Posted Monday, July 1, 2013

Joe Dumars and his staff put the draft behind them quickly and moved on to free agency, with various reports already linking them to meetings with a few of the most prominent available players.

In two days, the team’s Summer League traveling party heads to Orlando for practices leading to Sunday’s tipoff of five games over six days. So … busy times.

But before we delve too deeply into free agency and Summer League, let’s look a little more at last week’s draft with a perspective gained over the last few days.

It was no accident that the Pistons were rarely linked to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the weeks leading to the draft. They ran an extraordinarily covert campaign to keep it that way. Why? Because it soon became apparent to them that Minnesota, picking one spot behind the Pistons, was intently focused on coming out of Thursday’s draft with a shooting guard with great size.

Draft Subterfuge >>

Posted Thursday, June 27, 2013

About 20 minutes after taking Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and lauding the athleticism he’d bring to the Pistons, Joe Dumars volunteered that the quest wasn’t over.

“You need multiple wing athletes in today’s NBA,” he said.

A few hours later, he proved it.

The Pistons took one of the top handful of pure athletes in the 2013 draft when they selected Tony Mitchell of North Texas State with the 37th pick. At 6-foot-8¾ and 236 pounds with a 38-inch vertical leap and 5.6 percent body fat, Mitchell was viewed as a lottery pick when the college season started.

But he had an underwhelming sophomore season in the Sun Belt Conference, averaging 13.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots after posting 14.7, 10.3 and 3.0 numbers as a freshman. His shooting also dropped off, from .567 to .440, and his stock plunged.

“From a talent standpoint, this is somebody who could very well be the best athlete in the entire draft,” Pistons assistant general manager George David said.

The Pistons interviewed Mitchell at last month’s NBA draft combine in Chicago, but did not get the chance to bring him to Auburn Hills for a workout because Mitchell was expected to be long gone by the 37th pick.

Continue reading Upping the Athleticism >>

Posted Thursday, June 27, 2013

Joe Dumars pulled no punches: The Pistons went into Thursday’s draft with a laser focus on drafting an athlete who could beat everyone from one end of the floor to the other and stretch it to give Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe maximum room to operate around the rim.

They snowed everyone who believed they were hoping someone like Anthony Bennett might fall to them as Monroe, Brandon Knight and Drummond had the last three years, or that they were agonizing over the merits of point guards Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. McCollum.

All along, they were fixated on one of the two shooting guards they believed would give them major jolts of size, athleticism and perimeter shooting: Ben McLemore and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

When Phoenix took Maryland 7-footer Alex Len at No. 5, both McLemore and Caldwell-Pope were on the board. Dumars said every indication he knew pointed at New Orleans passing on a shooting guard, so he knew one of this two coveted targets would be available. Sacramento grabbed McLemore at No. 7, leaving Caldwell-Pope to the Pistons at No. 8.

Continue reading Welcome, KCP >>

Posted Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Andy Lyons/NBAE/Getty Images
The Pistons didn't expect Brandon Knight to be available when they drafted him. Could something similar happen in the 2013 draft?

Andy Lyons (Getty Images)

(Editor’s note: Last in a recurring series that previews the 2013 NBA draft.)
There was a time when the draft was as simple as analyzing the available talent and figuring out which player offered the most talent at the best fit for your roster.

That day might not have ended the moment the salary cap came to be, but the evolution of a world governed by a cap has made it inevitable that talent and fit are no longer the sole considerations.

That trend is likely to be only hastened by the onset of new and more punitive luxury tax consequences for the 2013-14 season. Two types of teams, with that in mind, figure to go into Thursday’s draft intent on avoiding having a 2013 first-round draft choice on their opening night roster: teams like Dallas and Atlanta, perhaps, who’d like to create maximum cap space; and teams facing stiff tax bills who’d like to trade out of the first round altogether.

As soon as teams exercise their No. 1 pick, a “cap hold” affects their ability to spend in free agency. It ranges from $4.4 million for the No. 1 pick to $880,600 for the No. 30 pick. (At No. 8, where the Pistons will pick, the cap hold is $2.2 million.) If a team drafts a player who intends to remain or play outside the NBA for at least next season, it can wipe the cap hold off of its books by declaring that intention to the league.

All of which makes any attempt at a mock draft especially futile, but – what the heck – here goes anyway:

Continue reading 4 for 4? >>

Posted Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Andy Lyons
Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe

Andy Lyons (Getty Images)

(Editor’s note: Seventeenth in a recurring series leading to Thursday’s draft. Coming next: the True Blue Pistons 2013 NBA mock draft.)

When evaluating players for a late second-round draft pick, it’s usually better to be a master of one skill than a jack of all trades. If Minnesota power forward Trevor Mbakwe is going to complete a circuitous path to the NBA, it will be because somebody sees in him a player who can come off the bench and stir things up with his ability to dominate the glass.

Mbakwe is cut from the Jason Maxiell cloth, an undersized power forward who compensates for his lack of height (6-foot-8, 236 pounds as measured at the NBA draft combine in Chicago last month) with exceptional reach (7-foot-4 wing span), a solid frame and tenacity.

