Pistons Mailbag - May 15, 2019
With this week’s NBA draft combine shifting the draft process into overdrive and free agency on tap in six weeks, Mailbag is loaded with off-season planning questions for the Pistons in this week’s edition.
Kumar (Troy, Mich.): How do Pistons management and you view Nickeil Alexander-Walker – as a shooting guard or a point guard?
Langlois: How Pistons management views him – or anybody else in this draft – is knowledge they’ll guard zealously leading up to and beyond the draft. Only if they actually take him with the 15th pick will we know that they fell hard for him. I’d be interested to know if Dwane Casey has any particular insight into Alexander-Walker from his time in Toronto, where Alexander-Walker grew up. Casey had familiarity with the elite players who’ve popped up in Toronto, a burgeoning producer of talent of late, and perhaps can add a little insight into the evaluation process. The conventional wisdom on Alexander-Walker is that he’s probably not suited for full-time point guard duty but can be, at minimum, an effective secondary ballhandler. The lines are blurrier today than they were a generation ago, or even five years ago, though. Some teams might see Alexander-Walker as perfectly fit for playing point guard, especially in a system like Casey’s that decentralizes ballhandling. If they think he can run pick and roll effectively, has good court vision and can grow into an effective 3-point shooter then he probably clears the bar for them. I’d put him on a pretty short list – top 10, for sure, maybe top five – of likeliest Pistons picks at 15.
The Inc. (Rochester, Mich.): Can you give your take on what the Pistons’ goals are regarding the roster for next season? I’ve read their biggest need is at point guard, then Ed Stefanski states they need to get bigger wings and a backup center. Most of the articles seem to point to them focusing on shooting guards like Seth Curry, Miye Oni and Tyler Herro. Should Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown, Svi Mykahiliuk and Khyri Thomas be concerned?
Langlois: You can debate whether their biggest need is at point guard or size on the wings. The third need would be for a backup big man. They need a backup big man just as badly as a backup point guard, but the reality is that they can allocate a lesser resource – perhaps even the veteran minimum, as they did last summer with Zaza Pachulia – into addressing that need. The case for wing as the first priority would be that they have Reggie Jackson under contract for one more season and can patch together the minutes behind him with the biannual exception ($3.6 million) plus some combination of the draft, a veteran’s minimum exception and internal options like Bruce Brown or Luke Kennard for spot minutes, then address the position more dramatically next summer when cap space will be available. The case for point guard is that it’s such an incredibly important position and if they don’t address it in some fashion this summer, they’ll have an even more glaring problem next off-season when Jackson also hits free agency. If you’ve read analysis pushing Curry as a potential free-agent target, it’s with his ability to play point guard in mind. He’s a shooter, foremost, but if the Pistons sign him I think it’s safe to assume they project him as becoming part of the solution at point guard. Oni and Herro? The worked out Oni because … why not? They’re going to work out 50-plus players, in all likelihood. Teams try to gather as much information as they can on players, in some cases knowing there is zero (or precious little) chance they’ll draft him. Every interaction and opportunity to gather information about players is valued. But whomever the Pistons draft at 15 will tell us nothing about their views of Kennard, Brown, Mykhailiuk and Thomas. They’re interested in drafting the player with the best chance to have a meaningful NBA career. The current roster doesn’t carry much weight in evaluating draft prospects.
Bravo (@AlhamadaniBravo): Would the Pistons draft a guy like Kevin Porter or Sekou Doumbouya? I wonder what you think of those two.
Langlois: My impressions of them are formed almost completely by what I’ve read. I saw a few of Porter’s games at Southern Cal and nothing of Doumbouya, an 18-year-old from France. Porter might be the guy with the greatest gap between floor and ceiling. In two years, I don’t think NBA talent evaluators would be shocked if Porter is either a guy you look at and say there’s All-Star potential there or someone who doesn’t get his third-year option picked up by the team that drafts him. Doumbouya seems less likely to be available. He’s ranked No. 8 in ESPN’s top 100 to Porter’s 14th. The Athletic has Doumbouya as the No. 9 pick, Porter 18th. If the Pistons see Porter as more likely to approximate his ceiling than floor, then he checks off a lot of boxes for roster fit with playmaking ability in a 6-foot-6 wing.
