Zach Lofton has already beaten the odds – how far can he go with the Pistons?
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AUBURN HILLS – Zach Lofton lends new meaning to the term “one and done.”
He’s hoping to drop anchor in the NBA, preferably with the Pistons, after breezing through five college campuses over the course of a star-crossed college career.
Lofton, 26, is a Minnesota native who began his college career at San Jacinto College, a Houston-area community college. He spent one season at Illinois State, transferred to Minnesota and was dismissed before playing a game, then on to Texas Southern for his junior season while being named conference Player of the Year and finally – last season – to New Mexico State, where he averaged 20 points a game.
He went to Summer League with the Pistons and immediately made an impression for his ability to score and, beyond that, to create his own shot – an increasingly coveted trait in a heavily scouted league where improvisational ability is a trump card.
“He’s a big-time scorer,” Dwane Casey says of Lofton, who’s already beat the odds for a training camp invitee by playing in all three Pistons preseason games so far and for more than a cup of coffee. He’s averaged 5.7 points in nine minutes a game, shot efficiently and not yet committed a turnover.
“Zach has been a big-time scorer and has done a good job on and off the floor,” Casey said. “He’s done an excellent job of scoring and you need that. We need those scorers. You need that when you’re playing in ‘random’ the way we’re playing and drive-kick-swing situations. He can create his own shot as well as anyone.”
With his checkered past, Lofton needed to prove his intent before even getting this far. Teams look askance at prospects with a resume like Lofton’s. He gets it – now – citing immaturity as his exorcised demon.
“I’m just growing up and learning more and more,” he said. “Listening to the people around me. When you point the finger all the time, it’s four fingers pointing back at you. I feel like I had to look in the mirror and say, ‘OK, Zach, it might be you. It might be a little bit of you.’ So I just take ownership of that and I actually started listening to the people that want to help me because there have been people that want to help me my whole life.”
He’s finding those people all around him with the Pistons – in the front office that expressed the faith to sign him, the coaching staff that’s worked with him all summer and teammates that have been drawn to his infectious personality.
“They look out for me,” he said of the veterans around him, ticking off a few names – Andre Drummond, Glenn Robinson III, Stanley Johnson. “They talk to me, make sure I’m doing the right things. They know I’m new, they know my story and I love it.”
Lofton, a 6-foot-4 wing player, is in a tough spot with the Pistons full at 15 guaranteed contracts and both of their allotted slots for two-way contracts occupied by Reggie Hearn and Keenan Evans. But it’s clear that Casey is taking a long look at him, which can only mean Ed Stefanski’s front office is weighing moves. The likeliest path to a future with the Pistons for Lofton is to add him to a two-way contract at the expense of someone else.
“You want to see what you have in Zach,” Casey said by way of explaining why Lofton has played more than second-round pick Khyri Thomas, whose rights the Pistons control. “We have Khyri three more years. I don’t want to take anything away from Khyri because he’s played well, also.”
While Lofton’s scoring and quick trigger on his shot are his carrying tools, Casey has seen more to him.
“What I’m impressed with is his defense at the other end,” he said. “Also his passing. He made some excellent passes in the San Antonio game, the right pass. The young man’s been impressive so far.”
Lofton is doing his utmost to not look ahead, to stay in the moment and squeeze every ounce from the opportunity he’s been allowed. Is he surprised that he’s already beaten the odds for a camp invitee?
“I would say yes and no,” he said. “I say no because I feel I’ve worked for it. I say yes because this is my first time doing this stuff, you know what I mean? It’s the NBA, so – humbly – I say I’m glad I’m getting the minutes because I have worked hard. I’m glad coach Casey has given me this opportunity, the whole staff. This is the opportunity of a lifetime so I’m just taking it all in.”