Out of Reach

At No. 9, Pistons know 4 players for sure who won’t be available.

(Editor’s note: True Blue Pistons today starts a 14-part draft series leading to the June 28 draft with a look at the consensus top-four players – the only players certain to be gone before the Pistons pick at No. 9 in the first round. Coming Tuesday: A look at seven off-the-radar prospects for the No. 9 pick.)

Barring the improbability of a trade that vaults the Pistons from No. 9 into the top four of the June 28 draft, Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal will not be wearing their hat while striking a pose with David Stern on draft night.

It’s not quite as absolute that Robinson, Kidd-Gilchrist and Beal will be the next three players off the board after New Orleans makes Davis the No. 1 pick as it is that Davis, in fact, will be the No. 1 pick. It’s possible Andre Drummond goes as high as No. 2 to Charlotte. It’s possible Cleveland would take Drummond or Harrison Barnes at No. 4 if Kidd-Gilchrist and Beal go 2-3.

But it is unthinkable that any one of Robinson, Kidd-Gilchrist or Beal would slide all the way past Sacramento, Portland, Golden State and Toronto – teams holding picks 5 through 8 – to the Pistons.

That was the view going into last week’s NBA draft combine in Chicago and it was reinforced there when all three players helped themselves by measuring as well or better than anticipated. The only red flag on Robinson before Chicago was widespread skepticism that he was big enough to play power forward. But he checked in at just under 6-foot-9 with a whopping 7-foot-3 wing span, erasing all doubts. Kidd-Gilchrist might have been seen as similarly undersized at small forward and Beal at shooting guard until measuring 6-7½ and 6-4¾, respectively, with equally impressive wing spans.

Davis, of course, is the prize of this draft. At nearly 6-foot-11, he has the length and athleticism to be a dominant defender. Until his junior year of high school, Davis was a lightly regarded 6-foot-3 shooting guard. As rare as it is to experience such a pronounced and delayed growth spurt, it’s that much more unusual to experience it without forcing a prolonged adjustment period in coordination. But Davis still appears as light on his feet as the shooting guard he was just a few years ago.

If he gets no better offensively, Davis still has All-Star potential for his defense and scoring merely as an offensive rebounder and fast-break finisher. But many believe Davis has Kevin Garnett-like offensive potential as a face-up jump shooter.

It can’t hurt Davis’ shot to make an instant impact that he avoided going to Charlotte, which had the best chance at landing the No. 1 pick after its seven-win season. New Orleans, with veteran big man Emeka Okafor, a potential star in 24-year-old shooting guard Eric Gordon returning from injury and the No. 10 pick in the draft as well, provides a much better base of talent to surround Davis.

Charlotte is a prime candidate to trade out of the No. 2 spot, with Cleveland – which has four picks in the top 34 – among the likeliest trade partners. If Charlotte keeps the pick, most think it will come down to a choice of Robinson vs. Kidd-Gilchrist with Drummond a dark horse.

Robinson and Kidd-Gilchrist draw high marks across the board for their motor and competitiveness. As much as anything, that’s elevated them to top-four status. You won’t find many NBA talent evaluators who would risk their paycheck by insisting Robinson and Kidd-Gilchrist will be better players than anyone picked after them in five years. What makes them certain to go ahead of a half-dozen or so players with higher ceilings is that both appear virtually bust-proof.

Robinson, who within a month of his sophomore season lost his mother, grandmother and grandfather, flirted with entering the 2011 draft despite playing behind the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, who would be lottery picks a year ago. Despite his status at Kansas, many NBA scouts a year ago believed Robinson was the superior prospect. Given a greater role as a junior – more than doubling his minutes, to 32 – he proved them right, averaging 18 points and 12 boards while carrying the Jayhawks to the NCAA title game, where they would lose to Davis and Kentucky.

Kidd-Gilchrist – who, at 18 with a Sept. 28 birthday, is the youngest player in the draft – became the emotional lynchpin at Kentucky as a freshman, organizing early-morning workouts for teammates. Though not a polished offensive player, scouts see in him a ferocious defender who will be an elite two-way player in transition given his motor and athletic ability. Worst case, Kidd-Gilchrist projects to be a player similar to Gerald Wallace, for whom Brooklyn sent its lottery pick (No. 6) to Portland at the trade deadline.

If Kidd-Gilchrist gets past Charlotte (or its trade partner) at No. 2, Washington will be torn between him and Beal, who offers the shooting range the Wizards desperately need. Beal came out of high school in 2011 ranked behind Austin Rivers as the top guard prospect and didn’t shoot the ball as accurately as scouts anticipated he would as a Florida freshman. Yet it is their belief in his jump shot – compared to that of a young Ray Allen – coupled with his superb athleticism that has Beal so highly regarded. He’s often compared to Eric Gordon for his size, shooting range and athleticism.

Proof that Beal has strong assurances that he isn’t getting past Cleveland: He’s let it be known he won’t work out for any team picking outside the top four.

The Pistons, of course, have thick dossiers on all four players, just as they did on Brandon Knight even though there seemed only a remote chance he’d slide out of the top five a year ago at this time. But if they were surprised that Knight slipped to No. 8, they’d be stunned if Thomas Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Bradley Beal – never mind Anthony Davis – were available at No. 9 this time around.