LAS VEGAS – Louis King’s first draft workout came with the Pistons on May 20. He could envision himself being their pick at No. 15.
“I’m expected to be drafted 10 to 20 right now,” he said that day.
That seemed mildly optimistic, though it wouldn’t have been an upset if King had been taken in the 20s. At the time of that May visit, exactly one month before the June 20 draft, King was most often pegged to go somewhere in the 30s by credible mock drafts. The Pistons had the 45th pick in the second round. If they could get King there, that would have seemed like great value.
Fast forward to draft night. King, to the shock of the Pistons, went undrafted. Thanks in part to the relationship Pistons front-office boss Ed Stefanski holds with Sean Kennedy, King’s agent, in part because of the impression the Pistons made on King on his visit and in part because the Pistons had a strong sales pitch – a need for wings with King’s size and skill set – the recruiting process when King went undrafted was swift and conclusive.
Sifting through a handful of offers, King quickly agreed to a two-way contract that gives the Pistons exclusive rights to see what they have in the 6-foot-8 King, who just a year ago was coming off his senior year of high school capped by an appearance in the McDonald’s All-American game as a five-star recruit.
“A lot of other teams (called), but I felt like the Pistons, they had a strong relationship with me and believed in what I could do,” King said after day three of Summer League practices. “Mr. Ed, he’s a great guy and he’s giving me this great opportunity, so I’m going to make the best of it.”
The reasons King was viewed as a potential first-round pick are easy enough to spot. Physically, he recalls a young Khris Middleton: King measured 6-foot-8 and 195 pounds with a 7-foot-0¼ wingspan at the NBA draft combine; Middleton checked in at 6-foot-8¼ and 215 pounds (after three years in a college weight program to King’s one year) with a 6-foot-10¾ wingspan.
King was a freshman standout at Oregon, averaging 13.5 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting .476 overall and .386 from the 3-point arc on a healthy five triple attempts a game. He closed the season on an upswing, finishing the season with six straight games of 15 or more points in the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments, helping Oregon unexpectedly get to the Sweet 16.
“We valued Louis,” Pistons director of player personnel Gregg Polinsky said. “The scouts, the organization did a great job of digging in, getting information. Every kid’s different. He’s a kid that we think it was worth going in and having be part of our program. It’s hard to find wings with size that have a skill level. Louis knows that there’s a lot of work ahead. He came back from some injuries. So why nobody picked him? I can’t answer for the league, but we’re really happy to have him.”
King spent draft night with his family, expecting a phone call before the night moved into the witching hours – and a celebration.
“Had a little family dinner and we watched the draft on TV in a restaurant,” he said. “My family and me, we were upset. But that’s just fuel to the fire. I’m extremely excited for the opportunity the Pistons gave me. It’s a blessing in disguise. Motivation, just getting me in the gym every day, getting up shots, getting better and making people see why they messed up.”
King has heard the most plausible explanation for his slide out of the draft.
“I did great in the workouts,” he said. “It’s just maybe some immaturity, they were saying. Probably the intel that was coming back. Probably they didn’t want to take a risk on me, but that’s cool. Just making me a better person. Time to wake up.”
The Pistons went into the draft determined to stay disciplined to a best-player-available philosophy, but came out of it with three players – first-round pick Sekou Doumbouya, second-rounder Deividas Sirvydis and King – who give them the length on the wing that became a glaring weakness in the playoffs when, among others, Middleton vexed them by shooting without challenge over smaller defenders.
Whether any of them will be in position to help in the near term remains uncertain, Summer League the first of many tests to determine the answer. King, who turned 20 in April, is encouraged by his showing in practices and hopes to get a foothold on his future before leaving Las Vegas.
“That I can showcase my ability and that the Pistons love my stock and that I can make a spot on the team,” King said of his intent. On a two-way contract, King can spend up to 45 days during the G League season with the Pistons in 2019-20, though they can convert him to a standard contract at any time.
Down the road, he hopes he can approach the level of the players he studies for the similarities he sees in their game.
“I watch a lot of clips of Paul George and Kevin Durant and all those guys, watching how they play defense and score the ball at will,” he said. “It’s just incredible.”