What’s a realistic best-case scenario for Pistons drafting at 42?

Memphis rookie Dillon Brooks was picked 45th last year and averaged 29 minutes a game for the Grizzlies as a rookie.
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – Barring the defiance of the 97 percent odds against the Pistons keeping their first-round pick in the June 21 draft, they’ll be picking only once and only after 41 other players have come off the board.

History tells us you can’t afford to get picky in that instance. Take your depth chart, crumple it into a neat little ball and toss it in the dumpster. A good draft might yield three players taken 42 or later who amount to much over the course of an NBA career.

Dillon Brooks went 45th to Memphis in last year’s draft and that’s about it, so far, for any impact from players picked 42 down. The fact the Grizzlies won 22 games made it easy to justify giving Brooks 29 minutes a game. It remains to be seen how his career will unfold, but at least he’s off to a good start.

Dillon Brooks is the realistic best-case scenario for the Pistons on June 21. Inevitably, you’ll read over the next month that Manu Ginobili was a late second-round pick (57th) in 1999 and that Isaiah Thomas was the 60th and final pick in 2011. The Pistons landed Amir Johnson with the 56th pick in 2005.

All of those cases are extreme outliers: The international market was scantly scouted, relatively speaking, back then, in Ginobili’s case; Thomas is the one in a thousand players of his size who makes it; and Johnson was in the last class of high school players, the ultimate in speculative dealing, to come straight to the NBA.

So, Dillon Brooks, in 2018, is the realistic optimum pick at 42.

Thomas Bryant was last year’s 42nd pick, followed by Isiaiah Hartenstein, Damyean Dotson, Brooks, Sterling Brown, Ike Anigbogu, Sindarius Thornwell, Vlatko Cancar and Matthias Lesort. Brown played in 54 games, starting four, for a playoff team, Milwaukee. Thornwell played in 73, starting 17, for the Clippers.

So the odds don’t favor the Pistons landing immediate help, but in a perfect world they’d find somebody like Brooks – meaning someone with enough college experience to be a viable candidate to fill a need as a rookie. And the need for the Pistons, as it stands before any trades or free-agency forays are made, comes at small forward.

They’ll have Andre Drummond and Eric Moreland back at center. Blake Griffin, Jon Leuer and Henry Ellenson are all under contract at power forward with all three capable of providing minutes at center, as well. At shooting guard, the Pistons have Reggie Bullock, Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway. At point guard, there’s Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith and Dwight Buycks.

Bullock and Kennard can swing to small forward and, indeed, it’s likely they’ll play as a tandem on the wings for stretches in most games next season. But neither can be expected to guard more physical small forwards. There aren’t any quite like LeBron James, but Stanley Johnson is the only player under contract for next season you’d feel comfortable checking him with James Ennis headed for free agency.

The likelier path to plugging that hole is trade or free agency, but landing a small forward in the draft would give them depth and options.

But, again, at 42 the overwhelming priority is to draft a player you think has the best chance to have a long and meaningful NBA career. So on Monday, I’ll make the case for drafting that player at any position.