The Pistons drafted Deron Washington at No. 59 with the future in mind – both his and theirs.
Washington will spend at least a season in Europe honing his skills, but at some point the Pistons think they’ll have a first-class perimeter defender plus a player whose athleticism meshes nicely with the NBA’s increased emphasis on playing the game over all 94 feet.
“There’s no question he will be able to defend guys at the two and three positions,” Pistons vice president Scott Perry said after Washington’s stint in the Las Vegas Summer League affirmed the team’s predraft evaluation of him. “With his length, he’s got the athletic ability and he’s got the mind-set to do it. He’s good in the open court. He can slash to the rim and make plays at the rim and with the way the game is going you need some guys on your team like that. I think he’s got a good upside and good future ahead of him.”
Washington comes by his athleticism honestly. His father, Lionel, played 15 years as a defensive back in the NFL and is currently a secondary coach for the Green Bay Packers. His mother, Denise, played college basketball at Xavier University in New Orleans.
Washington went to Virginia Tech out of high school in New Orleans – his mother, a schoolteacher, lost her home to Hurricane Katrina – and started 125 of the 128 games he played over four years for the Hokies, averaging 13.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists a game as a senior. He also became something of a You Tube legend for his feistiness – see the play in which a frustrated Washington, late in a tough loss to Duke, gives Lee Melchionni a little something extra – and his highlight-reel dunks.
“He’s not short on any toughness,” Perry said. “He will compete and he will fight, which is an important quality for us. But he’s very coachable and I think a guy who will make the most of whatever opportunity he gets. I was pleased with how he played in the Summer League.”
Washington averaged 6.2 points and 3.0 rebounds in 22 minutes a game while swinging between small forward and shooting guard behind both Walter Sharpe and Arron Afflalo. Though his outside shot is not yet a strength, Washington did shot .545 in Las Vegas, knocked down his only 3-point attempt and showed a nice stroke that suggests he could become an asset from the perimeter. Right now the best part of Washington’s offense comes as a finisher in transition and as the receiver of lob passes where he can use his quickness and leaping ability to go over the top of a defense. Even without having developed any chemistry with point guards Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum, Washington threw down a few lob dunks that brought the Las Vegas crowd to its feet.
“He’s a tremendous athlete who we thought could defend on the wing and he illustrated both of those things in the Summer League,” Perry said. “He’ll continue to develop his perimeter shot. He has a good form that he can develop and become a pretty good shooter. Going overseas and having the time to do that – the time and the focus to do that – will help. I like him down the road.”
The Pistons have been working with Washington’s agent and using their network of European contacts to secure the best situation possible for him and hope to land him with a team in either Italy or Spain soon. Before Washington has to leave for abroad, they hope can take part in some or all of the three weeks of voluntary workouts Michael Curry has scheduled in Auburn Hills for August.
“We sit down (with his European coaches) and say these are the things we think he needs to develop so in time he can come back – that’s the idea,” Perry said. “And it’s important that he has coaches who have shown the willingness and the ability to develop guys. It’s also important that he has the opportunity to play. It makes no sense if he’s not going to get minutes on the floor. That will be an integral part of where he’s going as will the living situation. You want him to have the opportunity to be in a place where he’ll enjoy living a little bit because that will be a part of the adjustment.”