Futures market: Pistons go back to the well to find blue-collar big man Donta Hall

Donta Hall
Donta Hall’s second 10-day contract with the Pistons was about to expire when the NBA season was suspended March 11.
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

(EDITOR’S NOTE: During the suspension of the NBA’s season due to COVID-19, Pistons.com is looking at nine young players who either filled larger roles than anticipated or got their first NBA exposure this year, all of it as a result of the wave of injuries that struck the Pistons and led to an organizational decision to rebuild. So far we’ve examined Bruce Brown, Jordan Bone, Sekou Doumbouya, Svi Mykhailiuk, Louis King, Christian Wood and Khyri Thomas. Next up: Donta Hall.)

In every respect but the absence of a 3-point threat, Ben Wallace would be a fit for the modern NBA center: rebound, run the floor, smother pick-and-roll attacks, set teeth-rattling screens, dissuade penetration and protect the rim, quarterback the defense, pass out of the post to cutters and open 3-point shooters, find space and make yourself available for lobs at the rim. Most of those things he did better than the next guy and some of them he did at levels rarely seen.

A generation later, the Pistons might have found a reasonable facsimile of Wallace – not the finished product at the heart of the Goin’ to Work Pistons, but the raw prospect signed by the Boston Celtics for a Summer League tryout – in Donta Hall. The similarities don’t end there. They grew up in small towns about 60 miles apart in Alabama and went undrafted after four years in college.

Here’s a look at Hall and how he might fit into the future for a Pistons franchise entering a rebuilding phase.

PAST – Hall put up huge numbers at Luverne High School: 22.6 points, 18.1 rebounds and 12 blocked shots a game as a senior, voted the Alabama Player of the Year in his division, 2A.

Hall committed to Alabama at the end of his junior season over offers from Mississippi State and Georgia. His signing ceremony in November 2014 was conducted at the spot in the bleachers where his father, Donald, died of a heart attack while watching Hall play in a junior varsity game as an eighth-grader. Donald Hall was 45 and a diehard Crimson Tide fan, a prominent reason cited by Hall for choosing Alabama.

He became a rotation fixture as a freshman before starting 20 games as a sophomore and emerging as a full-time starter in his final two seasons for the Crimson Tide. As a senior, Hall averaged 10.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots per game. He was named to the SEC All-Defense first team.

Hall played in the Portsmouth Invitation Tournament last April, an event that’s evolved to become a chance for players considered unlikely to be drafted to make their case. He was not invited to the NBA draft combine last spring. Hall worked out for the Pistons on June 14, six days before the draft.

When he went undrafted, Hall quickly accepted an invitation to join the Pistons during Summer League. In five games, Hall averaged 6.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots in 17 minutes a game off the bench. After Summer League, Hall was signed to an Exhibit 10 contract that meant an invitation to Pistons training camp and an assignment to their G League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Drive.

PRESENT – Hall played the bulk of his season with the Drive, serving as the team’s starting center. In 38 games, Hall averaged 15.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots in 28.6 minutes a game. Hall was named a Gatorade Mid-Season G League All-Star.

Along the way, he met the part owner of the Drive, a guy who grew up an hour away from Luverne in White Hall – Ben Wallace. More than their geographical roots resonated with Hall.

“He was talking to me about a lot of small stuff, like growing up and coming to a place, being undrafted. Stuff like that. Just working and grinding. Ever since then, I’ve pushed myself even harder to get to where I’m at today.”

Hall was signed to a 10-day contract by the Pistons on Feb. 22. He got the news after a 22-point, 19-rebound, three-block performance to lead a Feb. 21 Drive win. After a few hours of sleep, Hall drove across Michigan to join the Pistons at Metro Airport for a cross-country flight to Portland to open a four-game road trip.

Hall made his NBA debut three days later, posting four points and four rebounds in 15 minutes of a loss at Denver. Hall was signed to a second 10-day contract after the road trip concluded. In four games, Hall totaled six points, 15 rebounds and a blocked shot in 48 minutes.

Hall’s second 10-day contract was about to expire when the NBA season was suspended minutes after the Pistons lost at Philadelphia on March 11.

FUTURE – Would the Pistons have signed Hall for the remainder of the season had it not been suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic? Will they if and when the 2019-20 season resumes?

Given their proven interest in Hall – bringing him in for a workout six days before the draft, immediately locking him up for the Summer League roster after going undrafted, inking him to an Exhibit 10 contract after Summer League, offering the maximum allowable two 10-day contracts – it seems likely that Hall and the Pistons will take at least the next step into the future together.

Hall needs to add strength, but he’s got springy legs, soft hands and quick feet. He displayed elite offensive rebounding instincts in the G League, averaging 5.2 per 36 minutes. (Comparatively, Andre Drummond – the dominant offensive rebounder of his generation – averaged 4.9 per 36 minutes with the Pistons before his February trade to Cleveland.) He has the instincts to become a top-rate shot blocker.

The stuff to be a prototypical NBA big man – and especially a backup big man – are all there with Hall.

“Not a shooter, but a rim runner, shot blocker, rim protector,” Dwane Casey said of Hall. “One thing he gave us (in Summer League last summer) was his energy. That’s something with us he can do – protect the rim, run the floor and just be a modern-day five man. Roll, catch it, make a play out of it.”

The Pistons caught lightning in a bottle and won their third NBA title with an undrafted center from rural Alabama at the heart of it once. It’s worth carrying the parallels with Donta Hall out a little farther to see where it can take them a second time.

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