(Editor’s note: Today continues a series looking at the 17 players – 15 under standard contracts, two on two-way deals – who comprise the 2019-20 Pistons roster heading into the home stretch of the off-season. Today: Jordan Bone. Coming Wednesday: Derrick Rose.)
When the Pistons drafted Amir Johnson with the 56th pick in 2005 – the last high school player drafted before the NBA changed eligibility rules – there was a 50-50 shot he was going to be taken late in the first round.
The Pistons knew of a team drafting in the 20s that coveted Johnson but felt, ultimately, they couldn’t afford to add a teenager in the first round at that point in time. They took an experienced college player instead – one whose NBA career lasted 800 fewer games and counting than Johnson’s.
That’s a useful tale to describe how it was that the Pistons 14 years later wound up drafting Jordan Bone with the 57th pick. It doesn’t mean the consensus of NBA teams is that there were 56 better players drafted. It could well mean that there were many teams just like that one in 2005 that was bullish on Bone’s NBA future but felt at their turn on the clock there were others available that better suited them for any number of reasons.
Scouting isn’t an exact science. Aside from the rare generational talents that are unanimously acclaimed as impact players – and invariably drafted first, maybe second – there is little separating the field most years. It’s why every year produces players taken in the lottery who leave little footprint and those drafted late – or not at all – who go on to lengthy and productive careers.
The Pistons are betting that Bone beats the odds.
Pistons director of player personnel Gregg Polinsky said last month that they had Bone rated a first-round pick. So rather than sit out the draft after taking European teens Sekou Doumbouya and Deividas Sirvydis and hoping to successfully woo Bone as an undrafted free agent if it came to that, they traded a 2024 second-round pick – Miami’s, picked up among four second-rounders from Cleveland in exchange for the 30th pick – to Philadelphia to ensure Bone’s rights.
He signed a two-way contract for next season, meaning he’ll spend the bulk of it playing for the Grand Rapids Drive running Dwane Casey’s playbook, with the idea that he’ll be a bigger part of the puzzle at point guard for the Pistons beyond that.
Casey’s practice is to present his players with a three-item card with their core values to the team before training camp starts. In keeping with that protocol but with a twist, we’ll look at the three goals for each player on the roster heading into the 2019-20 Pistons season. For Jordan Bone, those are …
HARNESS YOUR ATHLETICISM – When Bone visited the Pistons one week before the June 20 draft, he talked about his transition from the deliberate half-court offense he quarterbacked at Tennessee to what he would be expected to direct in the NBA and how it would play to his elite athleticism. And, yes, “elite” is thrown around recklessly sometimes, but it full on applies to Bone. Bone said there was much he was capable of that he wasn’t called on to employ at Tennessee. Check out his dazzling speed, agility and jumping numbers as tested at the NBA draft combine in May. There isn’t usually a decisive “best athlete at the combine” winner most years; Bone finished first in three tested categories (lane agility, shuttle run, standing vertical), second in another (maximum vertical) and fourth in a fifth (sprint, four one-hundredths of a second off of first), easily claiming that title this time around. The Pistons signed both Derrick Rose and Tim Frazier in free agency to go with Reggie Jackson, giving them the luxury of not relying on Bone this season. The two-way contract limits him to 45 days with the Pistons during the G League calendar – that means training camp, early in the season and in April when the G League season concludes won’t count against the 45-day cap. He’ll log 30-plus minutes a night with the Grand Rapids Drive, acclimating to the pace and style Casey demands.
MASTER THE SHOT SPECTRUM – Casey’s devotion to an analytical shot chart will take some adjustment for Bone, who showed in Summer League that his instinct is to use his speed and quickness to crack the first line of defense and pull up for a mid-range jump shot. He’s good at it, too, so Casey will be flexible enough to allow Bone to keep it a part of his arsenal. But Bone showed at Tennessee, where he shot 35 percent from the 3-pont arc for his career, and during Summer League – he had to sit out the first week until the moratorium period lifted and the backlog of draft-day trades could be finalized – that he figures to grow into a plus 3-point shooter. The other shot Casey will encourage Bone to seek more assertively will be layups – using that speed to continue to the rim and attack before help-side defense can arrive.
LEAD THE DRIVE – For all of Bone’s athleticism and scoring potential, they valued him at Tennessee for his selflessness and leadership every bit as much. He’ll be thrust into a potentially awkward spot for the Drive as their point guard who sometimes is away to intern with the parent team, so winning the respect of his teammates there will test Bone’s leadership skills. Other G League point guards – and it’s very much a guard’s league, many of them with years of pro experience on Bone – will look to win their battles with the guy on a two-way contract. None of that will be easy for Bone, but it figures to be a great way to bend the arc of his learning curve. There will be ups and downs for him, but if Bone winds up showing steady progress and ultimately thriving in the G League, the Pistons are going to feel pretty good about Bone being part of the puzzle for point guard going forward.