Don’t forget the 2nd round – the Pistons have 3 picks and can swing for a few fences
Juan Ocampo (NBAE/Getty)
The overwhelming external focus of Pistons draft night will be directed on how they put to use the good fortune of winning the lottery and applying the No. 1 pick. But once the hay is in the barn on that extraordinarily consequential decision for Troy Weaver, the Pistons general manager can turn his attention for the next few hours to making the best use of the three second-round picks he maneuvered to acquire since last November.
“Just like the number one pick, we’re turning over every stone on those and try to maximize our value there,” Weaver said this week. “Draft night is draft night. It’s just not the first-round pick. It’s just not the number one pick. It’s making sure we handle the second round properly, as well.”
The picks come at 37, 42 and 52 and there seems little likelihood the Pistons will execute all three with the 2021-22 NBA season in mind. If they keep all three picks, they’ll likely use at least one to draft a player who’s agreed to play internationally for next season or beyond.
Trading the picks is another viable option. The 37th pick, of course, would be the one of greatest value and likely to return two future second-round picks. The reason the Pistons don’t hold rights to their own second-round pick, 32nd overall, is because they dealt it along with another second-rounder to Philadelphia in 2019 for the 38th pick they used to pick Khyri Thomas.
The list of teams that might be interested in acquiring the 37th pick likely starts with the teams that don’t have any picks before then. There are six of them: Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Miami, Minnesota and Portland. Many of those teams – Portland, Boston and Minnesota, in particular – are facing salary cap issues that would make the prospect of adding a high second-round pick, where the chance to get a rotation-ready college upperclassman exists, particularly appealing. Milwaukee, another team with cap issues, has the first pick of the second round but no first-round pick and could also be looking to add another high second-rounder.
If the Pistons wind up keeping one or more of their picks, what type of player might appeal to them? Weaver likes players with plus size for their position, plus length relative to height and plus athleticism. He said when he was hired that it was critical to get the person right picking high in the draft because, once that qualification was satisfied, basketball took care of itself. Later in the draft, he said, is when it’s more acceptable to take a swing for the fences.
Let’s look at two groups of players – one who might fit the athletic profile, another the international prospects who might fit as draft-and-stash candidates – possible somewhere in the draft’s second round:
Isaiah Todd – Along with anticipated high lottery picks Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga, Todd was part of the first group of high school players that signed to play with the G League Ignite franchise. At 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Todd averaged 12.3 points and 4.9 rebounds in 24 minutes a game and shot a respectable 36 percent from the 3-point arc in 24 minutes a game after a slow start to his G League experience. He was committed to play at Michigan but opted for the G League instead. Ideally, Todd projects as a stretch big but he’ll need to improve his decision-making in shot selection and passing, things that could well come with experience.
Brandon Boston – Boston entered his freshman season at Kentucky ranked behind only Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley and Jalen Green according to the RSCI composite recruiting index, ahead of prospects like Jalen Suggs and Scottie Barnes. His freshman season at Kentucky fell well below expectations, though, as Boston shot just 35.5 percent overall and 30 percent from the 3-point line. Boston, 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, would be a logical candidate to sign a two-way contract and spend the bulk of his rookie season in the G League. He needs to add strength and work on his shooting, but he’s got great size and playmaking potential on the wing.
Josh Christopher – Christopher, like Boston and Todd a five-star recruit in the high school class of 2020, was rated 10th by RSCI and spent his freshman season at Arizona State. He averaged 14.3 points and shot 43 percent overall and 30.5 percent from the 3-point arc, an area that will need to improve. But he’s got good size (6-foot-4½, 6-foot-9¼ wingspan) and above-average athleticism with a scorer’s mentality and strong offensive potential. He needs experience and to sharpen his decision-making, but the appeal of his shot-making and scoring ability makes him a candidate to go in the first half of the second round.