He appeared on a clear path to the NBA in 2011-12, as a Minnesota junior, when a torn ACL interrupted a season in which he was averaging 14.0 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots a game. Because he’d transferred to a Florida junior college after a 2007-08 freshman season spent under Tom Crean at Marquette and then sat out another year while dealing with an assault charge that didn’t stick, Mbakwe needed to be granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA to play in 2012-13.

As the knee gradually came around, Mbakwe began to regain his junior season form for the Gophers. His minutes per game dropped from 29 to 25, in large part explaining the statistical downturn to 10.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks a game as a senior. But Mbakwe got his invitation to the combine and then, according to various reports, was a standout at a group workout hosted by the Minnesota Timberwolves the following week, where he flashed his dominant rebounding streak.

Continue reading Draft Preview: Bigs at 56 >>

Posted Monday, June 24, 2013

Vander Blue
Marquette's Vander Blue

Andy Lyons (Getty Images)

(Editor’s note: Sixteenth in a recurring series leading to Thursday’s draft. Coming Wednesday: a look at big men who are candidates to be the pick at 56 in the second round.)

Just as UCLA once churned out dominant 7-foot centers for NBA teams and Penn State became a linebacker mill for the NFL, Marquette is gaining a reputation among NBA front offices for producing a certain brand of player: tough, gritty, blue-collar, team-first perimeter defensive aces.

Wesley Matthews, Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder have already carved out NBA niches for themselves, each one propping the door open a little wider for the next. Who might that be? This year’s candidate is Vander Blue, who left Buzz Williams’ program after helping another typically take-no-quarters Marquette team to the elite eight of the NCAA tournament with a season of eligibility remaining.

Blue is a classic fringe draft prospect, invited only to the NBA draft combine – typically for the top 60 draft-eligible players – when a number of international prospects were forced to decline their invitations. But if there’s a tiebreaker for teams picking in the 50s to consider – at a point in the draft where success is more miss than hit – the Marquette blueprint surely will work to Blue’s advantage.

And he knows it.

“I think I can bring a lot to an NBA team,” said Blue, whose appeal will be highest for teams that believe he can guard all three perimeter positions at an elite level. “At Marquette, I couldn’t really have the chance to play the point, but I’m more than comfortable playing the point. I think my size and athleticism can really bother smaller guards. I can run the team, I can rebound with ’em, I can get the ball out and I can do the dirty work.

“I can pick up full court. I’ll take the charge. I’ll do whatever it takes. Marquette has a tradition and I’m going to try to follow in the footsteps of Jimmy, guys like that. I’m going to guard the best player, do whatever it takes. Teams are looking for guys that come from Marquette.”

Continue reading Draft Preview: Perimeter at 56 >>

Posted Friday, June 21, 2013

Ryan Kelly
Duke's Ryan Kelly

Streeter Lecka (Getty Images)

(Editor’s note: Fifteenth in a recurring series leading to Thursday’s draft. Coming Monday: A look at perimeter options with the 56th pick.)

One of the biggest head scratchers to college basketball fans when the list of NBA early entrants came out in mid-April was Grant Jerrett. He played 18 minutes a game as a freshman and didn’t exactly tear up the Pac-12 Conference, averaging 5.2 points and 3.6 rebounds a game.

Many speculated the real reason Jerrett made the surprising decision to leave Arizona after a less than spectacular debut was concern that his role would be further reduced next season, when ballyhooed McDonald’s All-American Aaron Gordon – already a projected top-five pick in a top-heavy 2014 draft – arrives on campus. That will further crowd a frontcourt that also includes Jerrett’s classmates, NBA prospects Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley.

Jerrett denied that pushed him to the NBA prematurely while at the NBA draft combine in May.

“It was a goal, a dream,” he said. “I feel like it was a good time for me to go. I enjoyed (Arizona). Honestly, it’s hard to say anything bad about it. It just felt like if I wanted to make my dream, my goal, it was better to leave now.”

Jerrett comes to the NBA as a raw prospect with one overriding niche appeal: He’s the prototypical modern “stretch four,” a player who projects as a floor-stretching power forward with a unique shooting touch. Jerrett embraces the science of shooting, talking about the proper release point and how to grip the basketball when queried. Even if he struggled with other elements of the transition from high school to major college basketball, Jerrett’s 3-pointer never wavered; he hit 40 percent as an Arizona freshman.

Continue reading Draft Preview: Bigs at 37 >>

Posted Thursday, June 20, 2013

Posted Monday, June 19, 2013

Tim Hardaway Jr
Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr.

Kevin C. Cox(Getty Images)

(Editor’s note: Fourteenth in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Friday: centers and power forwards that might be under consideration with the No. 37 pick.)

History says there will be a talented wing player available somewhere around where the Pistons are picking in the first third of round two in the June 27 draft. The Pistons themselves have plucked two forwards from that area over the past four drafts, Jonas Jerebko in 2009 and Khris Middleton in 2012, both with the 39th pick.

Two years ago, Houston grabbed Chandler Parsons with the 38th pick. In 2010, New York found Landry Fields at 39 and Indiana took Lance Stephenson at 40.

