Pistons double up, come out of draft night with Thomas, Brown to bolster wing depth
AUBURN HILLS – The Pistons went into Thursday’s draft with the No. 42 pick and came out of it with two versatile wings many thought would be picked in the first round. Take a bow, Ed Stefanski.
The cost to get the No. 38 pick from Philadelphia was two future second-round picks, the Pistons using that spot to draft Khyri Thomas of Creighton, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East. With their own pick, they grabbed Bruce Brown, a sophomore out of Miami who checks off a lot of boxes.
“I didn’t think either one would be there,” Stefanski said. “We were happy. We feel we got fortunate, but you only know down the road.”
Stefanski, who ran the draft for the Pistons after being named senior adviser to owner Tom Gores last month, tipped his hand on Wednesday at the press conference to announce the hiring of Dwane Casey as coach.
“We like playmakers. We like guys who can make a play for themselves or their teammates,” he said. “We want tough, high-IQ kids so the coach can put them out there and trust that he’s going to play hard.”
After picking up Thomas and Brown, Stefanski said, “We got two of them. You never know how the draft’s going to go. It didn’t look like we were going to be able to move like we did. People were asking for some big asks, but as the night went on it got much better and we were able to make the move.
“You always say that this guy was high on the board and all that, but these two kids are solid people, really good people, great backgrounds, tough as nails, both of them. They can make plays. And they’re both two wings. That’s what we need. We need some young guys, especially, to play that position.”
Thomas, who has been compared to Joe Dumars in playing style, stayed home in Omaha, Neb., to play at Creighton and was a three-year starter who averaged 15.1 points and 2.8 assists. He shot 40 percent from the 3-point arc over his career and hit 79 percent of his free throws last season. One reason Thomas is such an effective defender: At 6-foot-3¾ he has a wing span of 6-foot-10½.
Thomas pegged his strengths as areas that play well in today’s NBA.
“Shooting threes and playing defense, that’s just a given,” said Thomas, who took nearly half of his shots from the 3-point line at Creighton. “At Creighton our motto is ‘let it fly.’ Defending is one way to get on the court and that’s something I like to do. And I think I’m more of a playmaker than people have seen on film.”
Stefanski pegged Brown as someone capable of playing some point guard and defending at small forward for his size and strength and said Thomas is more a shooting guard. “But they’re both wings first.”
Brown, from Boston, started in both of his years at Miami but missed the last 12 games of 2017-18 with a foot injury. He averaged 11.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists. He recorded a rare college triple-double in Miami’s season-opening win last fall. The rebounding numbers and Brown’s athleticism and strength – 17 reps in the bench press at the draft combine – suggest he could play some small forward in addition to the backcourt. Brown also has an impressive wing span: 6-foot-9. After shooting 35 percent from the 3-point arc as a freshman, Brown slumped to 27 percent as a sophomore.
He knows that will be a priority of his summer individual work with Pistons coaches.
“The most important thing I need to work on is shooting the ball from three, off the dribble and catch and shoot,” he said after being picked by the Pistons. As for things he brings immediately, “toughness. I’m a two-way guard, very versatile, can play one through three, guard one through three. I’m an energy guy. I do a little bit of everything.”
Neither Thomas nor Brown worked out for the Pistons and did not meet with them last month at the NBA draft combine. Stefanski has a longstanding relationship with Brown’s college coach, Jim Larranaga, and the Pistons had background checks done on both players.
The Pistons have Reggie Bullock, Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway as shooting guards but only Stanley Johnson at small forward. Thomas and Brown, who said he’s fully cleared from his foot injury and participated in draft workouts for 15 teams, will get a chance to make favorable first impressions starting early next month at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
“We’ll see in a couple of years if we made a good move,” Stefanski said, “but we’re very happy tonight. It’s a lot more than we thought we were going to get.”