Futures market: If Bone can harness athleticism, Pistons get a modern-day guard in late 2nd round

(EDITOR’S NOTE: During the suspension of the NBA’s season due to COVID-19, Pistons.com is looking at nine young players who either filled larger roles than anticipated or got their first NBA exposure this year, all of it as a result of the wave of injuries that struck the Pistons and led to an organizational decision to rebuild. We started the series on Monday with a look at Bruce Brown. Next up: Jordan Bone.)

By Keith Langlois

The trend inevitably will reverse itself at some point, but that point is nowhere in sight. For now, NBA scouting puts a premium on perimeter players who offer some combination of 3-point shooting, playmaking skills and defensive ability.

If you offer all three – and it comes in a package that includes length and strength – the basketball world is your oyster.

Jordan Bone doesn’t have great size and his playmaking instincts aren’t fully developed. But the Pistons saw enough in Bone last June to trade back into the late second round rather than risk a recruiting battle for Bone should he go undrafted.

After a season split between the NBA G League and the Pistons, where does Bone stand and how does he fit into the future?

PAST – Bone wasn’t considered a top-100 recruit when he came out of a private high school in Nashville, Tenn., in 2016. But after leading his team to the state championship game and averaging 20 points, four rebounds and five assists as a senior, Bone was considered a catch for Tennessee, one of the handful of high-major offers Bone picked up.

Bone started 17 of his 23 games as a freshman, then became a full-time starter as a sophomore and made a big leap as a junior, averaging 13.5 points and 5.8 assists for a balanced team that spent time at No. 1 in 2018-19 before losing to Purdue in overtime of the Sweet 16. Bone was third in scoring to Grant Williams (Celtics No. 1 pick) and Admiral Schofield (42nd overall pick, Wizards rookie) while leading the Volunteers in minutes per game.

He played his role well, making 52.5 percent of his 2-point attempts and 35.5 percent of his triples, which constituted 35 percent of his attempts. He shot 83.5 percent at the foul line and was named to the All-SEC second team.

At the NBA draft combine in May, Bone was the undisputed star of athletic testing. He finished first in the lane agility, shuttle run and standing vertical jump, second in the maximum vertical jump and fourth in the three-quarter-court sprint.

The Pistons looked at all of that – overlaid with his leadership and productivity on a top-tier SEC team that spent the season ranked in the top 10 – and saw a player good enough to be drafted in the 20s. When he was available in the late 50s, they pounced, agreeing to a two-way contract with Bone after drafting him 58th, a choice obtained from the Philadelphia 76ers.

PRESENT – While the crush of injuries the Pistons endured this season certainly created opportunities for a number of players that they otherwise would not have found available, it can be argued that it worked against Bone.

While it was always a safe bet he’d exhaust his 45 days allowed for two-way player – teams almost always provide the full 45 days in large part as a financial incentive to sign – the perilous situation at point guard for the Pistons meant Bone was kept from G League games several times to serve as emergency depth for the Pistons.

As a result, Bone was limited to 53 minutes with the Pistons spread over 10 games.

In the G League, Bone flashed the promise the Pistons spotted in him. At Tennessee, Bone played in a highly structured system that didn’t draw out his speed and athleticism. In 31 games for the Grand Rapids Drive, Bone averaged 17.5 points and 7.1 assists, shooting 42 percent overall and 38 percent from the 3-point arc.

The 3-point shooting is encouraging – Bone shot more of them and shot them better from greater distance than he did in college – while the 2-point shooting shows where Bone needs to progress. Which brings us to …

FUTURE – Bone didn’t play in a pick-and-roll offense in college and proficiency in that vital part of the NBA game only comes with repetition – at least for all but the most preternaturally gifted.

As he gains experience, Bone will learn how to harness his exceptional speed and play with pace – more specifically, with change of pace. His comfort level is the mid-range game, but Dwane Casey’s offense discourages that shot unless it’s Derrick Rose with a long track record of proficiency. Getting to the rim more often – and learning how to finish in traffic – and being able to spot open 3-point shooters off of penetration will be the next frontier for Bone.

The Pistons have an incomplete puzzle at point guard for 2020-21. Only Rose, who has a year remaining on the free-agent deal struck in July 2019, is under contract for next season. Bone will be a restricted free agent. The uncertainty of the suspended season and what it will mean for the off-season – will there be a Summer League? – complicates the roster-building outlook.

Bone put enough on tape in his G League experience to confirm the Pistons’ predraft evaluation of him. The modern NBA is built for a player of his ilk. It would be a coup if the Pistons could turn a late second-round pick into a point guard good enough to crack their rotation within the first three years of his career. Is Bone on that track? Ed Stefanski, Dwane Casey and their cabinets will make that determination as best they can with the evidence at hand over the coming weeks and months.