J.T. Thor – Thor, who doesn’t turn 19 until late August, surprised some by staying in the draft after a freshman season at Auburn in which he averaged 9.4 points and 5.0 rebounds in 23 minutes a game. Thor, 6-foot-9¼ with a 7-foot-3¼ wingspan, shot 53 percent overall but 29.7 percent from the 3-point arc while taking 39 percent of his shots from deep. He’s obviously very young and equally raw, but there’s a young Pascal Siakam vibe to his game that is hard to ignore.
Josh Primo – Primo, a Toronto native who spent his freshman season at Alabama, won’t turn 19 until Christmas eve, making him the youngest player in the draft similar to Sekou Doumbouya, with a Dec. 23 birthday, in the 2019 draft. Primo was a part-time starter for a strong Alabama team, averaging 8.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in 23 minutes a game and shooting 38 percent from the 3-point line. At 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-9¼ wingspan, Primo is a good athlete who has a chance to play both on and off the ball down the road.
Greg Brown – Early in Brown’s freshman season at Texas, there was some buzz of him as a potential top-10 pick. He’s as athletic as anyone in the class, posting a 39-inch vertical leap at the NBA draft combine while measuring 6-foot-8½ with a 7-foot-¼ wingspan, and was ranked eighth in the RSCI composite. His basketball instincts are raw, though, best evidenced by his ghastly assists-to-turnover ratio at Texas: 1:6, or 10 assists for the season against 60 turnovers. Brown shot 33 percent from the 3-point arc and took nearly as many triples (91) as 2-pointers (102), perhaps not making the best use of his explosive athleticism. Another obvious G League candidate.
Juhann Begarin – Still just 18, Begarin is a native of Guadeloupe who moved with his family to France at 16 and emerged as a legitimate prospect at the 2018 European Championships U16 tournament. At 6-foot-6 and powerfully built with a 7-foot-0 wingspan, Begarin bristles with 3-and-D upside. He hit 36.4 percent from the 3-point arc last season while playing in France’s second division. While a handful of European prospects who likely would have gone ahead of Begarin pulled out of the draft, he decided to stick. But there shouldn’t be much doubt that another season in France, playing in the top division, would be in order.
Rokas Jokubaitis – Jokubaitis, 20, emerged as a rotation player this season for Zalgiris, a traditional power in his native Lithuania, while playing in the EuroLeague, the best competition outside of the NBA. Where the six upside picks all have strong physical traits but lack in feel, Jokubaitis is something of the opposite, though at 6-foot-4 he’s got good size at point guard if that’s where he can stick defensively. A strong passer who displays poise and strong judgment, Jokubaitis averaged 7.5 points and 3.4 assists while shooting 35 percent from the 3-point arc for Zalgiris.
Filip Petrusev – Petrusev, a Serbian native, is no stranger to the United States. He actually played at Montverde Academy – projected high lottery picks Cade Cunningham and Scottie Barnes were teammates there in 2019-20 – and spent two seasons at Gonzaga, being named conference player of the year as a sophomore when he averaged 17.5 points and 7.9 rebounds. He flirted with the NBA draft last year but pulled out and decided to play professionally in the Adriatic League, where he averaged 21.2 points and 7.4 rebounds, led the league in scoring and was named MVP. He’s more a traditional center, though he expanded his game to the 3-point line last season, and might have trouble staying on the floor defensively.
Vrenz Bleinjbergh – If you want to take a swing on a high-risk, high-reward player, this might be your guy. Bleinjbergh, 6-foot-10, is a perimeter player with good ballhandling skills, terrific passing ability and shooting range but he’s thin (210 pounds) and his background of playing professionally in Belgium, off the grid of traditional basketball hotbeds, makes him a wild card. But he had some impressive outings this season playing against better competition. If the Pistons hang on to their pick at 52 and are focused on a player comfortable staying overseas for at least another year, he’s on the short list. There was a report that he worked out for the Pistons, as well.