On the Hunt

Draft combine interviews to point Pistons in right direction

Instead of nearly six weeks between the lottery and the draft, this week there are four. The change won’t unduly strain NBA teams, but it does change their timelines. Things turn up a notch this week with the Chicago draft combine, where the Pistons will watch the athletic testing and measurements with interest but be intensely focused on interviewing candidates for the No. 9 pick.

While the Pistons would be thrilled to come away with a player they’ll view a year from now as being as integral to their future as Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, that’s more the expectation than the hope. They believed last spring, when a handful of near-certain 2011 lottery picks opted against entering that draft, that the 2012 draft would be deeper and at least as likely to spew out game changers as 2011 or ’10 did.

It’s likely that there will be at least one player left at No. 9 who would fit from athletic, skills, character and temperament standpoints. A huge component of determining the identity of that prospect comes during those interviews in Chicago later this week.

Ideally, the player the Pistons pick in the lottery will be a guy that they believe will be capable of winning the starting frontcourt spot next to Monroe on merit. That’s the strength of the draft and that fits the Pistons’ needs. They’d like to get longer and more athletic in the frontcourt.

And that’s where it gets tricky.

Of the seven players I identified last week as likely candidates at No. 9, there are several who would make the Pistons longer and more athletic. They’re also the ones that come with the boldest warning labels. Players like Perry Jones III and Meyers Leonard simply didn’t have the production to match their size and athleticism as two-year college players. John Henson and Arnett Moultrie were more productive, yet also stir questions, Henson for his lack of bulk, Moultrie for the late-season collapse at Mississippi State.

It will be the task of Joe Dumars, Lawrence Frank and their staffs to peel back the layers and find the ideal fit – the player who is most likely to realize his potential, the one who most ideally complements Monroe and the one who best fits the profile of what Frank expects his players to be.

Chicago will give them a pretty big piece of the puzzle. If you happened to attend the “State of the Pistons” presentation at The Palace last month or catch it on FS Detroit, you saw owner Tom Gores, Joe D and Frank all talk at length about Pistons core values. They aren’t merely paying lip service to their implementation, either. Things got a little sideways for the Pistons as they grappled with considerable transition-of-ownership fallout, but Dumars and Frank conducted an amazingly thorough extermination job in short order over the last 12 months since Gores assumed the reins.

My guess is the Pistons are going to have an easier time getting all of the potential No. 9 draft candidates in to Auburn Hills to work out before the draft. Remember, neither Monroe nor Knight worked out for the Pistons; their agents simply didn’t believe those players would fall to 7 and 8, as happened. This time, after the consensus top four of Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal, it’s all over the map. The most credible draft assessors wouldn’t register any surprise if all of the seven candidates I’ve spelled out were available after eight picks.

If I was required to add a fifth name to the “won’t be there” list, it would be Andre Drummond. The question marks on him come in flashing neon, but six months ago he was considered nearly as likely as Davis to be the No. 1 pick. He hasn’t gotten any smaller or less freakishly athletic since then. Chances are excellent he’ll dazzle somebody ahead of the Pistons and be off the board, but if his stock is still uncertain as June 28 nears, his side might be more open to granting late workout requests to teams picking in the back half of the lottery, like the Pistons.

And that would make the draft that much trickier for the Pistons.

We’ll be in Chicago later this week to talk to not only candidates at No. 9, but for the Pistons’ two second-round picks, 39 and 44, as well. Next week, we’ll start daily draft preview coverage running up to the June 28 draft.