Draft preview: Langford’s pure scoring ability puts him squarely on Pistons radar at 15

A thumb injury affected Romeo Langford’s shooting accuracy during his only college season – and could complicate the evaluation process of him for the Pistons and other NBA teams.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS –Toronto is challenging Golden State’s reign in this year’s NBA Finals for one overriding reason: the 15th pick. If it hadn’t been the Raptors, it would have been Milwaukee and for the same reason: the 15th pick. Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo were both 15th picks two years apart, Leonard in 2011 and Antetokounmpo in ’13. Two-time MVP Steve Nash was the 15th pick in 1996.

Nobody else comes close to their class, though, among the 65 players drafted 15th overall since the NBA began seeding rosters via an amateur draft. Perhaps Al Jefferson
is the next most accomplished player, though he never made an All-Star team.

The Pistons have had the No. 15 pick four times in their history. Rodney Stuckey (2007) made the most immediate impact and probably wound up having the best career, though Phil Hubbard (1979), a great college player at Michigan before a catastrophic knee injury after his sophomore season, has a case.

The others taken with the 15th pick by the Pistons are Al Eberhard, back in 1974, and Austin Daye in 2009.

Last year’s 15th pick was Troy Brown, who played sparingly for the Washington Wizards. Brown profiles as the type of player most likely to be the pick of the Pistons this year: a teen with one year of college experience and little expectation of offering significant immediate help.

The four No. 15 picks prior to Brown were Justin Jackson, traded from Sacramento to Dallas in February, who shows promise as a rotation player heading into his third season after a three-year career at North Carolina; Juan Hernangomez, who’s shown flashes of promise but has yet to establish himself as part of Denver’s rotation in three NBA seasons; Kelly Oubre, who’ll be a restricted free agent after being traded from Washington to Phoenix at the trade deadline; and Adreian Payne, out of the NBA after being drafted by Minnesota out of Michigan State.

Our draft preview series continues today with a profile of Indiana freshman Romeo Langford, a prolific high school scorer who arrived in Bloomington as a consensus top-10 recruit.

FIRST-ROUND CANDIDATE: Romeo Langford

ID CARD: 6-foot-6 wing, Indiana, 19 years old

DRAFT RANGE: Ranked 14th by ESPN.com, 18th by The Athletic, 23rd by SI.com

SCOUTS LOVE: Langford’s pedigree as a top-10 class of 2018 recruit who had his pick of elite college programs has had him on the radar for several years already. He’s got an ideal frame for a wing, listed at 215 pounds (though he declined to be weighed at the NBA draft combine, where his thumb was still in a cast and prevented him from working out for teams due to an injury that hampered his freshman season). His best scoring attribute is his driving and finishing ability where Langford’s strength and body control gave him enormous physical advantages even at the college level, where he averaged 16 points a game on an Indiana team that struggled and failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Langford has long been an alpha scorer, even in elite competitions with peers like R.J. Barrett, Nassir Little, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson. He scored 19 points in the 2018 McDonald’s All-American game. With NBA defenses more sophisticated than ever and most teams committed to switching to blunt the impact of pick-and-roll sets, players who can score and create their own offense are more valued than ever. Langford, at his best, is a player who creates his own offense.

SCOUTS WONDER: The 3-point shot was the biggest red flag for Langford in his only college season. He hit only 27 percent of his 3.9 3-point shots per game, roughly a third of his shots coming from the arc. While Langford probably will evolve into a slightly above average NBA athlete, he’s not an explosive athlete. His ballhandling is fine but needs refinement if he’s going to emerge as an isolation scorer without that explosive first step or elite leaping ability to finish over defenders or elevate to evade shot blockers routinely. How much of Langford’s shooting woes traced to the thumb ligament injury is for teams to parse from his game tape, study of Langford pre-injury tape and analyzing his shooting form. “I don’t want to use my thumb as an excuse for the way I shot, but it did bother me a lot and affected me in a huge way when it came to my shooting form,” Langford said at the NBA draft combine last month. “My form still needs a couple of things tweaked here and there. I can still shoot the ball – there’s no ifs, ands or buts about that.” Langford expected to have his cast off soon after the combine to begin shooting again, though it’s unlikely he’d be anywhere near peak form to dispel doubts after so much time being unable to shoot.

NUMBER TO NOTE: 3,002 – That’s how many points Langford scored in a decorated career at New Albany High in southern Indiana, a suburb of Louisville, Ky., to finish No. 4 on the all-time Indiana career scoring list, 132 points behind legendary Damon Bailey. As a sophomore, Langford averaged 29 points and nine rebounds to lead New Albany to the state 4A title.

MONEY QUOTE: “I’m a scorer and I feel like I’ve shown that many times throughout my career, whether in high school or college. The main thing I want guys to realize is how much passion I have for the game and how much love I have for the game, even though it may not seem like it the way I carry myself.” – Romeo Langford at the NBA draft combine

PISTONS FIT: Langford fits the Pistons – with whom he met at the NBA draft combine and reported a positive vibe – roster as a wing with good size, abetted by a 6-foot-11 wingspan, and they surely would be keen on adding a player at that position who can create his own offense. Langford’s innate scoring ability will best translate to the NBA if his college 3-point shooting truly was a blip attributable to the thumb injury and if he can make incremental gains as a ballhandler to facilitate isolation scoring opportunities. Luke Kennard gives the Pistons a long-term solution at one wing spot and the front office likes the potential of last season’s three second-round rookies: Khyri Thomas, Bruce Brown and Svi Mykhailiuk. Langford, though, combines some of the best traits of all three with his size, strength and scoring instincts, and his development could come quickly if his 3-point shooting is unlocked by the repair of his injured right thumb.

BOTTOM LINE: There are a handful of wings, at least some of whom will be available for the Pistons at 15, including Langford, Nassir Little, Keldon Johnson, Kevin Porter Jr. and Tyler Herro. Beauty will be in the eye of the beholder in choosing among them. While there were some red flags to evaluate from Langford’s one season at Indiana, that will be only a piece of the evidence weighed among Pistons scouts who undoubtedly had a fairly thick dossier on him before he landed in Bloomington. A number of mock drafts have Langford landing with the Pistons, which means nothing with regard to insight into how the Pistons view Langford but speaks more to the likelihood that Langford will be available when their turn comes up at 15. That puts him squarely in the conversation for how they’ll spend that pick.

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