Pistons Mailbag - October 14, 2020

A bit of dish on draft prospects Deni Avdija, R.J. Hampton and LaMelo Ball plus the uncertainty of the salary cap for the 2021 season get us rolling for this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Pistons Talk (@Pistons_Talk): Deni Avdija would be a great fit on the Pistons. I just can’t see him falling to seventh. Top-five talent IMO. He probably ends up in Chicago or Cleveland.

I’d say it’s less than 50-50 that Avdija gets to seven, but I don’t think it’s nearly as much of a lock as you’d believe if you look at the majority of mock drafts. As I compiled the list of prospects to profile for our draft preview series, I initially had Avdija among a group of five players that I would steer clear of on the belief that they would be highly unlikely to be available at seven. (The four I won’t profile, by the way, are Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman and Obi Toppin.) I ultimately decided to drop Avdija from that group and profile him because I think there’s a reasonable chance – I don’t know what it is, maybe 30 percent – he isn’t picked ahead of seven. Chicago and Cleveland have roster needs that make Avdija a fit, but I really don’t think teams din the top 10 draft for fit often – or they shouldn’t, at least. Golden State might be the exception this year and it’s understandable that the Warriors, who could conceivably be a title contender with the right off-season addition or two or three, would look at instant impact over long-term potential. I could just as easily see Chicago or Cleveland going in another direction. It’s not a stretch to believe one or both view Isaac Okoro, for instance, as a superior prospect on the wing or feel a playmaker like Tyrese Haliburton or Killian Hayes would have greater long-term impact. Just as I’m not certain Avdija will be taken ahead of the Pistons, I also don’t think you can safely assume the Pistons would take him if available. We’re talking perceived razor-thin margins among these prospects.

Adam (St. Petersburg, Fla.): With players like R.J. Hampton and LaMelo Ball, how much did the front office really see of them given that they didn’t play many games and played them in Australia or New Zealand?

Every game is available on video, so that’s a big piece of the puzzle. Troy Weaver, the new Pistons general manager, has said he got to see all of the top lottery prospects in person before the COVID-19 pandemic essentially shut down the basketball world last spring. He went to Australia/New Zealand and to Europe and he’s seen all of the potential lottery picks in person. Would he like to have larger sample sizes? Most likely, but NBA personnel evaluators have been operating under similar circumstances for years. Those who predate the one-and-done rule, instituted after the 2005 draft, actually had to have a working knowledge of high school players. Players like Hampton and Ball have been on the radar for three or more years, so NBA front offices have had some opportunity to scout and analyze them in context for a long period of time. And they’ve had an extraordinary amount of time during the unprecedented run-up to the 2020 draft to review existing video and conduct intelligence gathering on draft prospects. I think those front offices that got their work done early and weren’t relying on postseason conference tournaments and the NCAA tournament, in the case of college basketball, or on European league tournaments or late-season scouting missions will feel every bit as prepared as usual – perhaps more so given the months of preparation available to them. There’s a school of thought that next year’s draft might be a tougher one to scout given the typical summer evaluation has been lost and there’s no assurance there will be many opportunities to scout those players during the atypical season ahead of us.

Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): Now that the season is officially over, how does the NBA go about calculating next season’s salary cap and how will it affect free-agent signings for teams over the cap trying to use different exceptions and teams like the Pistons trying to obtain future assets by absorbing bad contracts in trades and signing their own free agents like Christian Wood? Thanks for continuing Pistons Mailbag during this unusual season. I enjoy your articles and comments.

Thanks for the kind words. It’s been an unusual time for everyone. Now that the season is over, the NBA and the Players Association’s leadership will sit down and find common ground on how to proceed. They’ve exhibited a spirit of cooperation since Adam Silver has been commissioner – it was no easy feat to agree on the parameters for the Orlando bubble, as one example – and the expectation is that they’ll come to agreement on adjustments to the collective bargaining agreement to accommodate the dramatic effects to business caused by the shutdown and relaunch without fans. The cap was anticipated to rise from $109 million in 2019-20 to $116 million initially. The NBA reportedly alerted teams in late January that its projection had been downgraded to $115 million. Now there is some speculation that they’ll revert to the 2019-20 cap of $109 million and adjust future caps accordingly as a clearer picture of the damage inflicted is calculated, but that’s a long way from determined and there will be many details to work out. No matter where the cap is set, the Pistons will have more room than all but Atlanta and New York. And they’ll still have their exceptions. They were generally expected to have about $35 million in cap space, so they’ll have less than that by however much under the $115 million revised January projection the cap is ultimately set at via negotiations.

