Pistons pick at 42: Making the case for a need at every position

Blake Griffin has four years left on his contract, but everybody else on the Pistons roster could be a free agent in two years or less.
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – Last time on this little street corner I occupy, I pointed out that when you’re picking where the Pistons will pick in the June 21 draft the overriding concern is to identify the player who’ll have the most NBA impact regardless of position.

The most glaring Pistons need on a roster without a lot of holes – they have a dozen players under contract for next season, all of whom were in the rotation at one point or another – comes at small forward. Only Stanley Johnson really fits the job description, though Luke Kennard and Reggie Bullock can give them minutes there, as well.

The Pistons would do well to land a small forward in the classic 3-and-D mold – someone who hangs his hat on defense and can knock down open 3-point shots and stays in his lane.

But they’d do well merely to get a player who can make the roster, hone his skills with the G League’s Grand Rapids Drive and step into a role should injury strike – no matter what position he plays.

In fact, with contracts becoming shorter – both because of collective bargaining parameters and market forces – you’re never that far away from turning over the roster.

So here’s the case to be made for drafting at any of the five positions:

Small forward – Not only is Johnson the only natural small forward under contract for next season – James Ennis, acquired at the trade deadline and the backup over the final 20-plus games, is a free agent – but Johnson is heading into the last year of his rookie contract.

Case closed. The Pistons almost surely have to use their biggest bargaining chip this summer – whether that’s all or part of the mid-level exception or trade bait – to acquire another small forward. They can spend the 42nd pick on one, as well, but it probably isn’t going to be the primary means to address this position.

Point guard – The Pistons have Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith and Dwight Buycks under contract with Buycks non-guaranteed. They also have Langston Galloway, who until last season spent most of his NBA minutes at the point. And they finished the season with Kay Felder on a two-way contract. We’ll see what the new management team decides on both Buycks and Felder.

But Smith is on the last year of his contract and Jackson has two years left. At minimum, the Pistons are going to need someone capable of playing backup minutes in 2019-20 – and backup point guard is close to inarguably the most important position on anyone’s bench. Point guards have never been more integral to offensive function than they are in today’s era. And it might be the position where you’re most likely to find someone with developmental potential in the middle of the second round.

Shooting guard – The best storyline of the Pistons season – apart from the trade acquisition of Blake Griffin, at least – was the emergence of Reggie Bullock as a quality NBA starter. After moving into the starting lineup permanently on Dec. 12, nobody in the NBA who attempted three or more 3-point shots a game shot it better than Bullock. And in Luke Kennard, the Stan Van Gundy administration believed they landed a starting-quality player with significant offensive flair.

But Bullock will be a free agent after the season and it’s going to be a challenge to retain him given the salary commitments for 2019-20. Langston Galloway gives the Pistons depth protection, but landing another shooting guard – preferably one with length similar to Bullock’s – would be useful.

Center – Andre Drummond has been remarkably durable and he plays more minutes than the vast majority of big men. The Pistons also have three power forwards – Griffin, Jon Leuer and Henry Ellenson – who can play center. Eric Moreland is under contract for two more seasons and has the defensive skills that allow him to be used against a full spectrum of opponents.

So the Pistons aren’t likely to be adding any more big men via free agency or trade. But if it comes to 42 and they’re convinced the player with the best NBA future is a center, grab him. Drummond can opt out in two years, at which time Moreland and Leuer’s contracts will be up and Ellenson will be a restricted free agent. The development time line would match.

Power forward – Deepest position on the team, but the situation here is much as it is at center. Griffin has four years left on his deal, but nobody else is locked in after 2019-20. The fourth power forward in 2018-19 would offer a cheap option to be Griffin’s backup in two years if the Pistons find that player in this draft.