‘He’s got all the skills’ – Pistons see today’s prototypical NBA wing in Louis King

Louis King
The Pistons moved quickly when Louis King went undrafted last June to sign him to a two-way contract.
Brian Sevald/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – Louis King’s first draft workout was with the Pistons. It came last May 20 before the declaration date for underclassmen – the date when they were either all in or all out.

But King was all in already. He fully expected to be a first-round draft pick. In fact, he said that day, his agent was telling him his draft range was 10 to 20. In King’s mind, he was auditioning to be the No. 15 pick – the one the Pistons eventually used to pick Sekou Doumbouya.

Draft projections at that time generally had King in the late first or early second round. The Pistons at the time had the 45th pick – they eventually traded it plus two of the second-rounders received for the 30th pick in taking on Tony Snell’s contract from Milwaukee – and they likely never thought they’d be able to draft King in that spot.

They’d seen his workout. The Pistons, too, wouldn’t have been surprised had King been taken in the first round. When the draft ended and he was still available, they jumped at the chance to offer King a two-way contract.

“He’s got all the skills,” Dwane Casey said last week after King got his first NBA minutes in a game yet to be decided. “I thought he should’ve been a first-round pick. I don’t know why dropped.” Casey paused, then continued. “I have an idea,” he said, “But he should’ve been a first-round pick.”

There were some questions about King’s maturity, physical and otherwise, and King himself admitted last July, as he awaited his first Summer League game, that was the feedback he got as the draft process wound down. He was one of only three players tested in the bench press at the NBA draft combine last May who was unable to lift 185 pounds even once.

That – physical development – will be a dominant theme of the off-season ahead for King. But you can’t teach a 7-foot wing span, shooting touch and ball skills, all part of the package that made King the No. 20 prospect according to RSCI, a consensus ranking of the most prominent recruiting services, in the 2018 class.

That’s what King said he heard from NBA scouts, reinforcing his inclination to leave college after his freshman season at Oregon.

“What stood out to me in the meetings and interviews,” he said, “was how versatile I am at 6-9. I can shoot the ball and dribble and that’s what the NBA is developing in players now.”

Remember when Doumbouya was drafted and front-office chief executive Ed Stefanski commented that the Pistons finally had a wing with some size and “you need more than one?” King gives them another rangy athlete whom Casey believes can play shooting guard and small forward and bump up to power forward in the increasingly frequent small-ball lineups that dominate today’s NBA.

“He can play a lot of those positions,” Casey said. “He’s got to get stronger. That’s something for the summertime. He’s got to work on his body and make sure he gets bigger and stronger to take the hits and bumps, but that’s going to come if he just keeps eating.”

Just as injuries to Blake Griffin and Markieff Morris cracked the door to playing time ahead of schedule for Doumbouya, Tony Snell’s illness forced Casey’s hand with King. Prior to last week, King's NBA floor time was limited to 13 minutes spread across the waning moments of five games. But over the last three games, he’s played 37 minutes and in all six halves. He’s hit 2 of 5 3-point shots and had his best moments in Friday’s loss to Memphis when in addition to his three points, King registered four rebounds and three assists in 14 minutes.

Casey being Casey, he first noticed that King didn’t seem cowed on the defensive end, either.

“I thought Louis came in and did a good job,” he said. “For a rookie to come in in that situation, knock down a three … I thought he was aggressive defensively, too, staying connected to his guy, was in the right place. He’s got to do a better job of talking (on defense) even if he’s not sure, but I thought he came in and did a good job.”

King has used about half of his allotted 45 days with the Pistons as a two-way player, meaning there will be more playing time in a Drive uniform ahead for him. In fact, just as he was about to field questions for this story on Tuesday afternoon, King was instructed to hustle to join the Drive. Snell practiced on Tuesday, Casey said, and the hope is that he’ll be available for Wednesday’s game at Brooklyn.

As the season winds down – and for sure after the Drive season ends in late March – the Pistons figure to give King more of a look to exhaust his 45 days and give them a better idea of how to attack a critical off-season ahead for him as he goes about making the case that he should have heard his name called on draft night.

“This, for him, is to show everybody they were wrong,” Casey said. “Have a chip on your shoulder and prove to everybody that, hey, you guys made a mistake. I’m a first-round guy – or at least second round. That should be his challenge, his motivation going forward.”

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