At 42, Pistons likely in market for an athletic wing. They’ll have plenty of company

Reggie Bullock emerged as a quality NBA starter in his 5th season and his skill set is a profile in heavy demand at this time.
Fernando Medina (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

CHICAGO – The scores of scouts from the 30 NBA teams who swarmed Lake Michigan’s southern shore in mid-May came in search of the hottest commodities of the modern game.

Playmaking guards and 3-and-D wings, it’s your time. Some combination of shooting, playmaking and defensive ability is the holy grail of the scouting industry.

If you can do one of those things better than most, you’ll probably earn one of the 450 roster spots available across the league. If you can do two of the three proficiently, a significant role awaits you. And if you can meet or exceed the league norms across all three skill sets, you’ll have the world at your feet.

The Pistons have the 42nd pick in the June 21 draft. Players who’ve exhibited so much as the hint that they could thrive as shooters, playmakers and defenders are going to get thoroughly picked over in the 41 picks ahead of them.

But the hunt for a developmental gem at 42 – somebody who shoots it but doesn’t put it on the floor much or defend especially well because his college team didn’t ask him to play that role, perhaps, or some other combination of those traits – is surely a focus of the Pistons scouting staff over the next four weeks.

It took Reggie Bullock four-plus NBA seasons to pull his package of skills together to rise from fringe rotation option to coveted asset at the trade deadline. He’d always possessed elite shooting skills – it’s the reason he was a first-round pick in 2013 after three seasons at North Carolina – but needed time and experience to allow the other facets of his game to rise to levels that enabled him to carve out a bigger role.

With Bullock going into the final year of his contract, the Pistons would do well to find someone who could follow in his footsteps in the event he’s lost to free agency. Luke Kennard would be in place to step into the starting lineup, but that wouldn’t lessen the desire to deepen the pool of wing players who can shoot and defend at a minimum.

Everybody wants four or five of those types on the roster. Teams that can field lineups with two or three at a time have massive defensive advantages for the ability to switch screens without any fear of being punished for glaring mismatches.

At the top of the 2018 draft, you’ll find an unusual number of athletic big men – Deandre Ayton, Mo Bamba, Jaren Jackson Jr., Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter should all be gone in the top half of the lottery – and a few gifted point guards, topped by Trae Young and Collin Sexton.

The most gifted wing – at least if you consider European sensation Luke Doncic more of a hybrid point forward – is Villanova’s Mikal Bridges.

A few years ago, it would have been unimaginable that Bridges would emerge as a top-10 draft prospect. The Pistons will pore over the draft field to find a player who can make the same advances over the next two years that Bridges has taken in his last two.

Boise senior Chandler Hutchison has probably played himself into the first round, a suspicion virtually confirmed by his decision to pull out of the draft combine last week. Speculation is that Hutchison secured a first-round promise from someone, though that’s often more myth than reality.

A player who might have gone into the combine as conceivably within range of the Pistons at 42 but came out of it looking like a long shot for them is Tulane’s Melvin Frazier. After showing well in the first day of five-on-five scrimmages at the combine, Frazier pulled out of Friday’s scrimmage, another indication he and his agent were satisfied with his draft range.

Frazier had a broad grin after his strong Thursday showing and understands what he offers is what NBA teams are seeking most.

“Yeah, I think I fit good with that 3-and-D,” said Frazier, who saw his 3-point shooting skyrocket from .264 as a sophomore to .385 as a junior before signing with an agent. “I like defending. I don’t really care about scoring. I like playing defense. I just know defense creates offense, so that’s what I do.”

Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo is perhaps next on the list – and he’ll be next in our draft preview series. Evaluating Diallo, who sat out at Kentucky last season due to eligibility issues before starting all 37 games in his only college season, will require much projection.

But he sure checks off a lot of boxes from a physical and potential standpoint.

“I can defend multiple positions, I’m very long and athletic,” Diallo said. “That’s what I can bring to an NBA team right now.”

Maryland’s Justin Jackson, Georgia Tech’s Josh Okogie and Virginia’s Devon Hall are others who will slot in that range somewhere. Pistons scouts will be burning the midnight oil over the next month, poring over videotape and analytics profiles, to see which of them will blossom the way Reggie Bullock did at the NBA level and Mikal Bridges did in the NCAA ranks. They’ll have company in 29 other front offices.