Two such candidates this season, each offering something quite different than the other, are Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. and Colorado’s Andre Roberson.

Hardaway, leaving Michigan after a junior season that ended with a loss in the NCAA title game, has moved himself into first-round consideration with a strong predraft showing that began at the May combine in Chicago. Hardaway’s shooting performance in drill work was among the most dazzling and he tested better than anticipated athletically.

Not a marquee recruit coming out of Florida, where he grew up the son of the ex-Golden State and Miami star point guard, Hardaway put together three very solid, productive years as a building block of John Beilein’s restoration of Michigan basketball.

Continue reading Draft Preview: Wings at 37 >>

Posted Monday, June 17, 2013

South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters and Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan
South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters and Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan

Andy Lyons/Gregory Shamus (Getty Images)

(Editor’s note: Thirteenth in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Wednesday: shooting guards and small forwards possible at 37.)

The Pistons finished last season with a four-guard rotation that consisted entirely of players who’d spent the bulk of their NBA careers running offenses from the point. Jose Calderon and Will Bynum split time at point guard with Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey occupying the bulk of their minutes at shooting guard until a late-season Calderon injury moved Stuckey back to the point.

Yet there’s a decent chance the Pistons will spend one of their first two picks on a point guard in the June 27 draft. That speaks both to the uncertainty at the position going into the 2013-14 season and the quality of the draft at the 8th and 37th picks. Calderon and Bynum hit free agency on July 1 and Stuckey, with a year left on a partially guaranteed contract, could be Joe Dumars’ most valuable trade chip assuming he doesn’t wish to dip into the young core of Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Knight, whose ability to play either spot gives the Pistons flexibility both on the draft and trade fronts.

The three likeliest possibilities with their lottery pick are Trey Burke, C.J. McCollum and Michael Carter-Williams, all profiled previously in our True Blue Pistons draft preview series. If the Pistons are wowed by German teen Dennis Schroeder’s potential, he’s a long-shot possibility to be their lottery pick.

Continue reading Draft Preview: Point Guards at 37 >>

Posted Friday, June 14, 2013

Kelly Olynyk
Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk

Streeter Lecka (Getty Images)

(Editor’s note: Twelfth in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Monday: A look at a group of point guards who could be under consideration for the Pistons with their first of two second-round picks, No. 37.)

With two major interior building blocks in place and more than $20 million in cap space looming to rebuild their perimeter, the Pistons go into the 2013 NBA draft empowered to take purely the best talent.

Over the past three weeks, we’ve identified players at every position who could be in the mix. Not all of them will be available at the No. 8 pick, but half of them – assuming Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore are off the board – will be within reach of the Pistons from among the group that includes center Alex Len, power forwards Cody Zeller and Anthony Bennett, small forwards Otto Porter and Shabazz Muhammad, shooting guards Victor Oladipo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and point guards Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. McCollum.

But the search for another franchise cornerstone to join forces with Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond – the fruit of the past three NBA drafts – isn’t limited to that list. The Pistons are likely to bring in a number of other players generally considered as top-20 talents for individual or group workouts and interviews. Most have a bit of mystery to them as only one, Duke’s Mason Plumlee, is an American native who played college basketball in the United States.

Two others, Pitt’s Steven Adams and Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk, played collegiately in the United States but were born elsewhere, Adams in New Zealand and Olynyk in Canada. The others are German point guard Dennis Schroeder, French 7-footer Rudy Gobert, Croatian small forward Dario Saric and Russian small forward Sergey Karasev.

Continue reading Draft Preview: Sleepers at 8 >>

Posted Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Could the Pistons take Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with the No. 8 pick?

Chris Graythen (Getty Images)

(Editor’s note: Eleventh in a recurring series leading to the 2013 NBA draft. Coming Friday: A look at a group of players with a chance to thrust themselves into the conversation for being picked by the Pistons at No. 8)

In the 2010 draft, there were four small forwards considered worthy of being picked in the lottery. They went in this order: Wesley Johnson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Gordon Hayward and Paul George, which matched predraft evaluations. Three years later, the order of those picks likely would be exactly reversed, with George a lock to be the first taken.

Coming into the 2011 draft, there is the same near unanimity among NBA front offices that the top two shooting guards available are Ben McLemore and Victor Oladipo. The Pistons probably won’t get a chance to draft either one with the No. 8 pick, though so much is uncertain about this year’s draft that no one would be stunned if one managed to slip through the top seven spots.

The No. 3-ranked shooting guard, by most accounts, is Georgia sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Three years from now, will Caldwell-Pope prove to be the most promising young NBA player of the bunch?

Both Caldwell-Pope and McLemore came out of high school two years ago, though McLemore was a Kansas freshman last season after being academically ineligible for the 2011-12 season. Caldwell-Pope was widely seen as the better prospect back then, ranking No. 12 in his high school class by both Rivals.com and Scout.com to McLemore’s 34 and 55.

Continue reading Draft Preview: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope >>

Posted Monday, June 10, 2013

Anthony Bennett
UNLV forward Anthony Bennett

Jason Miller/Getty Images

(Editor’s note: Tenth in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Wednesday: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.)

