CHICAGO – It’s a good bet that the Pistons aren’t banking on their first-round pick to fill either of their two critical roster needs for 2016-17.
But if you had to put your money somewhere, Demetrius Jackson or Wade Baldwin might be a good place to start. The Pistons are looking for a backup point guard and it’s not inconceivable that a rookie taken in the middle of the first round could handle the 16 minutes a game Reggie Jackson sits next season.
Providence’s Kris Dunn is the consensus No. 1 point guard in this draft class and he’ll be gone in the top 10 almost certainly, but the next three – and you can find them in every conceivable order depending on the day and the expert of your choosing – include Jackson, Baldwin and Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis. All are projected somewhere from the middle teens into the low 20s.
Ulis might not be for everyone given his height – he measured at slightly under 5-foot-9 without shoes – and weight, just 149 pounds. But the NBA has become so predicated on pick-and-roll variations that dynamic playmaking guards are coveted no matter their packaging.
Jackson and Baldwin will be much easier for a front office to sell to the coaching staff – and both got the opportunity to sell themselves to Stan Van Gundy and the Pistons at the NBA draft combine going on through the weekend. Both underclass point guards – Jackson, a Notre Dame junior; Baldwin, a Vanderbilt sophomore – said they held interviews with the Pistons.
“It was a great interview,” said Jackson, who averaged 15.8 points and 4.7 assists last season for the Irish. “I come in looking sharp – I like to look nice – and just try to be myself. They asked questions such as your life story, so I try to tell them my life story within the 30-minute span we have. And I was in with a question of how can I improve, how can I separate myself, not only from the guards in the draft but just going forward as an NBA player?”
Baldwin, who at 20 is about 1½ years younger than Jackson, raised eyebrows with an eye-popping wing span measurement of 6-foot-11¼. He’s also bigger than Jackson at 6-foot-4 to Jackson’s 6-foot-1¾. Given that Van Gundy is a big fan of plus length for your position, the Pistons figure to parse everything about Baldwin with great care over the next six weeks.
“It was a great crew, full of energy,” Baldwin said of meeting with Van Gundy and Pistons scouts and front-office personnel. “They said they really liked me.”
Baldwin averaged 14.1 points, 5.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds a game for the Commodores, who had a disappointing season after entering the year with expectations of challenging for the SEC title and making a deep NCAA tournament run. They finished 19-14, losing in an NCAA tournament play-in game to Wichita State by 20 points.
Power forward is the other Pistons’ roster need. Van Gundy is likely to look for veterans to pencil in on his depth chart at both spots, but it’s probably more realistic to expect help from a rookie guard than a power forward at that point of the draft given the job descriptions and history.
Steph Curry just became the NBA’s first unanimous MVP, and while nobody expects anything remotely close to his level of play from any incoming guard, it speaks to how the game has changed and the premium now placed on spacing the floor with shooting and taking advantage of that space with ballhandling and penetration.
Baldwin comes with size and athleticism, so it’s no surprise he cites Russell Westbrook as his playing ideal.
“Being a point guard around the same size, watch how he operates and competes. It’s something I want to model my game after and obviously make modifications to make it more personal,” he said.
It’s become trendy for coaches to play two point guards simultaneously, often in the last five minutes. The Eastern Conference playoffs have been a showcase for such configurations. Baldwin and Jackson both say they would be at home playing alongside Reggie Jackson as well as backing him up.
“My experience at Notre Dame playing alongside another great guard with Jerian Grant” – first-round pick of the Knicks last season – “where I played a little more off the ball when he was making the pick-and-roll decision and I was able to come off down screens, be a shooter, things like that, so I feel comfortable in that role,” Jackson said. “I also feel comfortable handling the ball.”
“I think I would be a good fit anywhere,” Baldwin said. “I’m a very, very versatile player that can mold in any scenario, different systems.”
The Pistons almost surely will be in the market for a younger veteran point guard to back up Jackson this summer regardless of whom they draft. But the lesson of the modern NBA is that you can never have too many playmakers. They’ll be calling up plenty of videotape of Vanderbilt and Notre Dame games in the offices around Stan Van Gundy’s over the next six weeks to decide if Wade Baldwin and Demetrius Jackson would add one for the Pistons.