Petemo (@petetroit): How can we get our hands on Mfiondu Kabengele?
Langlois: If you’re trying to guarantee it, you probably need to spend the 15th pick on him. It’s not very likely he’s going to be there at 45. He’s rated the No. 30 prospect according to ESPN.com. I’m a little surprised there isn’t more excitement about him based on my limited exposure to Kabengele, who averaged 24.5 points and 11.0 rebounds per 40 minutes at Florida State as a sophomore and, at 6-foot-10, has a promising 3-point shot (.374 over 71 college games on a sample size of 91 shots). In a draft viewed somewhat skeptically, that sounds like top-20 caliber to me, though perhaps his age – he’ll be 22 in August and spent a redshirt year at FSU before playing two – lowers his ceiling in the eyes of evaluators. If you love Kabengele and are lukewarm on the field at 15, you could explore trying to trade down. But if most teams view the draft similarly to the reported consensus, then there isn’t likely to be much of a market for trading back. Is it worth dropping 10 or 12 spots to pick up a second-rounder a few years down the road if that’s what the market bears? For what it’s worth, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla compares Kabengele to a young Serge Ibaka.
Pawel (Warsaw, Poland): The Pistons need complementary players to fit around Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin. How about trading Jon Leuer to Milwaukee for Tony Snell, who’s not being used by Milwaukee in the playoffs. He has an additional year on his contract and Milwaukee might throw in a second-round pick. Then trade Reggie Jackson to Minnesota for Jeff Teague, who did not have a good season but is a better playmaker. Again, it might be possible to get a second-round pick in this trade. Then sign Ish Smith, pick a playmaker in the draft who will grow into a backup and we will still have money left. Can you please comment on the some of the “lateral trades” I suggested.
Langlois: Snell has a player option on 2020-21 and it’s a coin flip as of now whether he’d exercise it. It all depends on what type of season he has in 2019-20. He’d probably like your trade suggestion because he’d have a clearer path to playing time with the Pistons ahead of having to make that decision, though keep in mind he was starting at the time he was injured in late March and averaged 17 minutes a game, so it’s not like the Bucks don’t value Snell. They’ll have to see what happens in free agency – Khris Middleton hits the market and presumably will be a priority, but if he were to leave Snell’s value to the Bucks skyrockets, and George Hill could opt out and become a free agent, as well – before considering such a trade. I think the reality is that Jon Leuer will be difficult to trade after two seasons of relative inactivity. I also think Leuer could have value to the Pistons next season. He’s a much better player than Pistons fans’ general perception of him. The ankle injury that wiped out his 2017-18 season and then the knee injury that curtailed his off-season and delayed his return until deep into the 2018-19 preseason put him behind the curve. I don’t think Leuer ever was right last season. A healthy off-season to fine tune his body gives him a chance to be the guy who played well for the Pistons in 2016-17. He can be part of the solution along with Thon Maker up front behind Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin. But I just don’t see him being able to entice a team to deal a player the caliber of Snell. If Minnesota were to deal Teague, who reportedly has opted in, it wouldn’t be very likely that it would be for another veteran point guard making a similar salary who also has a year left on his deal. The Timberwolves have a new front-office boss in Gersson Rosas, so it remains to be seen which direction he’s going to take. Given that he’s coming from Houston, it’s likely he’s looking to implement the same heavy analytics influence to personnel decisions. Teague will be 31 (nearly 2 years older than Jackson) when next season starts, his production has been in decline and he’s not the 3-point shooter (only 2.5 attempts per game last season to Jackson’s 5.7 with Jackson having a better percentage) Jackson proved to be alongside Griffin. It’s not an imbalanced trade proposal, but it’s not one that likely satisfies either side unless there’s a “let’s hope a change of scenery helps” motivation at work.
