If Pistons stay at 8, they’ll cast a wide net in draft

Julius Randle of the University of Kentucky could be a draft possibility for the Pistons.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images Sport
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

If Lady Luck merely chooses to leave the Pistons alone at next week’s lottery – neither boosts them into a top-three pick nor permits them to be jumped and thus lose their lottery pick altogether – then they’ll surely be staring at a pretty lengthy list of candidates to consider with the No. 8 pick.

How lengthy? I’d include at least 11 names right now, six weeks before the draft. That allows for the virtual certainty that three players – Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid – will be off the board before the eighth pick. You can argue that at least a few others, most likely Dante Exum and Julius Randle, also will be gone. But there are enough gray areas with both, and with everybody outside the big three, to warrant a thorough vetting by the Pistons if they stay at No. 8.

Here’s a brief look at all 11 and how they might fit. We’ll do much more expansive looks at all of them in the True Blue Pistons draft series if the lottery plays to form next week. If the Pistons get jumped and lose their first-round pick … well, then we’ll drop back and punt.

  • Dante Exum – He’s considered a top-five pick, but on the scantest of evidence. His status was almost exclusively defined by the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit competition. Exum, whose father played for Dean Smith at North Carolina before landing in Australia to play professionally, didn’t play competitively this year and abandoned his initial plan to play American college basketball for a year when it became clear he was a high lottery pick. It’s going to be a leap of faith to take Exum, but he’s 18, 6-foot-6, athletic, skilled and projects to point guard. If he’s really all of that, wow. But there’s not a lot to go on.

  • Julius Randle – He’s another power forward for a team that already is struggling to find enough minutes to play both Josh Smith and Greg Monroe there. Monroe’s restricted free agent status won’t be cleared up by draft night, though it’s safe to assume the Pistons will retain him unless an attractive sign-and-trade possibility presents itself. Randle has a unique combination of size, strength and first-step quickness that made him a consistently dominant force inside during his one season at Kentucky. Teams are going to pick him apart and wonder if he can score around the rim in the NBA as he did in college. He hasn’t displayed scoring ability outside of the paint.

  • Noah Vonleh and Aaron Gordon – Two more power forwards, but very different players. Vonleh is the tallest of the three and easily has the best shooting range – if he maxes out, the possibilities of a Vonleh-Andre Drummond frontcourt is dizzying – but is the least physically ready, as well. Scouts marvel at Gordon’s motor and believe he has high-end defensive potential. It’s anyone’s guess what his offensive calling card will become down the road, but the athleticism is there. There’s a decent chance that at least one of Vonleh and Gordon will be on the board at No. 8 and, if so, at this point in the evaluation process whoever it is probably would represent the best draft value. Fit would be less clear.

  • Marcus Smart and Tyler Ennis – The two point guards aren’t much alike, either. Ennis’ best attribute is his feel for the game. He doesn’t have ideal size, but he’s all point guard in his court vision, sense of pace and feel for how and when to involve teammates. Smart earned an invitation to USA Basketball’s minicamp last summer – one of two collegians to do so – based in large measure on his intangibles. Smart oozes leadership qualities. His skills need a little refinement, but he’s built like a linebacker and would immediately provide a perimeter defensive upgrade.

  • Gary Harris and Nik Stauskas – The two shooting guards from in-state rivals Michigan and Michigan State might seem curious picks one year after the Pistons took Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. But with Rodney Stuckey a free agent, the Pistons are going to be in the market for additional backcourt help via one channel or another this summer. Both also would help their perimeter shooting, though expecting an early entrant – both MSU’s Harris and Michigan’s Stauskas are college sophomores – to immediately transition to the NBA 3-point line is risky business. KCP’s rangy length and athleticism allowed him to play a fair amount of small forward as a rookie, so it wouldn’t be out of the question that he and Harris or Stauskas could spend some time on the floor together against backup units, too.

  • Dario Saric – He’s listed as the No. 8 prospect by Draftexpress.com and No. 9 by ESPN.com. Everyone raves about Saric’s offensive versatility and basketball IQ. A 6-foot-10 combo forward who could project as a starting small forward but appears perfectly capable of sliding to power forward as a stretch four when teams go small late in games would be an ideal fit for the Pistons if teams are convinced he’d make the transition from Europe to the NBA seamlessly. He played at a very high level against quality competition in the Adriatic League this season, averaging about 17 points and nine rebounds a game – big numbers in Europe.

  • James Young – Another player with local ties – he played his high school basketball first at Troy and then at Rochester – Young outplayed more touted freshman teammates Andrew and Aaron Harrison during his one season at Kentucky, which ended with a run to the NCAA title game against eventual champ UConn. At 6-foot-7, Young offers two-position versatility. There’s no question what scouts see as Young’s NBA-ready skill: He’s got the mentality and skills of an unadulterated scorer.

  • Doug McDermott – Whether the Pistons decide to make a personnel move makes their frontcourt more traditionally compatible or stay the course with their threesome of Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith, they’ll certainly look for ways to improve their flexibility. McDermott is almost certainly the most NBA-ready shooter available. He was the other collegian who played with some of the league’s best young pros in Las Vegas last summer and did not appear overwhelmed in the least by the level of athleticism. Like Saric, McDermott also figures to finish games at power forward down the road.