Allen & Patton make 2 more bigs to visit Pistons, but that’s not tipping their hand

Texas’ Jarrett Allen is one of 8 young big men who’ve gone through draft workouts for the Pistons.
Chris Covatta/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – If you’re assiduously tracking the guest list for Pistons draft workouts to suss out their intentions with the 12th pick, you might have come to the conclusion they’re in the hunt for a big guy.

Thursday saw Jarrett Allen and Justin Patton come to town, joining six other big men who project as potential lottery picks and likely first-rounders: Ike Anigbogu, Bam Adebayo, Ivan Rabb, Harry Giles, John Collins and Tony Bradley.

But as is often the case with random collected evidence, conclusions reached without applying the proper filter can be misleading. And that’s likely the case here.

The Pistons might well wind up drafting a big man, but the fact that eight of the 11 first-round prospects they’ve brought to town are centers or conventional power forwards is almost certainly more a reflection of the consensus draft board than the Pistons tipping their hand.

Put another way: If the Pistons were picking fifth, chances are they would have had a parade of point guards – five of the projected top 10 picks are point guards – through their practice facility.

When you get a chance to add knowledge to your institutional database, you do so. A few of those big guys the Pistons worked out might find themselves looking for a new team as soon as 2019 if they don’t have their third-year options picked up for whatever reason. By 2021 or ’22, they could be hitting the free-agent market. Getting to know them even a little bit now will give the Pistons a greater comfort level in deciding to pursue them down the road.

Once you get past the top 10, the strength of the remainder of the first round lies in big men, young big men specifically. Anigbogu, Adebayo, Giles, Allen and Bradley are all one-and-done centers with Giles also able to play power forward. Patton, a center all the way, is a redshirt freshman. Rabb, another power forward-center hybrid, and John Collins, a power forward but not a stretch four, are sophomores.

The Pistons might have one or two more draft workouts and the two biggest names to watch for are Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell, reported by the Free Press as a likely visitor, and Gonzaga’s Zach Collins, another big man.

Let’s back up a minute. It appears there’s an emerging consensus, building off a suspicion that’s existed for a month or more, that there is a fairly clear top 10. It was buttressed by this week’s publication of ESPN.com’s draft tier story that grouped point guards Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball in tier one and eight players – point guards De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith and Frank Ntilikina; shooting guard Malik Monk; wings Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson; and power forwards Jonathan Isaac and Lauri Markkanen – in tier two.

That would leave the Pistons likely choosing from among tier three’s five players: Giles, Mitchell, Zach Colllins, Luke Kennard and O.G. Anunoby.

On a hunch, I’d narrow it further to Mitchell, Collins and Kennard. Giles and Anunoby have injury issues and that certainly wouldn’t help their case for the Pistons to take them. If we assume Charlotte takes one from the group of Kennard, Mitchell and Zach Collins, the Pistons would have their choice of two from that group plus Anunoby or Giles.

If the Pistons are going to draft a player to help punch up an offense that dragged them down from 44 wins and the playoffs to 37 and the lottery, Giles and Anunoby would be unlikely fits. Both have elite defensive potential. And if the Pistons are OK with their medical prognosis and Stan Van Gundy sees a fit, well, it wouldn’t come as a shock for a Van Gundy-led organization to go with a defense-first player.

But Van Gundy also holds to a philosophy that defense is at least as much about the collective as amassing individually gifted defenders, so the hunch is that he’ll be drawn to the skills less likely to be transferred by coaching: innate scoring ability.

Kennard has it, undeniably. Zach Collins’ per-40 minute numbers at Gonzaga, plus the eye test, surely suggest he has it. Mitchell – who tested as an elite athlete at the NBA draft combine – shows enough to make it easy to believe he’ll get there.

Of course, despite the emerging consensus top 10, it’s probably 50-50 that somebody from outside that group leap frogs one of them. If you’re banking on that, remember that Charlotte still picks ahead of the Pistons. The strong likelihood is the Pistons aren’t going to get one of those top 10 guys at 12.

And, despite the parade of big guys through their practice facility over the past month, there’s no real evidence they’re looking to specifically add to their frontcourt, either.