As if there wasn’t enough uncertainty in a draft with no clear-cut pecking order at the top, throw in the fact that three near-certain top-10 picks are coming off of recent surgeries and can’t work out for NBA teams with millions to invest in their futures.

If they were baseball pitchers, then Anthony Bennett’s shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff might be more worrisome than Nerlens Noel’s ACL tear or Alex Len’s ankle stress fracture. In the big picture, teams might have more pressing concerns about Bennett’s asthma that could limit his conditioning level or even a back issue that caused him to miss time in each of his last two years at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, where the Ontario native played before landing at UNLV.

Even though Bennett comes to the NBA after just one college season, teams probably feel like they have a pretty clear picture of him. Bennett’s shoulder surgery – it’s to his left, non-shooting shoulder – prevented him from traveling to Chicago last month for the combine, but at the 2012 Nike Hoop Summit he measured in at 6-foot-7 in shoes. That makes him an undersized power forward in the strictest sense, but his wing span at the same event was recorded at an outstanding 7-foot-1.

Combine those long arms with his explosive athleticism and what you have is a Jason Maxiell body type, with a rather remarkable shooting touch and ballhandling skills, to boot. Watch Bennett for five minutes and it’s easy to recall another uniquely gifted UNLV forward from a generation ago: Larry Johnson.

Continue reading Draft Preview: Anthony Bennett >>

Posted Friday, June 7, 2013

Cody Zeller
Indiana center Cody Zeller

Jason Miller/Getty Images

(Editor’s note: Ninth in a recurring series leading to the 2013 NBA draft. Coming Monday: Anthony Bennett.)

The college player who most surprised NBA personnel executives by not declaring for the draft in 2013 is Marcus Smart, projected as a top-three pick before announcing he’d return for his sophomore season at Oklahoma State. Last year’s big surprise was Cody Zeller.

The last of three high-profile Indiana brothers – Luke played at Notre Dame and last season debuted with the Phoenix Suns, Tyler went to North Carolina and was a 2012 No. 1 pick – Cody Zeller was projected to go ahead of the Pistons, picking ninth, a year ago.

This year, in a draft considered among the weakest in recent seasons, most credible projections have Zeller available when the Pistons pick at No. 8.

That would indicate Zeller’s sophomore season was somehow a disappointment, yet the numbers don’t reflect that. Playing in the nation’s best conference, Zeller and teammate Victor Oladipo – more certain than Zeller to be off the board when the Pistons pick – led Indiana to the Big Ten regular-season title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. He averaged 16.5 points and 8.1 rebounds, up from 15.6 and 6.6 as a freshman.

Zeller’s perceived plunge, it appears, is as much a product of failing to meet increased expectations as a realistic snap shot of where he stands in relation to those around him. Of all the players who are expected to be in range for the Pistons, Zeller might be the one who gets plucked off the board before the eighth pick rolls around. If he’s there, he’ll make the Pistons think long and hard about the possibilities he’d present, in addition to Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.

Continue reading Draft Preview: Cody Zeller>>

Posted Thursday, June 6, 2013

Greg Monroe
Greg Monroe

Jennifer Pottheiser/Getty Images

The surprise Joe Dumars and his staff expressed at being able to pluck Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond from the past three drafts wasn’t the typical drummed-up enthusiasm common to breathless postdraft celebrations.

The fact not one of those players agreed to come to Auburn Hills prior to their drafts to work out for the Pistons is compelling proof that their agents, too, were taken aback by their draft-night plunges. It’s the job of agents to put their clients in the most favorable light during the draft process, a balancing act that includes resistance to granting workouts to teams below what they see as their client’s deserved landing spot.

For Monroe, it was Golden State, picking one spot ahead of the Pistons. For Knight, it was Toronto, picking three spots ahead of them. A year ago, Drummond’s agent Rob Pelinka held off on workouts beyond the top six teams or arranging a meeting with the Pistons until two nights before the draft, when he invited Dumars and assistant general manager George David to New York for a meeting.

What are the odds the Pistons will again draft a player who doesn’t come to Auburn Hills prior to the draft?

“Good question,” David told me this week before heading for Treviso, Italy for the three-day Eurocamp event. “That’s usually something that I have a pretty good feel for closer to the actual draft. Right around the time we’re in right now, you’re trying to still get a read on what’s happening above you. As every day and every week goes by, you get a little bit more of a clearer picture and you can start narrowing it down. But right now, it’s too early.”

The Pistons have had a number of six-player workouts – that’s the maximum allowed – including three this week before David left Wednesday night for Europe. But those workouts have involved players the Pistons would consider drafting in the second round with their two picks, 37 and 56. Around the league, most lottery teams are only beginning to work out likely top-10 picks, and the closer teams are to the top of the draft, the greater their control of the process.

Continue reading Scoping Out the Draft>>

Posted Thursday, June 6, 2013

Posted Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Alex Len
Maryland center Alex Len

Al Bello/Getty Images

(Editor’s note: Eighth in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Friday: Cody Zeller.)

