Pistons Mailbag - June 14, 2017

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

With the draft a week and a day away, no surprise that Pistons draft chatter tops the list of subjects in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Hmmm (@Be_Cool_Fool): What’s the value of the No. 12 pick? Is the return we could get from it even worth it? Also, how big is Stanley Johnson’s development when it comes to whom we draft?

Langlois: It’s worth whatever another team is willing to pay to get it and that’s … well, I’m guessing even the Pistons don’t have a very focused picture of what that might be at this point. In the 24 hours before the draft, teams start showing their cards a little more as they get a handle on who will – and who won’t – be available to them at their draft slot. Teams picking behind the Pistons with their eyes on a particular player probably aren’t going to let them know this early what they’ll be willing to give up for the 12th pick until much closer to the draft – and probably until the draft starts and they see the player they covet get past one or more of the spots where they thought he’d be available. Because the Pistons truly are in a spot to go for the ol’ “best player available” – a product of a depth chart without an obvious hole – I don’t know that they would be a team anyone would target as a likely trade partner. If you’re picking 10th and want to go after Minnesota’s pick at No. 7 with an eye toward drafting one of the point guards – say, Dennis Smith – a year after the Timberwolves took Kris Dunn at No. 5, you’d probably have a decent shot of prying that pick away. The only comparable for the Pistons would be a Henry Ellenson clone and I’m not sure there’s one in this draft projected to go as high as 12. UCLA’s T.J. Leaf probably comes closest to fitting that description. Not sure I fully get your second question regarding Stanley Johnson’s development relative to the draft. If you mean would the Pistons draft someone like O.G. Anunoby – an athletic wing (and maybe a power forward) with defensive versatility and elite potential, perhaps, at that end but an unrefined offensive game, or somebody similar to Johnson, in other words – well, that’s an interesting question. I think they’re still banking on Johnson to take a big step forward – and to start showing that this season – but I don’t think they’d allow Johnson’s presence to dissuade them from taking a player they value but might be somewhat duplicative.

Jason (San Antonio): Do you think LeBron James is showing us why he is the best player in the game?

Langlois: I don’t think there’s been much serious debate about this for a long time, Jason. I won’t get into a debate about who the greatest player of all time is – last week Pat Riley again voiced his support for Magic Johnson, who’ll always have my endorsement – but I will say this: I think you can make a strong case that no player has ever been considered the best in the game for a longer period of time than LeBron James has. Michael Jordan would probably win a poll of NBA general managers who had one foot in the game during the ’80s and ’90s and another still in the game in some capacity today. But would anyone dispute that Jordan didn’t reign as the consensus No. 1 player in the game for as long as James has in the current era? Magic and Larry Bird passed the torch back and forth for much of the ’80s before Jordan picked it up and carried it through the mid-’90s. I suppose Kobe Bryant still had a reasonable claim to No. 1 through a chunk of the first decade of this century, though I suspect that James would have surpassed him – decisively if not overwhelmingly – by about 2007 or ’08. If you’re into advanced stats, LeBron was No. 1 in VORP (value over replacement player) every year from 2005-06 (he finished second to Kevin Garnett in 2004-05, the season when he turned 20) through 2012-13, an astonishing run – and it wasn’t particularly close most seasons. He finished second to Kevin Durant in 2013-14 and has been fifth, third and third in ensuing seasons, though I still suspect that a general manager who had a two- or three-year window and could choose any player in the league around whom to build would still choose James before anyone else. Durant was extremely impressive in leading Golden State to the championship, though, and he did it while playing with the pressure of knowing that anything less than a title would have reflected negatively on no one as much as him.

Bob (Albany, Oregon): The NBA draft is always awesome as one player can really make an impact. The Pistons are all over the map on whom they might pick. I can see them trading up, offering Morris or Harris; staying at 12; or trading down. My hope is they go for a scorer. Monk, Kennard, Mitchell and Ferguson all seem like good fits. Reggie Jackson is a prideful man and should come back with a vengeance, making everyone around him better. What scenario do you sense will play out?

