After winning just 29 games in 2013-14, the Pistons could have had a lottery pick in the deepest draft in recent memory if not for shortsighted dealings and a terrible stroke of luck.
In the summer of 2012, former Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars traded Ben Gordon, who was under contract for two more years, and a future first-round pick—top-eight protected in 2014—to the Charlotte Bobcats (now the Charlotte Hornets) for the final year of Corey Maggette’s contract.
Dumars then used that cap space last offseason to sign free-agent forward Josh Smith and execute a sign-and-trade deal for point guard Brandon Jennings. Despite improving the team’s talent level, the roster never clicked, and the Pistons finished with the eighth-worst record in the NBA. They entered the lottery with an 82.4 percent chance of keeping the pick, but they were leapfrogged by the Cleveland Cavaliers and lost the pick to Charlotte.
And just like that, new head coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy’s job got even more difficult.
A 29-win team typically can use help in a number of areas, and the Pistons are no exception. Andre Drummond is a franchise centerpiece in the middle, and either Josh Smith or Greg Monroe will start next to him at power forward. But beyond that, there is little certainty on the roster.
Jennings will be the starter again next season barring a major roster move, but with Rodney Stuckey’s expiring contract and Chauncey Billups’ possible retirement, the Pistons could easily look to add someone at the point.
They have even less depth at shooting guard, where Stuckey played the majority of his minutes last season. Their 2013 first-round pick, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, was supposed to fill this spot, but he was quite the disappointment offensively as a rookie. And Kyle Singler, the only other player who spent meaningful minutes at the 2, is a more natural fit at small forward.
While Singler is a valuable role player, he is not talented enough to start at a position played by the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Paul George. And while Smith started at small forward in 2013-14, his lack of shooting range really hurt the Pistons. Even if he and Monroe are both back this season, NBA.com’s Keith Langlois wrote that it will be rare that Smith plays much on the wing.
From everything [Van Gundy]’s said since taking over as Pistons president of basketball operations and coach three weeks ago, it’s not likely we’ll see much if any of Smith playing alongside both Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe in the future, assuming Monroe returns as a restricted free agent.
They can also use help defensively outside, as they were among the bottom 10 teams in opponent field-goal percentage from 15 to 19 feet, 20 to 24 feet and 25 to 29 feet, per NBA.com. And with so many needs, a player capable of filling in at multiple positions would be especially useful.
Players like Cleanthony Early (Wichita State), C.J. Wilcox (Washington) or K.J. McDaniels (Clemson) would all be great fits with Detroit, but they’re projected to be off the board at No. 38. Raw athletes like Damien Inglis (France) and Thanasis Antetokounmpo (Greece/NBDL) have intriguing potential, but they lack outside shots and won’t be ready to play right away.
Instead, there are some players who could realistically be available at No. 38, would address a need for the Pistons and would have a shot at making their rotation.
1. Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse
At the beginning of June, Syracuse small forward Jerami Grant looked to be a lock as a first-round pick. On June 4, ESPN’s Chad Ford (subscription required) wrote, “Grant’s range is from No. 16 to the Bulls to the Suns at No. 27.”
But after individual workouts led to questions about the kind of offensive player Grant can become, he’s now projected to fall all the way to No. 40 in Ford’s latest mock draft (subscription required).
Yes, Grant has been unable to prove that he can shoot the ball, and that’s exactly why Smith can no longer play small forward for the Pistons. And yes, he will be a bit of a project offensively. But unlike Inglis and Antetokounmpo, Grant was a difference-maker for a top collegiate team last year. And seldom does a team get the opportunity to draft a borderline lottery talent this late in the draft.
The son of former NBAer Harvey Grant, Jerami has elite physical tools and the potential to be a terror defensively right away. He’s 6’8″ and has a 7’3″ wing span, he has crazy hops, and his body fat percentage is just 3.75 percent.
Grant very well may be snatched up by another team anywhere after No. 25. But if he actually does drop this far, the Pistons need to take him as the most talented player available and worry about his fit down the road.
2. Spencer Dinwiddie, PG/SG, Colorado
If Van Gundy doesn’t expect to bring Stuckey back in free agency, Colorado combo guard Spencer Dinwiddie would provide some excellent flexibility on the perimeter for the Pistons.
The 6’6″ junior was widely projected as a first-round pick before tearing his ACL midway through the 2013-14 season. He may take a bit of time to regain his rhythm after the injury, but drafting Dinwiddie would again allow the Pistons to get first-round talent at No. 38.
Before the injury, he averaged 15 points, four assists and three rebounds per game while shooting 47 percent from the field and 41 percent from three. His range would help the Pistons immediately, and he could fit nicely next to both Jennings and Caldwell-Pople.
“Any team willing to endure a couple of months of rust as Dinwiddie works his way back will be rewarded with a combo guard big enough to defend both guard spots and a solid outside shooter,” ESPN’s Kevin Pelton wrote (subscription required).
Drafting Dinwiddie would give the Pistons a 25-and-younger guard trio, which would offer a lot of flexibility and could allow him to grow alongside their blossoming frontcourt.
3. Joe Harris, SG, Virginia
Instead of drafting a high-upside player, the Pistons could instead look to draft the best available shooter at No. 38. That very well could be Virginia shooting guard Joe Harris, who Ford currently projects them to take.
While he duplicates Caldwell-Pope’s position, and to some extent his skill set, Harris immediately would make the Pistons a more dangerous team from the outside. He shot at least 40 percent from beyond the arc in three of his four seasons at Virginia. Ford said (subscription required) that Harris would have been a first-round pick if he entered the draft after averaging 16 points on 43 percent shooting from three as a junior.
“He decided to return, and it hurt his draft stock a little,” Ford wrote. “Across the board, his numbers dipped this year. But Harris is still an intriguing prospect. He’s an amazing shooter, has good strength for his position and might be the best defender of the lot.”
At 6’6″ with an equal wingspan, Harris has good, but not great, length for a shooting guard. He and Caldwell-Pope may even be able to play alongside each other in the right matchups.
Drafting Harris would be the safest pick of the three, but it would also fill the biggest need for the Pistons. And without a first-round pick, there is more pressure than normal to find someone in Round 2 who can join the rotation as a rookie.
All statistics from NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
Jakub Rudnik covers the Detroit Pistons as a Featured Columnist for B/R.
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