The Pistons walked away on draft night with three players Joe Dumars refers to as “hybrid” forwards – capable of playing either spot – but when all three showed up in Las Vegas for NBA Summer League, the coaches had to decide where Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye and DaJuan Summers would line up and which positions they would guard.
Daye spent most of his minutes over five Summer League games at small forward and Summers most of his at power forward. Jerebko, after getting late clearance to join the team by basketball’s international governing body, FIBA, initially was backing up Summers at power forward.
But after getting Jerebko up to speed, and with Dumars and his staff and coaches eager to get long looks at all three 2009 draftees since all are ticketed for the 15-man roster, the Pistons moved Jerebko into the starting lineup – at center, flanked by Summers and Daye. That took a little getting used to for Jerebko, who has played small forward for nearly all of his life, including this year in the Italian pro league.
But over the course of his time in Las Vegas, Jerebko left an impression for his athleticism, fearlessness and hustle, and the Pistons came back more convinced than ever that the 6-foot-10 Swede – whose father, Chris, played at Syracuse for Jim Boeheim before a professional career in Sweden, where he met his wife and chose to live – had a bright NBA future.
“A lot of times you have guys who are categorized as energy guys who may not be skilled,” Pistons vice president Scott Perry said. “But Jonas has skills. At that four position, he can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. He showed an ability to use both his left and right hands around the basket. From that mid-range on in, he’s effective at shooting the basketball.”
In separate conversations, assistant coaches Darrell Walker and Pat Sullivan compared Jerebko’s athleticism and energy to Knicks power forward David Lee, a former McDonald’s All-American slam dunk champion.
“I think the reason they’re comparing him to David Lee is because he’s so comfortable competing around the basket in terms of keeping balls alive and rebounding,” Pistons personnel director George David said. “What he’s able to do a lot of times is turn a subpar game or average game he’s having into a solid game. If he’s struggling with his shot, he might keep a couple of balls alive or get three, four, five rebounds. He’s very comfortable playing physical, aggressive, playing around the basket.”
Jerebko, projected to go late in the first round but surprisingly – shockingly, to the Pistons – still available with the second of their second-round picks at 39, averaged 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds in 28 minutes a game. But throw out the first game – in which he scored two points and had three rebounds in 13 minutes just 24 hours after getting FIBA clearance and with not even one full practice under his belt – and the numbers jump to 15 and seven.
While his jump shot didn’t fall as he might have liked, Jerebko still shot .458 by being active inside and aggressive at the basket. The mechanics of his jumper are sound and he shoots the ball from 3-point range effortlessly. He revealed an effective head fake that frequently got his defender to leave his feet and kept his dribble alive consistently, finding ways to get inside. Jerebko, unlike most young players, also was comfortable finishing at the rim while absorbing contact. And while unaccustomed to defending the post, he held his own even against 7-footers with NBA resumes like David Harrison, Patrick O’Bryant and Jamal Sampson.
“You can’t discount the fact that he’s played professionally over in Europe for the last couple of years and he’s come across some older guys, and he played a lot of minutes this year over there,” Perry said. “It’s not surprising he would have developed some subtleties to his game like head fakes and things he’s learned that worked for him in his game.”
Jerebko was listed variously at 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-9 in profiles of him preceding the draft, but when he worked out for the Pistons he measured in at slightly above 6-foot-10 in shoes. And, Perry said, he ranked either first or second among the 50-plus players the Pistons brought to Auburn Hills for predraft workouts in strength coach Arnie Kander’s battery of physical tests that include many agility and flexibility drills.
“When he worked out here, we got a really good snapshot of (Jerebko’s athleticism),” Perry said. “That was one of the things that just stood out – how athletic he was. You see it on tape, and our guys who watched him overseas – George and Tony (Ronzone, director of basketball operations) – had seen it. Then he tested so well with Arnie.
“But that was a two-on-two workout he had with us, so to see that translate to the five-on-five … you could see his willingness to stick his nose into traffic and get to tough loose balls or at least pursue them. He showed a great willingness to do that and that was very encouraging to see.”
And that might be Jerebko’s quickest ticket to NBA playing time – the sort of infectious relentlessness that rouses a crowd and lifts the level of teammates’ play.
“What I probably came away most impressed with, and I’m sure the staff would concur with this,” Perry said, “is you got 100 percent effort and energy out of him every time he stepped on to the court. When you see that in a player, that’s a very positive thing. It’s something he can build on as an individual and it’s something that ultimately will help your ballclub.”