Langlois: As for the draft, “all over the map” is another way of saying their depth chart probably will have less influence over this year’s pick than it has in Van Gundy’s past two drafts when the Pistons had the eighth and 18th picks. They hold team control on at least two players at every position. What that probably means is there will be less tinkering with the draft board, so a player they rank 12th in pure value will likely wind up pretty close to 12 when they adjust for roster construction. It’s possible that a big man would get downgraded by a spot or two, I suppose, given the presence of Andre Drummond and the 30-plus minutes a game he provides at center and the optimism for Henry Ellenson’s future at power forward. But a big man who offers contrast – someone like, say, Gonzaga’s Zach Collins – to Drummond and Ellenson would still be attractive. I don’t see the Pistons trading up, simply because the ammunition to do so is usually another first-round pick. The Pistons don’t have multiple firsts this season or in any succeeding year and the only way Stan Van Gundy is giving up a future first-rounder is if a no-doubt impact player is available and, for some reason, a team ahead of them doesn’t see the value. Trading up is just rare. Trading down or out of the first round? Perhaps. I’m still skeptical because of the Pistons cap situation. To deal the pick for an established player sounds good, but a team over the cap – and flirting with the tax line dependent on the Kentavious Caldwell-Pope final number – can only consider such a move in exchange for a franchise-altering piece, not just another complementary part. And what’s the likelihood that the 12th pick will net such a return? Slim. None? Yeah, closer to none.

William (Bay City, Mich.): What are your thoughts on Josh Jackson? From what I have seen, he looks like a solid pick.

Langlois: I think he’s got a chance to be the best player in the draft, William. There’s not a chance he lasts to the 12th pick for the Pistons, if that was your hope. I know the overwhelming consensus is that Boston will draft Markelle Fultz at No. 1, but I wonder how Danny Ainge views Jackson. When I first saw him in something beyond a few highlight clips from international competitions, it was in the McDonald’s All-American game. That’s not usually a setting where you can tell much about a player in the same way watching the NBA All-Star game doesn’t reveal anything meaningful about NBA players. But I was struck immediately by Jackson’s passing ability coupled with his athleticism. In a game filled with highly athletic players, he jumped off the screen. There are questions whether he can develop a consistent perimeter jump shot and so much of today’s game is predicated on shooting, especially shooting from the 3-point line for perimeter players. So whether Jackson becomes a quality starter with elite defensive ability or hits the high end of his potential and becomes an All-Star probably comes down to how consistently he’ll hit 3-point shots.

Josh (Ferndale, Mich.): Who says no to this trade and why: Drummond and Tobias Harris to the Knicks for Carmelo, Courtney Lee and the No. 8 pick?

Langlois: The Pistons say no. They’d be left with Boban Marjanovic at center – again, assuming Aron Baynes opts out and becomes a free agent the Pistons virtually can’t re-sign – with a little Jon Leuer or Henry Ellenson mixed in. Now, just because a trade leaves you with a gaping roster hole, you don’t automatically reject it if you believe you’re getting better talent in in return. But I don’t believe that to be the case in your proposal – unless you’re proposing we’re turning the clock back to 2008. Carmelo Anthony would give them a boost on offense (probably), but he’s an increasingly poor defensive player who, at 33 and closing in on 40,000 career minutes (counting playoffs), is in danger of facing an accelerated decline in the near future. The No. 8 pick would be the prize in the return. But the Pistons would be giving up the consensus best rebounder in basketball and their best half-court scoring option – one 23, the other 24 – for two guys on the wrong side of 30. You’d have to really, really love the No. 8 pick to do that deal, especially considering the Pistons wouldn’t have the cap space to plug the void at center left by Drummond’s departure.

Peter (Jackson, Mich.): One of the things that has consistently killed the Pistons the last two years is dribble penetration from opposing point guards. Donovan Mitchell looks to be a player who could eliminate that problem. Should we draft him?

Langlois: He’s a player who appears to be gaining some momentum and is solidly in play to be drafted late in the lottery as it stands with a week to go before the draft. As I wrote in our Pistons.com draft profile of Mitchell, his appeal increases considerably if teams believe he can be a serviceable point guard as well as logging minutes at his primary position, shooting guard. Mitchell is undersized (6-foot-3) for a shooting guard, but his combination of athleticism (fastest sprint as measured at the NBA draft combine, best no-step vertical leap) and length (6-foot-10 wing span) allays doubts that he has the physical tools to be a high-level defender. He also appears to have the tools to grow into at least an average offensive shooting guard. If Mitchell gets to 12, I’d put him solidly in a group of three to five players I would expect to get strong consideration from the Pistons.

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