Who was mystery man who didn’t work out for Pistons? Here’s a guess

Gonzaga’s Zach Collins was perhaps the highest-ranking player not considered a consensus top 10 pick who did not work out for the Pistons.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower didn’t leave many bread crumbs for Pistons fans to follow at Tuesday’s media session in advance of Thursday’s NBA draft, but there was at least one tiny nugget that might have made your ears perk up.

“We were able to get all but one in,” Van Gundy said when I asked if there was any player in the tier from which the Pistons expect to draft that they weren’t able to persuade to come to Auburn Hills for a draft workout.

My immediate thought was Zach Collins. The Pistons, picking 12th, didn’t have one from among the consensus top 10 of Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox, Jonathan Isaac, Dennis Smith, Lauri Markkanen, Malik Monk and Frank Ntilikina visit.

But they were able to get pretty much every other projected or potential lottery pick: Luke Kennard, Donovan Mitchell, Harry Giles, Justin Patton, John Collins, Jarrett Allen, Bam Adebayo, Ike Anigbogu and Tony Bradley all worked out for the Pistons. Ivan Rabb visisted but didn’t work out due to injury.

Zach Collins was the exception, probably because his camp expects to be gone before the 12th pick. But, yeah, Collins was my immediate thought when Van Gundy said “all but one” of those in the tier from which the Pistons expect to pick visited them.

But then he continued: “The one guy we didn’t get in is a guy that maybe isn’t rated as highly by what you read in the mock drafts that we think is in the mix at 12. I don’t know if he and his agent didn’t buy it or what, but we didn’t get him in and we didn’t get in any of the guys who were ahead of us.”

Zach Collins doesn’t really fit the description of a guy “that maybe isn’t rated as highly by what you read in the mock drafts.” Most mock drafts have had Collins going just ahead of the Pistons for several weeks. A few have him available to the Pistons. No one would be surprised by Collins going 10th or 11th. That doesn’t sound like the guy Van Gundy was describing.

So who’s the mystery man who turned down the Pistons?

My best guess: T.J. Leaf. I can see why Van Gundy would be attracted to Leaf – certainly why the Pistons would want to get him in for a workout – because he’s a gifted shooter and scorer.

I can also see why Leaf’s agent would be hesitant to send his client to a team that spent its No. 1 pick a year ago on Henry Ellenson, who sat behind Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer as a rookie. Leaf is a power forward and probably only a power forward. Ellenson probably can play some center down the road, but he’s primarily a power forward, too.

The other player consistently considered a likely lottery prospect who didn’t visit the Pistons is O.G. Anunoby. But his absence is more easily explained by his rehabilitation from January ACL surgery that prevents him from working out for anybody.

If there’s another guess, I suppose Terrence Ferguson is a possibility. There was a report Ferguson canceled workouts with the Pistons among a group of teams. Leaf seems the more likely candidate than Ferguson, who skipped his freshman season at Arizona in favor of a pro year in Australia, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Pistons wanted to have him in for a look.

I just question whether Ferguson would have really been in the same draft tier as Kennard or Mitchell. As for Zach Collins, the way Van Gundy spoke might make you believe the Pistons had him ranked in the tier above where they expect to have him available. If that’s the case, it then follows that the Pistons would draft him if he were available.

Van Gundy: “We’ve got a group of people that we think are ahead of us but that if they slid, we would take.”

One more thought: Tuesday’s trade that sent Dwight Howard to Charlotte could help the Pistons if, in fact, they value Zach Collins highly and would draft him if he’s the only available player they have grouped in a tier above their expected ability to land him.

If Charlotte also has Zach Collins ranked in a range appropriate with their draft position – 11th, one spot ahead of the Pistons – but has other players in the same tier, then adding Howard to a stable of big men that includes Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky might be duplicative. That’s more true if the Hornets like Donovan Mitchell or Luke Kennard equally, given that they also have a hole to fill at shooting guard off the bench since the Howard trade included sending Marco Belinelli to Atlanta.

Then again, today could include another series of events that tips the scales in another direction.