Dave (Oak Park, Mich.): Are the Pistons likely to move some of their expiring contracts this summer to help shore up the roster?
Langlois: Assuming you mean contracts that expire after the 2019-20 season (because contracts that have already expired for players like Ish Smith, Jose Calderon and Zaza Pachulia can’t be traded). Players whose contracts are up after next season are Reggie Jackson, Langston Galloway, Jon Leuer and Glenn Robinson III (the Pistons have an option on his deal for next season). Jackson’s play improved over the course of the season, inching closer to the player who was a top-10 point guard in 2015-16, which means his value isn’t far off from the $18 million he’s due next season. I’m sure the Pistons would be interested in something to address point guard long term, but for next season Jackson might have more value to the Pistons than he’d fetch in trade. Galloway could be expendable if the organization is confident in their younger wings – Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas and Svi Mykhailiuk specifically – being ready to fill minutes next season. His toughness, effort and fearlessness as a shooter made him a player Dwane Casey trusted even when he blew hot and cold as a 3-point shooter. He’s got a great reputation in the locker room, so it’s possible he’d help fill a need elsewhere in trade. Leuer, as I’ve detailed, probably has little trade value after two injury-riddled seasons gutted his productivity. The team option on Robinson’s contract makes it a potentially valuable trade chip for teams looking to create cap space in pursuit of other free agents. That’s an interesting one to monitor. The Pistons need to decide on Robinson’s option by June 29, ahead of free agency. Teams preparing to create cap space know which teams have options on players, so if a trade happens it could come on draft night or in the week thereafter as teams plot ahead of free agency.
Mahfus (Hamtramck, Mich.): What’s the possibility for Zion Williamson to win Rookie of the Year and MVP next season?
Langlois: Very good on the first count, not very good on the second.
Ahmed (San Antonio): If a head coach doesn’t like his assistants, can he make decisions whether to hire or fire them?
Langlois: Depends largely on the balance of power between the coach and the front office. Nobody would try to foist an unwanted assistant coach off on Gregg Popovich, but a first-time head coach probably needs to at least run his list of preferred assistants past the general manager for vetting. It can be safely assumed that Frank Vogel didn’t have veto power on Jason Kidd as his lead assistant when the Lakers made those hires this week. That’s almost guaranteed to create a no-win situation for Vogel with everyone waiting for signs from LeBron James that he’d prefer Kidd as soon as the Lakers lose three in a row.
Vance (Detroit): Will the Pistons have enough to go after Jimmy Butler?
Langlois: Not unless Butler wants to sign for $9.25 million next season (the mid-level exception, the best tool the Pistons have to improve their roster) with 5 percent raises in subsequent seasons so … no!
Ken (Dharamsala, India): I watched some film of Svi Mykhailiuk. The kid can shoot, including step-back threes. He needs about 10 more pounds of NBA muscle and the Pistons need to impress him with defense, defense and maybe some more defense. I am hoping Pistons coaches already have engaged him in what this 21-year-old kid has to do. Please tell me he is not a Luigi Datome clone.
Langlois: He’s got a better frame than Datome, who really struggled to guard in limited opportunity in the NBA. Defense also will be Mykhailiuk’s biggest obstacle to playing time, but Dwane Casey was reasonably optimistic that a little experience and a lot of off-season conditioning and development work will have Mykhailiuk in position to challenge for playing time next season. He was very impressive at Summer League last season, immediately outperforming his draft slot of 47. In a pure shooting contest, I might take him over anyone on the roster, Luke Kennard included. Whether he can translate that into effective shooting at the speed of an NBA game remains to be seen, but his G League results – a .400 3-point clip on a healthy 7.5 attempts per game, though in only eight games – is promising.