While there isn’t much definitive about the 2013 NBA draft, a loose consensus top six has emerged that consists of Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Otto Porter, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke and Anthony Bennett.

And that might present a dilemma for the Pistons, picking at No. 8. No outsider can say for certain, of course, how their draft board will stack up after they complete the individual workouts for candidates they’ll consider with that pick. Those workouts almost always take place in the final 10 days or so before the draft, giving the Pistons the latest possible feel for how the draft might shake out and the most recent impression of the players under consideration.

But what happens if those top six are all off the board and the clear best value, in their estimation, for the No. 8 pick is Maryland sophomore 7-footer Alex Len? Andre Drummond might be many things, but right now it’s clear that all of those things involve him playing close to the rim on both defense and offense – to protect it at one end and punish it with emphatic lob-dunk or put-back finishes at the other.

Len is a pure center, as well, in the view of nearly every draft evaluator. The most common comparison made is to Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas, the No. 4 pick in the 2011 draft. Len came to Maryland from Ukraine, also home to Pistons backup center Slava Kravtsov, not far from Valanciunas’ Lithuania. He didn’t put up eye-popping numbers for the Terrapins – 11.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game – but shows flashes of dominance that make many believe he could grow into a top-tier NBA center.

Continue reading Draft Preview: Alex Len>>

Posted Monday, June 3, 2013

Otto Porter
Georgetown small forward Otto Porter

Al Bello/Getty Images

(Editor’s note: Seventh in a recurring series previewing the 2013 NBA draft. Coming Wednesday: Alex Len.)

In a draft filled with uncertainty at the top, Otto Porter stands apart as a player seen as relatively fool-proof. Scouts might wonder about his athleticism and doubt he’ll ever rise to the level of All-Star, perhaps, but the general manager who takes the Georgetown sophomore on June 27 probably will sleep pretty well that night, even if his dreams don’t start with championship parades.

The current NBA player most often evoked in a Porter comparison is Tayshaun Prince, who was a rock for the Goin’ to Work era Pistons and a 2004 NBA champion. But he was never an All-Star and he was taken 23rd in a historically weak draft. Porter, it seems, is destined to be a top-five pick, perhaps a top-three pick.

Over the past month, I’ve separated Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore as the only two players who would certainly be unavailable to the Pistons unless they pulled a top-three lottery pick, which they failed to do, falling instead from seventh to eighth.

The next player most likely to be out of reach for them is Porter. In fact, if Cleveland doesn’t trade the No. 1 pick and is scared away by doubts over presumptive top pick Nerlens Noel’s prognosis for a quick and full recovery from a torn ACL, Porter is a logical candidate for the Cavs, who finished last season with journeyman Alonzo Gee as their starting small forward.

Even Porter points to Prince as a player whose career he’s likely to emulate.

“Long, lanky, can do a lot of things on the court,” Porter said by way of drawing on their parallels. “Can defend, can rebound. He’s kind of a glue guy.”

Continue reading Draft Preview: Otto Porter>>

Posted Friday, May 31, 2013

Shabazz Muhammad
UCLA small forward Shabazz Muhammad

Harry How/Getty Images

(Editor’s note: Sixth in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Monday: Otto Porter.)

They grew up in opposite corners of the United States, one a right-hander and the other a lefty. One’s a classic center with game-changing ability despite nothing in the way of a signature offensive move, the other a prototypical small forward who must prove he can do something besides score to thrive at the NBA level.

For all of their stark differences, Shabazz Muhammad is to the 2013 NBA draft what Andre Drummond was 12 months earlier. They both entered their college freshman seasons in the thick of discussion to be the No. 1 pick the following spring, then saw their stock gradually sink as each passing month raised more questions about their ability to transition to the NBA.

Muhammad’s stock peaked last April, when he scored a record 35 of Team USA’s 75 points at the Nike Hoop Summit, as well scouted by NBA personnel executives as any annual event in the world. He was universally regarded as the nation’s No. 1 recruit by major scouting services, choosing UCLA from the usual slew of powerhouse offers.

Just as Drummond was considered 1 and 1A with Anthony Davis a year earlier after he reclassified to be in the high school class of 2011, so Muhammad and Nerlens Noel were 1 and 1A throughout last summer.

The first hurdle for Muhammad was laid down by the NCAA, which launched a probe over amateur eligibility that cost him UCLA’s first three games. He debuted against Georgetown on a neutral court, Brooklyn’s new Barclays Center, and was upstaged by a player at the time who was fairly unheralded. Otto Porter, ironically enough, now stands as likely to be the first small forward taken, ahead of Muhammad, after putting up 18 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, five steals and three blocked shots that night, his versatility standing in contrast to Muhammad’s more one-dimensional appeal.

Continue reading Draft Preview: Shabazz Muhammad>>

Posted Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Victor Oladipo
Victor Oladipo

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It speaks to how thoroughly Tom Crean has restored Indiana to its customary elite status after the NCAA put the Hoosiers in shackles over Kelvin Sampson’s recruiting transgressions that Victor Oladipo probably wouldn’t be on Crean’s A recruiting list these days.