Paul (Phoenix): After watching the NBA playoffs, the new season has my juices flowing. Seeing rookies and second-year players develop through the playoffs, I think the Pistons should take heed and use Sekou Doumbouya, Jordan Bone, Khyri Thomas and Louis King and play them through their mistakes. The athleticism will be off the charts. Let them develop for next year’s team since winning now is not realistic. We saw Svi Mykhailiuk develop quickly with playing time on both offense and defense.

I think the Pistons will build the roster to ensure their young players have a legitimate chance to compete for playing time. But I don’t think Dwane Casey is going to abandon the pursuit of winning basketball games by awarding playing time to players who aren’t ready for nor deserving of the responsibility that accompanies it. And I don’t think Troy Weaver would push him to do that based on everything Weaver has said since becoming Pistons general manager. He wants to field a competitive team this season and the first two players he mentioned in discussing the makeup of the roster were Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose. Weaver’s mission is to add young players to the roster capable of winning playing time and it falls on Casey and his coaching staff to spur the development of those players and make the pieces fit together. But forcing minutes on players who haven’t earned them is counterproductive – both to the development of the players, often, and especially to the fostering of a winning culture.

Darrell (Detroit): Since Isaiah Thomas is touting his recovery, do you think the Pistons would make a good fit for both parties?

There are only so many roster spots to go around and the Pistons really need to make sure the veteran point guard they go after in free agency is someone who’ll be available to play 20-plus minutes a game. Even if they were to draft a point guard in the lottery, I doubt that would preclude them signing a player who clears that bar. I’m not sure Thomas is that guy given his injury history. Even if he’s largely over the serious hip injury that derailed his career, a player at his size and his age – Thomas will be 32 in February, which is likely to be very early in the 2021 season with tipoff almost certainly not coming until January at the earliest – can’t afford any slippage in quickness. Teams owe it to themselves to do their due diligence with Thomas – to the extent that’s possible given pandemic restrictions – but he seems like a player more in play for a team that already has a degree of certainty at the position. In other words, if the Pistons already had a few players they’d feel comfortable dominating minutes at point guard, then taking a flier on Thomas might be advisable. I think it’s less realistic for the Pistons unless they were to add someone with proven experience and durability first and still had a roster spot. Keep in mind, they also have Jordan Bone as a restricted free agent. Bone earned praise for Dwane Casey as team camp closed, so that bodes well for Bone taking a roster spot – but would the Pistons be comfortable with Bone in the rotation and, if not, then the other point guards on the roster really need to be capable of steady minutes. That, again, would argue against someone like Thomas with the degree of risk he represents.

Kamal (Philadelphia): Doc Rivers in Philadelphia and Steve Nash in Brooklyn. Which head coach has the best chance of winning the NBA championship with their current team?

Too soon to tell. What moves are those franchises going to make in the off-season? How close to pre-Achilles Kevin Durant will the Durant that the Nets suit up really be? Brooklyn’s ceiling is pretty intriguing if Durant is fit and the pieces mesh, but the Nets’ variance is probably a bit wider than Philadelphia’s. I think everybody expects the 76ers to be active in trying to reshape its roster, but whether that means they’ll move one of Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons is another matter. If you’re asking which coach I’d bet on to get the most out of what he’s given, Rivers is the easy answer. He’s a known commodity and has been a respected coach for a long time. Nash has never coached a game. That doesn’t mean he won’t be great, but you’re guessing at this point.

Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. To have your question considered, submit it along with your name, email address and city/state using the form below.

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