With star vets’ futures in doubt, Pistons on the hunt for draft solutions
Miami’s difficulty in finding the perfect balance between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade aside, you can bet that general managers of the NBA Eastern Conference’s 14 other teams are cognizant of the Heat’s potential to dominate the standings over the foreseeable future and will do what they can to match up on the wings with Miami in the draft.
For the Pistons, the urgency to find help at small forward, especially, is generated by the pending free agency of both Tayshaun Prince and Tracy McGrady, leaving Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko as internal candidates to fill the void. There is also the possibility that Rip Hamilton could be included in a trade package after a turbulent season that saw him nearly dealt at the trade deadline, according to numerous reports.
Here are eight players who could be available to the Pistons with the 33rd overall pick, the first of their two second-rounders:
- Davis Bertrans – If the Pistons are looking for instant help with this pick – and there will be players available at 33 who are capable of stepping into an NBA rotation – then Bertrans isn’t the likeliest option.
He won’t turn 19 until November, making him one of the youngest players in the 2011 draft. Bertrans has drawn some comparisons to a very young Dirk Nowitzki, though whether he will ever come close to developing the offensive versatility – never mind the deadly efficiency across the board – requires a leap of faith.
While Bismack Biyombo made the biggest splash at the Nike Hoop Summit in April, the 6-foot-10 Bertrans – who doesn’t carry much more weight, if any, than Austin Daye – also soared on to radar screens with his practice performances that week. Similarly, he reportedly was very good in workouts at the recent Eurocamp.
It’s certainly possible that a team picking in the late first round would be happy to pick Bertrans and stash him overseas for a season or two. If he slips to the Pistons, his scoring potential and high ceiling would make him a consideration.
- Bogan Bogdanovic – Bogdanovic, unlike Bertrans, is somebody NBA teams could project as being able to step in sooner rather than later. One issue that would need to be satisfactorily addressed is whether that would be possible, or likely, given the contract Bogdanovic recently signed with a Turkish power.
Bogdanovic, 6-foot-7, is one of Europe’s most accomplished scorers, averaging 18 points a game in Euroleague competition and 19 in the Adriatic League last season. More scorer than pure shooter, Bogdanovic, 22, displays some of the flair for the game that marked a few of the early European stars who made the transition to the NBA, including Drazen Petrovic.
Besides his contract situation, the major question mark with Bogdanovic is his ability to defend even passably at the NBA level.
- Jimmy Butler – Scouts might question if Butler does any one thing well enough to warrant a first-round grade, but nobody has any doubts about the character or mental makeup of the Marquette senior. When the college season ended, it was fair to wonder whether Butler would be available when the Pistons picked at 52. Now it’s less than certain he’ll still be there at 33.
That’s how impressive Butler has been since the season ended, starting with his MVP performance at the Portsmouth Invitational. Butler’s mere invitation to the camp revealed how he was viewed as a prospect; Portsmouth has become a place where players on the fringe of being drafted go to raise their profile. It worked beautifully for Butler, who led his team to the PIT title.
It was in Portsmouth where Butler sat down with Pistons personnel director George David.
“We talked about me as a person, me as a gamer on the court,” Butler said. “We sat down and really got to know each other. I got to know them and they got to know me, more than anything.”
Butler comes from a program that preached defensive intensity. He said Buzz Williams, his Marquette coach, devoted 85 percent of practice time to defense. And he knows the best Pistons teams have been known for their defense.
“I can go with that,” he said of the prospect of being drafted by the Pistons. “I’d love for my name to be on that team. I know they have a great program, a great history, and I think I’d fit in real well with them.”
Butler, 6-foot-8, averaged 15.7 points and 6.1 rebounds, played top-notch defense and made smart decisions as the backbone of an overachieving college team. He could project as a Shane Battier-type NBA player, who will focus on the two or three things a coach asks of him and sacrifice other parts of his game.
Here’s how Butler responded when I asked him what the team that drafts him can expect out of him as a rookie: “One is defensive intensity and two is the guy that I’m behind, he’s going to work every day because I’m going to work every day to make him better.”
- Tyler Honeycutt – Pistons fans might see images of a young Tayshaun Prince when they look at Honeycutt, who made a somewhat surprising decision to leave UCLA after a sophomore season in which he averaged 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds. He’s lean and lanky with the long arms that have made Prince a valuable wing defender since he emerged in the 2003 playoffs to help get Tracy McGrady under control.
In flashes, Honeycutt looks like he has future NBA All-Star potential, but it didn’t translate into dominating college games. Many mock drafts have Honeycutt going in the first round, a reasonable possibility in a year where beauty will very much be in the eyes of the beholder. If he lasts into the second round, the similarities to Prince would make him an obvious candidate for consideration.
- Travis Leslie – Much like Terrico White was considered a first-round talent based on his explosive athleticism a year ago, Leslie is a player who could be gone before the Pistons get a shot at him in the second round. Chicago – based on the assumption that the Bulls are going to have to better position themselves to match up with Miami to get out of the East – has been frequently linked to Leslie and the Bulls have two late first-round picks.
Leslie appears typical of many elite athletes who found early success simply because of their athleticism and failed to fully develop their skills. His jump shot needs work and he won’t create much for himself off the dribble, but if teams believe those things will come and in the meantime he’ll help them match up with a Wade or a Ray Allen, he’ll hold wide appeal.
Leslie, a junior, averaged 14.4 points and 7.2 rebounds for Georgia, getting a large percentage of his points by playing above the rim.
- E’Twaun Moore – Moore stands in contrast to Leslie: He lacks top-end athleticism, but his production over his four-year Purdue career – the Boilermakers won 107 games – is tough to ignore. Moore averaged 18 points as a Purdue senior, joining JaJuan Johnson in leading the team after Robbie Hummel went down with a preseason knee injury.
Moore also led his team to an Indiana high school state title and impressed teams in interviews at the Chicago draft combine, where his wing span of 6-foot-9½ - on par or greater than many of the small forwards – suggested he could develop into an effective NBA defender.
- Chandler Parsons – Parsons intrigues some NBA teams because they see a 6-foot-10 true small forward with excellent ballhandling skills, good rebounding instincts and the potential to develop as an above-average NBA 3-point shooter.
The SEC Player of the Year for Florida, Parsons averaged 11.3 points and 7.8 rebounds and shot 37 percent from the 3-point line for a guard-dominated team. Parsons projects as an ideal bench player because of his versatility, which includes the lateral quickness necessary to guard most NBA small forwards.
- Kyle Singler – Similar in a lot of ways to Parsons, Singler is a player who should quickly be able to step into his team’s rotation and be able to hold his own against most backup small forwards.
A four-year Duke veteran who helped the Blue Devils win the 2010 NCAA title, Singler averaged very solid numbers: 16.9 points and 6.8 rebounds. He reached those numbers by being a little more up and down than scouts would prefer, though in Singler’s defense the Duke offense was centered around Kyrie Irving early in the season, then around Nolan Smith when Irving went down with a toe injury. Through it all, he played hard and contributed what was needed on a particular night – the very trait that’s made Prince such a valuable Piston.
“Over my career, I accomplished a lot,” said Singler, who at 23 will be one of the oldest drafted players. “I won a lot of games and played on some great teams. Those things help.”
Singler, aware that Prince and McGrady could leave as free agents, met with the Pistons in Chicago and left with a favorable impression.
“It was good,” he said. “They were mainly focused on high-character guys, but at the same time they’re interested in drafting good players. There’s an opportunity I could go there and a chance they could draft me. Our meeting went well. They got to know me.”