But for where the Hoosiers were four years ago, when Oladipo was a rising senior in suburban Washington, D.C., and playing at storied DeMatha Catholic as the nation’s 41st ranked shooting guard, according to Rivals.com, Crean saw a building block – a highly athletic player who would play hard and play defense, even if his athleticism on the offensive end seemed a long, long way from being harnessed.

Through his first two seasons in Bloomington, Oladipo carved out a niche just as Crean envisioned – a high-energy, high-character player who helped the Hoosiers turn the corner, winning 27 games in Oladipo’s sophomore season, Crean’s fourth since leaving Marquette for the Big Ten, after a 12-win freshman season.

But nobody was talking about Oladipo as a first-round draft pick, let alone a high lottery selection, when his junior season began last November. He was still very much a fringe NBA draft prospect, widely known to scouts who saw him as potentially a defensive specialist. If there was a best-case scenario for Oladipo in the eyes of NBA scouts when his junior season dawned, it would be to come to the NBA as a second-round draft pick and eventually evolve into a Tony Allen-level defender.

Continue reading Draft Preview: Victor Oladipo>>

Posted Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Pistons have several options at No. 8 in the June 27 draft.
The Pistons have several options at No. 8 in the June 27 draft.

Al Bello/Jeff Bottari/Jonathan Daniel (NBAE/Getty)

The most frequently asked question at Pistons Mailbag these days goes like this: “Who are the Pistons most likely to draft at No. 8?” That’s kind of like asking who’ll finish eighth in the Indy 500 before the race is run. It helps to know who’ll finish first through seventh.

Let me put it another way. Asked that question each of the last three springs, here are three names I would not have answered: Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond.

I don’t think Joe Dumars, George David and company are sitting back and waiting for another unexpected name to drop to them on June 27. They’re going about the work of assessing 100 players or so, an unusually large number simply because they’re drafting at three distinctly different areas – the top 10, the middle, the bottom 10.

But I’ll guarantee they’ll be spending as much time looking at Otto Porter and Anthony Bennett and Trey Burke – players widely projected to be off the board when their time on the clock at No. 8 rolls around – as they are on the perceived next tier of players. That’s a group that includes Cody Zeller, C.J. McCollum, Michael Carter-Williams, Shabazz Muhammad and Alex Len – and a few more, to be sure – that seems more likely to produce the next prospect to don a Pistons baseball cap while shaking David Stern’s hand.

There is a fundamental truth about this draft: The guys picking at the top wouldn’t necessarily swap places with teams like the Pistons – not without adequate compensation, at least – but those GMs will make their pick with extraordinary trepidation. GMs picking in the top five are expected to come away with impact players, franchise changers. Never mind that the universal overview of the 2013 draft is that it likely contains no such players.

Continue reading Who's No. 8?>>

Posted Tuesday, May 28, 2013

C.J. McCollum
Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams

Ezra Moore(NBAE/Getty Images Sport)

(Editor’s note: Fourth in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Wednesday: Victor Oladipo.)

Drawing a bead on Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams might be one of the most challenging assessments among potential 2013 lottery picks. Is he the player who posted eight points and assists double-doubles during a sophomore season in which he led the Orange to the Final Four? Or is he the player whose season ended with a clunker, putting up two points and two assists, shooting 1 of 6 with five turnovers, in Syracuse’s national semifinal loss to Michigan?

Scouts who tend to be less confident in Carter-Williams’ NBA future acknowledge he has a high ceiling as a rangy (6-foot-5¾) point guard with dazzling passing skills, as underscored by his 7.3 assists in his only season as a Syracuse starter – he came off the bench behind 2012 lottery pick Dion Waiters and All-Big East point guard Scoop Jardine as a freshman.

But those scouts simply aren’t as comfortable as others that Carter-Williams will put it all together to reach what many see as All-Star potential. The most common comparison is to Shaun Livingston, the No. 4 pick in 2004 straight out of high school whose promising career was derailed in his third season by a devastating knee injury. Others see a little Jrue Holiday in his game at the same stage, but whether his career parallels Holiday’s will depend on how Carter-Williams’ offensive game develops – mostly, his ability to develop as an efficient scorer to enhance the threat of his passing skills.

The Pistons could go in several directions with the No. 8 pick this year. They know that Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore will be gone and that another group of four or five players – including Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke, Anthony Bennett and Otto Porter – is more likely than not to be off the board.

Continue reading Draft Preview: Michael Carter-Williams >>

Posted Friday, May 24, 2013

C.J. McCollum
Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum

Ronald Martinez (NBAE/Getty Images Sport)

(Editor’s note: Third in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Monday: Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams.)

C.J. McCollum’s story is a little like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard’s: a lightly recruited guard who winds up at in college basketball’s netherworld and shines so brightly he emerges as a top-10 draft prospect.

What league personnel executives will be asking themselves repeatedly between now and the June 27 draft is if McCollum has the same chance as those dynamic players to see his small-college success carry over to the NBA.

