Pistons finalizing board with 48 hours to go before NBA draft

Henry Ellenson has been perhaps the most consistent Pistons player in training camp, Stan Van Gundy says.
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – What you read two months before the NBA draft – or two weeks, for that matter – about Team X liking Player A better than Player B you’d be advised to ignore.

With a little over 48 hours remaining before the 2017 NBA draft, the Pistons – and this is a typical approach – are still putting the final touches on their draft board.

“We’re still in the process. We’ve got them into the tiers we think they belong in,” Stan Van Gundy said Tuesday afternoon, “but within those tiers we haven’t totally finalized it yet.”

The Pistons, like many NBA teams, group players in tiers of comparably talented players, then rank players within those tiers. It’s a device that discourages rash draft-night decisions as trades are proposed and upsets occur with players being passed over.

Let’s say, hypothetically, the Pistons have a top tier of six players, a second tier of four players and a third tier of five players. That’s 10 players within the top two tiers they have ranked as better than anyone who should be available to them with the 12th pick if other teams have identical rankings. But if one of those 10 were to fall, they’d take that player over anybody they have ranked in the third tier of five players.

Ranking players within a tier – the job Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower will lead over these final hours – often comes down to roster fit, intangibles and hunches. What it won’t come down to, Van Gundy essentially said, is readiness to help next year.

“I think we’ve got both types in our main group,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve got a group of people that we think are ahead of us but that if they slid, we would take. And then we’ve got a group of people that we think – we know, because it’s down to our number that we can pick from – we’ve got some guys that I think have a decent chance of playing right away and we’ve got a couple of guys in that group that we think realistically would need a year or two before they were ready to play.”

Of the 20 players who’ll be in the NBA green room, a useful indication of the consensus of NBA teams, the Pistons brought seven to Auburn Hills for workouts: Bam Adebayo, Jarrett Allen, Justin Patton, John Collins, Justin Jackson, Luke Kennard and Donovan Mitchell. They also brought in another potential lottery pick, Harry Giles, who reportedly declined his invitation to the green room at Barclays Center.

Van Gundy said that within the tier from which the Pistons expect to pick, they were successful in bringing in all but one player for a draft visit. Zach Collins didn’t come to Auburn Hills, but he’s projected to go ahead of the Pistons in several mock drafts and that doesn’t sound like the guy Van Gundy was describing.

“The one guy we didn’t get in is a guy that maybe isn’t rated as highly by what you read in the mock drafts that we think is in the mix at 12,” he said. “I don’t know if he and his agent didn’t buy it or what, but we didn’t get him in. And we didn’t get in any of the guys who were ahead of us.”

None of the consensus top 10 picks – point guards Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith or Frank Ntilikina; wings Justin Jackson and Jayson Tatum; power forwards Lauri Markkanen and Jonathan Isaac; and shooting guard Malik Monk – came to Auburn Hills. It’s certainly possible the Pistons have Zach Collins ranked in a tier higher than the one from which they expect to make their pick.

And it’s also possible Zach Collins gets past Charlotte with the 11th pick. He, Monk and Markkanen appear the three players with the greatest chance to slip to the Pistons in the manner that Henry Ellenson did a year ago.

Ellenson was one of 10 players his scouting staff told him would be certainly gone before the 18th pick last season. This year, Van Gundy said, they’ve told him there will be six players the Pistons have no chance to draft.

If you want to guess at who those six are, it probably starts with Fultz, Ball, Jackson and Tatum. Fox and Isaac might be the next best guesses, but it could just as easily be Smith, a point guard who arrived at North Carolina State with as much hype as Ball or Fultz, or Markkanen, a 7-footer who played for Van Gundy’s friend Sean Miller at Arizona and shot better than 40 percent from the 3-point arc.

Bower endorsed the notion that the 2017 draft is one of the best in recent times, but not necessarily for its star power. He thinks the strength of the draft is in the quality of player available in the 20s and 30s. The Pistons, though, don’t have a second-round pick this year – it went to Utah in the three-team deal that brought Reggie Jackson to the Pistons – and Van Gundy and Bower are OK with that because of a roster crunch.

Other than Beno Udrih and Aron Baynes – who opted out of his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent – the Pistons have a level of control over the disposition of every other player on their roster. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Reggie Bullock will both be restricted free agents and the Pistons have been clear that they will be aggressive in retaining Caldwell-Pope.

“A second-round pick this year, from a roster standpoint, is not something that’s a real need for us because of the number of returning players we have,” Bower said. “It’s lined up very well. It would have to be something unique,” for the Pistons to consider acquiring a second-round pick.