Draft Preview: Bigs at 37

Arizona frosh’s 3-point shot could make him a stretch four steal

(Editor’s note: Fifteenth in a recurring series leading to Thursday’s draft. Coming Monday: A look at perimeter options with the 56th pick.)

One of the biggest head scratchers to college basketball fans when the list of NBA early entrants came out in mid-April was Grant Jerrett. He played 18 minutes a game as a freshman and didn’t exactly tear up the Pac-12 Conference, averaging 5.2 points and 3.6 rebounds a game.

Many speculated the real reason Jerrett made the surprising decision to leave Arizona after a less than spectacular debut was concern that his role would be further reduced next season, when ballyhooed McDonald’s All-American Aaron Gordon – already a projected top-five pick in a top-heavy 2014 draft – arrives on campus. That will further crowd a frontcourt that also includes Jerrett’s classmates, NBA prospects Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley.

Jerrett denied that pushed him to the NBA prematurely while at the NBA draft combine in May.

“It was a goal, a dream,” he said. “I feel like it was a good time for me to go. I enjoyed (Arizona). Honestly, it’s hard to say anything bad about it. It just felt like if I wanted to make my dream, my goal, it was better to leave now.”

Jerrett comes to the NBA as a raw prospect with one overriding niche appeal: He’s the prototypical modern “stretch four,” a player who projects as a floor-stretching power forward with a unique shooting touch. Jerrett embraces the science of shooting, talking about the proper release point and how to grip the basketball when queried. Even if he struggled with other elements of the transition from high school to major college basketball, Jerrett’s 3-pointer never wavered; he hit 40 percent as an Arizona freshman.

The Pistons have Charlie Villanueva in that role now, but he’s entering the final year of his contract. Jerrett wouldn’t very likely be ready to help an NBA team as a rookie – he turns 20 in July – but perhaps, after working on his body and a D-League stint or two, he’d be prepared to challenge for a rotation spot in his second season. With Andre Drummond entrenched as Detroit’s center for the next generation, they hope, and Greg Monroe alongside him at power forward, it makes sense that a power forward who fits Jerrett’s profile would be on the long-term shopping list, especially given the value the Pistons discovered during Drummond’s rookie season of surrounding him with shooting.

“It went well,” Jerrett said of his interview with the Pistons while in Chicago. “They were good people, easy to talk to. They brought up good questions and I feel like it went well – my strengths and weaknesses, what I need to work on, why I left now, how I’d benefit them.”

If the Pistons are looking for more immediate help at that spot, there are a number of four-year college seniors who might fit the bill. Florida’s Erik Murphy, Duke’s Ryan Kelly, Arizona’s Solomon Hill, Illinois State’s Jackie Carmichael, Bucknell’s Mike Muscala or Miami’s Kenny Kadji all come to the NBA as mature athletes, with the first two fitting the stretch four description.

Kelly missed 13 games over January and February with a foot injury that required surgery in April and will cost him a chunk of his summer. When he returned for a March 2 win over then-No. 5 Miami, Kelly put on a show that trumpeted his NBA potential, dropping 7 of 9 3-pointers on his way to a career-best 36 points. He hit 42 percent of his shots from the arc as a senior.

At 6-foot-11¾, Kelly projects as a classic stretch four who’ll have to convince some front office that he’ll be able to hold his own defensively and on the boards to be considered more than that. His recovery from surgery will make it tough for him to do anything to change the minds of those who watched him average just 5.3 rebounds in 29 minutes a game as a Duke senior. He did block 1.6 shots per game last season, a hopeful indication that Kelly will be more than a one-dimensional role player.

Murphy checks in a few inches shorter than Kelly at 6-foot-9½ but perhaps as an even more impressive 3-point threat, dropping 44 percent as a Florida senior, taking half of his shots from that side of the arc. Murphy, son of ex-Boston College star Jay Murphy, spent four years in Gainesville reshaping his body, weighing in at a solid 240 pounds at the Chicago combine.

Like Kelly, he’ll get drafted for his floor-stretching possibilities. But he’s solid enough defensively, or so it appears, that Murphy has a chance to crack a rotation and be more than a 3-point specialist. He evolved into that at Florida to satisfy the demands of Billy Donovan’s offense, but he’s shown the makings of a post game, as well.

Hill played small forward for Arizona last season with the influx of Jerrett, Ashley and Tarczewski and, in fact, might end up playing either spot in the NBA. It’s his versatility that will get the 6-foot-7 Hill drafted, in fact. There don’t appear to be any significant holes in Hill’s game as he’s comfortable playing near the basket or on the perimeter and guarding multiple positions.

Carmichael, Muscala and Kadji are all more traditional big men who’ll spend the bulk of their careers guarding around the paint, but they bring distinctly different skill sets to the NBA.

Muscala is the most gifted offensively, averaging 18.9 points and 11.3 rebounds for Bucknell. The question scouts will wonder about is how that extraordinary production will translate from the Patriot League to the NBA. One of Muscala’s best games as a senior, though, came against Missouri, where he scored 25 points with 14 rebounds. On the other end, he bowed out in a first-round NCAA tournament loss to Butler in which Muscala was held to nine points on 4 of 17 shooting.

Muscala has a chance to go late in the first round or early in the second, before the Pistons are up at 37. He’d represent strong value at that spot. The question the Pistons would have to ask themselves is if they see Muscala as being able to play at the same time as Drummond when Greg Monroe goes to the bench. Muscala did most of his scoring near the rim at Bucknell, but scouts say he looked comfortable when given the chance to face the basket, too.

Carmichael will come to the NBA as one of the most physically mature big men, checking in at 6-foot-9 and a thickly muscled 241 pounds (5.8 percent body fat) at the combine. Physically, he resembles a young David West, and if he can polish his mid-range jump shot that’s the type of role the team that drafts him would hope he could fill. Carmichael, like Muscala, put up big numbers (17.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.1 blocks) at the mid-major level.

Kadji averaged 12.9 points and 6.8 rebounds a game during Miami’s surprising season as ACC champions. Built similarly to Carmichael at 6-foot-10, 242 pounds, the Cameroonian native, already 25, spent two seasons at Florida and sat out as a transfer before finishing up with two seasons at Miami. While Kadji isn’t likely to be considered a stretch four in the mold of Jerrett or Murphy, he did hit 41 and 35 percent from the arc in his two seasons at Miami and shot nearly four per game as a senior. He’s able to score in other ways, though, and Kadji has the size, frame and tenacity to override any concern about his ability to guard NBA big men.

An international player, 19-year-old Livio Jean-Charles, is another possibility in this range for the Pistons. He emerged as a strong 2013 draft candidate with his performance in April at the Nike Hoop Summit, where Jean-Charles led the international team with 27 points and 13 rebounds. If the Pistons are looking to draft a player and allow him to develop overseas for a season or two – a scenario perhaps more likely for their other second-round pick, 56 – Jean-Charles would be a logical candidate.