There’s no question that McCollum will strike a cord with those executives when he sits down with them in predraft interviews. He spent four years at Lehigh and graduated with a degree in journalism and minors in mass communication and sociology days after last week’s NBA draft combine in Chicago. He’s bright-eyed, articulate and congenial and will instantly dispel any doubts about his maturity and readiness to stand on his own.

McCollum grew up in Canton, Ohio but was ignored by Big Ten schools, a no-star recruit who made the short trek to Bethlehem, Pa., for college. But he has little doubt that Lehigh was the right path for him. A four-year starter who averaged 19.1 as a freshman and saw his average tick up each season, McCollum stamped himself as a serious draft prospect when he scored 30 points to lead Lehigh over Duke in a shocking first-round upset in the 2012 NCAA tournament. He thought long and hard about coming out, but stayed for his senior year.

Continue reading Draft Preview: C.J. McCollum >>

Posted Thursday, May 23, 2013

Trey Burke
The Pistons benefited from scrutiny leveled at Andre Drummond from other teams.

Jennifer Pottheiser (NBAE/Getty)

Nerlens Noel might indeed turn out to be a very good NBA player, perhaps even a great one. But it speaks to the uncertainty of this draft that a 206-pound center with a torn ACL who’ll miss a big chunk of his rookie season is the presumptive No. 1 pick.

The run-up to the draft is a strange time in which there is an intense focus on what players can’t do, the reverse of what happens once a guy’s been in the league a few years. At that point, he becomes an asset, trade or otherwise, based on what he can do, his strengths exploited by a good coach, his weaknesses understood and accommodated.

Which explains, in large measure, how Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond were nit-picked to the great good fortune of the Pistons in the weeks leading to the past three drafts. And gives hope that they’ll benefit again by the scrutiny due over the next four weeks that could send another gem into their arms at the No. 8 pick.

Think back three years to how Monroe was perceived. Passing ability was identified as Monroe’s biggest asset. And while that’s certainly been on display during his three seasons with the Pistons – something Lawrence Frank worked to incorporate into his offense, an attribute that argues for the success of a Monroe-Drummond pairing – it wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing you’d tick off if someone who’d never seen him play asked for a scouting report.

Continue reading A Snap Shot in Time >>

Posted Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Trey Burke
Michigan point guard Trey Burke.

Jonathan Daniel (NBAE/Getty Images Sport)

(Editor’s note: Second in a recurring series leading to the June 27 draft. Coming Friday: A look at Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum.)

No position is more difficult for NBA scouts to project than point guard. College basketball is rife with undersized guards who dominate their sport, but good luck finding the one among a dozen of them whose skills will translate to the radically different NBA game.

Trey Burke oozes the intangibles that weaken the knees of NBA general managers whose teams lack that critical catalytic ingredient a dynamic point guard brings to the equation. The right point guard draws out the potential of the teammates at his side and elevates the whole above the sum of its parts.

Thirteen years ago, a point guard who oozed all of those same intangibles led Michigan State to the NCAA championship and put the onus of assessing how his mix of below-average height, modest quickness and limited shooting range would translate to the NBA on general managers. In a historically weak draft – Kenyon Martin, Stromile Swift, Darius Miles and Marcus Fizer were the first four taken – Joe Dumars grabbed Mateen Cleaves No. 1 with his first pick as Pistons president of basketball operations at the 14th position, right between the soon forgotten Courtney Alexander and Jason Collier.

Truth is, there aren’t many point guards as fans perceive the label left in today’s NBA. Chris Paul fits the bill. Steve Nash has carried the banner for the last decade-plus. Rajon Rondo piles up assists at an eye-popping rate. Ricky Rubio lugs the torch into the future. But Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving represent the modern prototype – as much scorer as distributor.The Pistons landed one of the purest point guards left when they traded Tayshaun Prince, the last link to the Goin’ to Work Pistons that played in six straight conference finals and won the 2004 NBA title, to add Jose Calderon.

Continue reading Draft Preview: Trey Burke >>

Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013

2013 Draft Lottery
The Pistons will pick 8th in the 2013 NBA Draft.

Jesse D. Garrabant (NBAE/Getty)

Timing is everything. What at first blush might appear crushing disappointment in Tuesday’s lottery results … well, not really.
If there was a common refrain I heard last week in Chicago among team personnel executives at the NBA draft combine, it was some variation on this theme: If there was ever a year you didn’t want to exhaust your supply of lottery luck and draw a top-three pick, this was the one.

Joe Dumars and his staff aren’t going to lose any sleep over Tuesday results. Oh, sure, they would have preferred to stay at No. 7 rather than getting bumped to No. 8 – the exact scenario that played out two years ago, when they wound up taking Brandon Knight – and they wouldn’t have given back the No. 1 pick if it had turned out that way.

Joe D talked to Pistons owner Tom Gores shortly after the results were made known Tuesday night and told him, “There were no franchise changers that you’re looking at in this draft, so to be at seven or eight, we’re going to get a good player,” Dumars said by conference call from New York. “We’re going to add another really nice piece to the core that we already have and we’ll move forward. I’m very, very comfortable with it and OK with it. Totally OK with it.”

