Orlando. Caldwell-Pope likely will be the shooting guard, though the Pistons expect second-year player Kim English to be in Orlando, as well. Khris Middleton will be the small forward with Mitchell at power forward and Andre Drummond at center.

At the NBA draft combine last month in Chicago, Mitchell talked about being pressed hard by Dumars and his staff for his sometimes lackadaisical play last season.

Mitchell needs refinement at the offensive end, where he was turnover prone and probably took too many jump shots in a league where he should have been able to overpower most opponents in the paint. But as a young player, at least, the Pistons probably aren’t going to ask him to do more than rebound, defend and hustle. His athleticism should allow him to flourish in that role even if his offense is a while coming.

Mitchell came out of Dallas Pinkston High in 2011 ranked as the nation’s No. 12 prospect by Rivals.com and No. 18 by Scout.com and was ticketed for Missouri, where he would have been a teammate of Kim English. But after not gaining admission, he sat out and wound up at North Texas.

David said the key for Mitchell – as he said a year ago with Drummond – will be playing hard every night to put his athleticism to best use.

"We’d like to see him be an athlete consistently on the floor," he said. "He should be the best athlete on the floor at all times. We have some guys on our roster right now who are going to push him hard in terms of being the best athlete."