In the Wings
The picks come fast and furious in the NBA draft when the first round concludes and David Stern hands over the baton to his deputies. The TV audience dwindles and the names become less and less familiar the deeper into the second round you go.
But NBA front offices regard those picks with great gravity nevertheless. And the wisdom of choosing wisely late into the night was underscored again for the Pistons this summer, when the luxury of having 2008 second-rounder Deron Washington in the pipeline allowed Joe Dumars the flexibility to trade Arron Afflalo for cap space to help restock the Pistons’ frontcourt.
Washington is ticketed for the role held by Afflalo, a 2007 late first-rounder, the past two seasons – perimeter defensive specialist. While Afflalo is a more polished offensive player and more consistent perimeter shooter, Washington is 2 inches taller and considerably more athletic.
“That’s going to be his niche,” Pistons vice president Scott Perry said of Washington. “We’ve brought in a number of guys this summer who can score the basketball. What he provides is tremendous athleticism. One of the things we liked about him coming out of college is his length, his ability to move his feet on the perimeter and guard some people. There’s an opening on our roster for that role. Ultimately, if he wants to make his mark, that’s where he’ll challenge himself, put his energy and his focus in and see where it takes him.”
When the Pistons drafted Afflalo, they felt they had acquired a player who, at minimum, would give them better than average defense with the ability to defend all three perimeter positions – point guard, shooting guard and small forward. And that’s what they feel they have in Washington, as well.
“His biggest strength is his ability to defend,” Pistons personnel director George David said. “He can not only defend multiple positions, but he’s got extreme athleticism and great length he can use at both ends of the floor.”
When the Pistons selected Washington 59th a year ago, one pick before the last spot in the draft, it was with the expectation that he would spend at least one year overseas working to get his skill level on par with his athleticism. Washington says he thought the year in Israel benefited him greatly on the offensive end, boosting his confidence both in his perimeter shot and his ability to make plays off of the dribble.
David witnessed that firsthand when he spent a week in Israel with Washington, where he became a key player for Hapoel Holon, which went on to win the Israeli Cup.
“He got to play for a great team and he got great coaching,” David said. “Deron has really benefited from that and he’s polished a lot of small areas of his game. Had he played on an NBA roster last year, I don’t know if he would have gotten the attention and the time. The two things he got over there was he played a ton of minutes and he got really good coaching.”
With the free-agent signing of Ben Gordon, the emergence of Will Bynum and the return of starters Rodney Stuckey and Rip Hamilton, the Pistons have plenty of depth and scoring punch in their backcourt. It’s likely that even if Afflalo hadn’t been traded, his role was going to shrink next season. But Washington does provide new Pistons coach John Kuester with another tool in his toolbox. He also could work his way into the mix for backup minutes behind Tayshaun Prince at small forward.
“Deron is 6-7 and he’s got good length,” Perry said. “He’s got the size to guard some of the bigger threes and the quickness and athleticism to stay with the twos.”
In Las Vegas, Washington spent the majority of his minutes at shooting guard so the Pistons could get as many minutes as possible up front for their three 2009 draft picks – Austin Daye, DaJuan Summers and Jonas Jerebko. Yet he still averaged 5.2 rebounds, a very strong number for a guard, and had a handful of memorable and explosive one-handed put-back dunks.
“His athleticism allows that for a guy who can sneak in there and get some offensive rebounds and he’s obviously athletic enough on the defensive end to go up in a crowd with some bigger guys and rebound the ball,” Perry said.
Washington didn’t get many opportunities as a go-to scorer, but he did show better discretion over the previous summer in knowing how and when to attack the rim. He averaged 8.2 points and while he didn’t shoot particularly well (.378), he did show a decent 3-point shot (4 of 11) and an ability to get to the foul line, shooting 24 in five games, though he needed a 4-for-4 game in the Summer League finale to raise his free-throw shooting percentage to an anemic .375 (9 of 24).
But it will be his ability to change the tempo of a game defensively that will determine when and how much Washington plays early in his career.
“The athletic part of being able to defend, he can do that,” Perry said. “Now it’s the mental part – ‘Who do I have to get up closer to, who can I back off of a little bit?’ That’s his next step of development. Because he’s not going to be able to defend everybody the exact same way. That’s just being up here and learning and digesting a lot of the scouting reports and learning tendencies in himself as he watches our guys that he practices against every day, and then watching teams and becoming a student of the game