The Pistons went into the draft hoping Darrun Hilliard would be available with the 38th pick and felt their faith in him was validated by his performance in Summer League despite his 29 percent shooting. Less pleased with his week in Orlando? Darrun Hilliard.
“I got my feet wet a little bit, what the NBA game is like, but honestly, all in all, I was a little bit disappointed,” Hilliard said this week after a workout at the Pistons Auburn Hills practice facility. “Just because I felt I could have played a little bit better, helped my team out a little bit more and help us get some wins. We were right there on winning the whole thing and I felt like maybe if I would’ve played better and helped ’em out a little bit more, it could have been a little better.”
Pistons coaches saw in Hilliard an uncommon poise for a rookie and evidence of the high basketball IQ that assistant general manager Brian Wright, who spearheads scouting for the draft, and general manager Jeff Bower touted to Stan Van Gundy. The front office also felt Hilliard would offer a different skill set at shooting guard than Pistons incumbents Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jodie Meeks. Hilliard is already a good ballhandler, comfortable with either hand, and was often used to initiate the pick and roll at Villanova. He’s also got an advanced mid-range game.
His nose for scoring was on display in Orlando – Hilliard tied fellow rookie Stanley Johnson for second in shot attempts at 52, two behind Adonis Thomas – but he made half as many shots as Johnson, 15.
“I knew I was going to struggle at some point with the shooting, just because it’s a different game – the 3-point line and the ball and just the speed of the game is totally different than college,” Hilliard said. “I wasn’t too much disappointed with my shooting because that can happen to anybody. But just from an all-around game, I could’ve played better defense, I could’ve rebounded the ball better, got out in some passing lanes a little more. But I took that lump and I’m just going to use that as motivation going forward.”
Since Summer League ended, Hilliard returned to his native Pennsylvania for a bit and then spent two weeks training with Johnson and Andre Drummond at the Peak Performance Project in Santa Barbara, Calif. Just as Johnson had to deal with tragedy – the death of his mother, Karen Taylor, to cancer this month – Hilliard was grieving the loss of his grandfather.
“I just wanted to go out there and get away but still be able to work out,” he said. “It helped me clear my mind and refocus and still stay in shape.”
Drummond, who has offered to let Johnson live with him during his rookie season, similarly let Hilliard bunk in his rented house near Santa Barbara.
“Andre had an amazing house out there, which was beautiful,” he said. “He let me stay there instead of a hotel. I thank him so much for that. It helped me get away.”
Hilliard found the P3 experience helpful, intrigued by some of the insights the experts there offered.
“When you first get there, they put all these dots on you, like a video game, and they record your every movement – how your knees bend, how your feet go. It’s amazing how they do everything,” he said. “If you have something wrong, they can see it by how I’m performing. It’s crazy how they combine the science part and the performance part. It’s awesome.”
He also was introduced there to new Pistons shooting coach Dave Hopla. Or, more aptly, reintroduced.
“It’s kind of crazy. When I was like 8, I was at the Hoop Group camp and I saw that dude make 100 free throws in a row. He can shoot. You see Hop and it’s like, man, shooter. You just know that he’s a guru of shooting the basketball, so you listen to every single thing he says. His results speak for themselves.”
Hopla won’t mess much with Hilliard, whose results at Villanova also speak for themselves, but he spotted an inconsistency with Hilliard’s footwork. The two have continued working together in Auburn Hills, and Hilliard has found a place to live that gives him easy access.
“It’s like five minutes away. I wanted to live close to the arena so if I wanted to come back (after practice or on off days) and get some shots up, it wouldn’t take long,” he said.
That sort of level-headedness and dedication to his craft were reasons Pistons brass didn’t fret much about Hilliard’s Orlando shooting numbers. The expectation is that Hilliard’s shot will become a strong NBA tool, reinforced for him by Van Gundy after Summer League.
“He knows I’m a good all-around player,” Hilliard said. “I don’t just do one thing great. He just wanted me to go out there and play and when the season comes closer, he’ll tell me my role on this team. I’m probably my own biggest critic. Even though the feedback was pretty good, I thought I could have been better.”