The consensus on the 2013 draft is that it’s a fairly typical draft, minus star power at the top. Given the NBA’s rookie salary structure, where contract figures are slotted regardless of impact projections, the Pistons might well get a comparable player at No. 8 for half the money they would have paid at No. 1 – a $2.2 million first-year salary compared to $4.4 million that Cleveland, which won the lottery for the third time in 10 years and second time in the last three, will be handing over to its pick.

Continue reading Pistons Drop to 8 >>

Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Andre Drummond
Andre Drummond will represent the Pistons at the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery

Steve Freeman (NBAE/Getty)

Here’s what the Pistons would tell you about the process through which the NBA determines draft order: It’s better to be lucky on draft night than on lottery night.

The Pistons haven’t moved into the top three in any of the previous three lotteries, their standing unchanged in 2010 and ’12 while getting bumped down one rung in 2011. But they’ve come away with franchise cornerstone big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond to go with the fiercely competitive Brandon Knight, a backcourt staple. Combined with the ample cap space Joe Dumars takes to the marketplace this July, those three players are at the heart of what the Pistons believe will be a playoff push under a new coach in 2013-14.

The odds are long that the Pistons will land the No. 1 pick or pull into the top three when the NBA holds the lottery at 8 tonight from Times Square in New York, televised by ESPN prior to Game 2 of the Western Conference finals between San Antonio and Memphis. In fact, they’re longer than they were in both 2010 and ’11, though slightly better than they were a year ago.

The Pistons go into the lottery in the No. 7 position, same as 2010 when they drafted Monroe after Golden State passed on him to take Ekpe Udoh sixth. But their odds to move into the top three are a bit worse than they were three years ago. The reason: In 2010, they were splitting their odds with the No. 6 position, Philadelphia’s, after the 76ers won a tiebreaker with them; this year, they’re splitting their odds with the No. 8 position, Washington, after winning a tiebreaker with the Wizards.

Continue reading Lottery Lowdown >>

Posted Monday, May 20, 2013

(Editor’s note: First in a recurring series leading to the June 27 NBA draft. Coming Wednesday: A look at Michigan point guard Trey Burke.)

Ben McLemore, Nerlens Noel
In a draft pocked by uncertainty, this much the Pistons can take to the bank: The only two players they won’t have any shot to draft without moving into the top three when the NBA draft lottery is held Tuesday night are Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore.

It’s not a lock that those two players will go 1-2 or 2-1, necessarily, but no one believes they’ll last to No. 7 – the earliest the Pistons could pick unless they are one of the three teams that vaults to the top of the lottery when the results are made public before Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.

Most lottery teams, it’s widely believed, would take Noel with the No. 1 pick. But it speaks loudly to the lack of sure-fire impact talent that a player coming off a torn ACL, who won’t be available until late December at the earliest and who weighed a mere 206 pounds at last week’s NBA draft combine in Chicago, is not only a lottery lock but the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 pick.

Continue Reading Cream of the Crop >>

Posted Friday, May 17, 2013

CHICAGO – Beauty – or a red flag – is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to the NBA’s measurements registered as part of the league’s annual draft combine. Some organizations place more of a premium on what the numbers say than others, but nobody really lets the numbers scare them away from a player they believe can improve their roster.

Then again, nobody wants to put up a number that furrows eyebrows.

So it was big for Trey Burke that he measured a little better than 6-foot-1 in shoes after some fears he’d check in at under 6 feet. Victor Oladipo’s athleticism and work ethic are likely to outweigh most concerns that he’s a tad undersized, at 6-foot-4¼, for shooting guard, but a 6-foot-9¼ wing span will give him an offsetting boost.

Cody Zeller was relieved that his wing span measured 6-foot-10¾ – the same as his height. Anything less than an even ratio between height and wing span is considered a negative for a big man.

“It’s still not good,” he shrugged, “but it’s better than 6-8,” a figure that had been making the rounds before Chicago set the record straight.

Continue reading Numbers Crunching >>

Posted Thursday, May 16, 2013

CHICAGO – The Pistons ended last season with a four-guard rotation that consisted entirely of players who’ve spent the bulk of their careers as point guards. Yet it’s conceivable they’ll draft one with their lottery pick on June 27.

Both Jose Calderon and Will Bynum are scheduled to hit free agency less than a week after the draft and there’s no guarantee either one, let alone both, will be back. Rodney Stuckey has only a year left on his contract before he hits free agency, but he could be perhaps the most attractive trade chip in Joe Dumars’ arsenal in what shapes up as an active summer. And Brandon Knight’s ability to shoot off of screens – and a motor that figures to get him open frequently to do just that – means his move to shooting guard could become permanent.

So it’s not hard to see the way to an opening for the Pistons to grab one of the three point guards considered top-10 picks: Michigan’s Trey Burke, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams and Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum.

They all bring something different to the table. Burke carried Michigan to the NCAA title game and oozed the qualities of a leader and winner in a player who can score in a variety of ways but also set up his teammates. Carter-Williams is more of an old-school point guard with the great size that remains Burke’s biggest question mark. And McCollum is more of a scoring point guard who many teams like for his ability to handle either backcourt spot.

Continue reading On Point >>


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