AUBURN HILLS – How deep into the playoffs do you suppose this lineup would go: MVP candidate Isaiah Thomas at point guard with Khris Middleton of Milwaukee next to him at shooting guard; another MVP candidate, Kawhi Leonard, at small forward and another Milwaukee star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, at the other forward spot; in the middle, Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert?
You think that team might have Cleveland looking a little wobbly to get out of the East?
Off the bench, let’s bring perimeter firepower in Zach LaVine, Devin Booker and Rodney Hood. Backing up Thomas at the point, how about Eric Bledsoe and Dennis Schroder? I suppose we could find some minutes for Draymond Green, too, in whatever role deemed necessary. A little more size needed behind Gobert? OK, clear some time for Nikola Jokic.
Yeah, that seems like a pretty solid team.
It has one thing in common: They were all taken outside the top 12 picks in drafts from 2010-15.
The 2011 draft alone provided the Pistons three such starters: Marcus Morris, taken 14th; Tobias Harris, 19th; and Reggie Jackson, 24th. Jon Leuer, who finished sixth on the team in 2016-17 minutes played, was taken 40th in the same draft.
Some drafts are deeper than others, but virtually every draft is going to produce someone – at least someone, perhaps several someones – good enough to start and probably good enough to play in an All-Star game or two.
Now the challenge for Pistons general manager Jeff Bower, assistant GM Jeff Nix, director of international scouting J.R. Holden and the rest of Stan Van Gundy’s inner cabinet will be to identify which player has the greatest potential to blossom out of the leftovers when at least 11 teams get to pick ahead of them – on the 93.5 percent odds that they pick 12th and the 97.4 percent odds that they don’t pull a top-three pick – and their time at the podium comes June 22.
Figuring out the 11 or 12 who’ll go before them are is part of the puzzle they’ll try to piece together prior to the draft. Then they must decide how much they’re willing to risk betting on a player with a high ceiling-low floor makeup vs. the safer choice offered by someone with a more narrow bandwidth.
In that latter category, let’s use North Carolina’s Justin Jackson as the example. Projected as the No. 13 pick by DraftExpress.com, Jackson has three years on college basketball’s biggest stage on his resume and averaged 18.4 points in the ACC last season.
There’s a decent chance, on the right roster, he can walk right into somebody’s rotation and hold up well as a 22-year-old rookie. You probably won’t find many scouts giving him great odds to play in an All-Star game someday, but you might not find one saying he’ll be in the D-League fighting for a 10-day contract in three years, either.
On the other end of the spectrum, here’s a look at four players that Pistons scouts just might see as having a chance to become the next Leonard (drafted 15th in 2011), Antetokounmpo (15th in 2013) or Booker (13th in 2015).