Think this NBA draft is unpredictable? So does Pistons front-office boss Ed Stefanski

Ed Stefanski says he’s not sure what will take place in Thursday’s NBA draft after the first 3 picks, increasing the uncertainty of what to expect for the Pistons with the 15th pick
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – If you can’t figure out what’s going to happen in the NBA draft only a few days left before it’s held, join the club. Ed Stefanski doesn’t know much about what will happen with the 14 picks ahead of the Pistons, either.

He says he knows what will happen with the top two picks – Zion Williamson to New Orleans and Ja Morant to Memphis, presumably – and he think he knows what New York will do with the No. 3 pick, expected to be R.J. Barrett.

After that?

“I have no idea. And that’s unusual in a draft,” the man in charge of the Pistons front office said Monday afternoon. “I usually feel I have enough people in the league I know and Gregg (Polinsky, Pistons director of personnel and point man for the scouting department) knows that we can kind of figure out. But this one is wide open after that – and I don’t know what that says, though.”

Here are the foremost takeaways regarding Thursday’s draft from Stefanski’s 25-minute session with reporters on Monday.

  • Expect lots of trades on draft night. Atlanta and Boston have three No. 1 picks. New Orleans has the No. 4 pick – a result of the Anthony Davis trade to the Lakers – in addition to the top pick. San Antonio and Cleveland also have two No. 1 picks. Many of those picks could be in play.

    “I could see teams moving up and I could see teams moving back in this draft,” Stefanski said. “There could be volatility in this draft. I don’t think anyone has a real grasp of it. If you really love somebody, do you want to jump up there or go back and get some assets?”

  • Don’t expect the Pistons to get in on the trade fun. The Pistons don’t have the ammunition to move up nor the luxury of having a singular roster need. Moving back might make sense except for the fact they have 10 players under contract for next season – 11 if they pick up the option on Glenn Robinsin III’s deal – and won’t count on rookies to fill their need for a backup point guard, center or wing with enough size to guard bigger small forwards. Committing the extra roster spot to an extra choice picked up by moving back isn’t easy to accommodate.

  • Stefanski is prioritizing character, playmaking and shooting. That doesn’t mean he won’t take a big man, necessarily, but the draft board will be dictated by Stefanski’s valuation of shooting and playmaking – and of players you’d want in your bunker.

    “You can’t get enough shooters and you can’t get enough playmakers,” he said at one point in discussing the future of Svi Mykhailiuk.

    At another point, “We have decided – and we did a real nice job in the draft last year – to get good people, number one, hard-working people, people that are coachable, people that have some grit to them. … We have the type of player we want. We’ll live off of those intangibles and we feel that’s how we’re going to be successful here.”

  • Don’t pencil the No. 15 pick into the rotation.

    “I think that’s difficult, a rookie to jump in there,” Stefanski said. “That’s going to be up to coach Casey. Knowing Case – he’ll disagree with me – but if you don’t play defense, you’re not getting on the court. It’s going to be hard for a rookie to break in.”

    The reality of the type of player most likely to be in play for the Pistons – a one- or two-year college player, likely 19 or 20 – backs up Stefanski’s expectation. The exception, perhaps, is a player who worked out for the Pistons on Monday, Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke. At 22 – Clarke will turn 23 in September before playing his first NBA game – and physically mature, Clarke would be a candidate to back up Blake Griffin.

  • It’s absolutely possible that portrayals of some players as boom-or-bust candidates in media reports based on information gleaned from anonymous NBA personnel departments doesn’t jibe with Stefanski’s views. But if you’re trying to guess which player the Pistons might take, Stefanski doesn’t see the Pistons as being in position to take a gamble on someone who in two years could be on an All-Star track – but could be out of the league just as easily.

    “We can’t strike out,” he said. “That’s what I keep saying. We could take a swing for the fences and if we have to sit on the bench because we struck out, that’s not going to help our franchise. We’ve got to make nice, little moves that help us.”

  • This draft isn’t as deep as last year’s. Stefanski traded two future second-round picks to Philadelphia for the right to draft 38th last season. That was driven by three factors: Stefanski didn’t have much cap space and needed to replenish the roster on the wings; he believed in the quality of the draft in the 30s and 40s in 2018; and he was banking on the Pistons improving so that the two second-rounders he gives Philadelphia will be in the back half of the round where the success rate falls off dramatically.

    The Pistons got Brown at 42 and traded for Mykhailiuk, picked 47th by the Lakers. The Pistons think Thomas and Mykhailiuk could push for rotation spots in their second seasons, joining Brown. He’s not expecting to come away with that type of player with the 45th pick – but, then again, this draft more than most will be a “beauty in the eye of the beholder” type.

    “I don’t believe it’s as strong as last year,” Stefanski said.

  • Stefanski said there are eight players he expects to be absolutely gone before the Pistons pick.

    “I’m not saying they’re going to go in the top eight, but they shouldn’t be there at 15. After that, I don’t have a good feel.”

For what it’s worth, more than a month ago before the NBA draft combine I identified eight players I thought would be certainly unavailable: Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, R.J. Barrett, Darius Garland, Coby White, Jarrett Culver, De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish. I also listed Sekou Doumbouya and Jaxson Hayes as players unlikely to be available.

Good luck picking the next four to go before the Pistons go on the clock at 15. That’s what they’ll be debating today and Wednesday as Stefanski directs the process that sets the Pistons final draft board.

“It’ll be set by draft time, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “You don’t want to be in there arguing. The arguments will be done, hopefully, by Wednesday night.”

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