(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 and Svi Mykhailiuk. Next up: Louis King.)
By Keith Langlois
The roster Ed Stefanski inherited nearly two years ago when Pistons owner Tom Gores picked him to head up the team’s front office had one glaring weakness: a paucity of wings with the necessary mix of size and athleticism for the NBA’s evolution.
Without a first-round draft pick that first off-season, Stefanski could only do so much, adding Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas after supplementing his own second-round pick with a trade to net another.
Last summer, Stefanski put that quest into overdrive, nabbing three players on draft night with some combination of size, shooting and athleticism to man the wing positions. Sekou Doumbouya came in the first round, a player the Pistons clearly valued well above the 15th pick where they landed him. In the second round, they took another European teen, Deividas Sirvydis of Lithuania.
And when the draft ended and Louis King had somehow gone unclaimed, the Pistons wasted no time agreeing to a two-way contract with him before the sun rose. Here’s a look at King and how he might fit into their future.
PAST – King was highly recruited out of New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan at Hudson Catholic, ranked the No. 20 player in the class of 2018 in a composite of the top recruiting services. He signed with Oregon over offers from Kansas, Syracuse, Louisville and a host of other national powers.
In his lone season at Oregon, King led the Ducks in scoring (13.5) and rebounding (5.5) among players who played in more than 10 games. (Bol Bol averaged 21 points and 9.6 rebounds in nine early-season games before a season-ending foot injury.)
He ended his season on an upswing, too, averaging 16.4 points and hitting 55 percent of his 3-point shots over seven tournament games – four Pac-12, three NCAA. The Ducks lost in the Sweet 16 to eventual national champion Virginia, a game in which King scored 16 points.
King attended the NBA draft combine and days later began his round of individual workouts for teams by visiting the Pistons on May 20. He’d already made the decision, he said, to remain in the draft.
“I’m expected to be drafted 10 to 20,” King said that day.
PRESENT – King felt a comfort level with the Pistons based on a few things, including the strong relationship Stefanski had with his agent, Sean Kennedy, and a quick look at the depth chart on the wings. A number of teams, King said, called as the draft unfolded and just as it ended, attempting to put him in their pipeline.
King’s early optimism to go somewhere in the middle of the first round seemed unlikely by the time the June 20 draft rolled around, but there was still an expectation that he’d be drafted in the 30s. At Summer League in Las Vegas, King said the reason he’d heard for going undrafted was, “just maybe some immaturity, they were saying. Probably the intel that was coming back. Probably they didn’t want to take a risk on me, but that’s cool. Just making me a better person. Time to wake up.”
King flashed the familiar skills that made him such an intriguing prospect during Summer League, but didn’t string together a series of positive impressions. The Pistons saw big strides over the rest of the summer and into training camp, though, and Dwane Casey would occasionally throw in unsolicited praise for King’s improvement during his daily media scrums.
In 29 minutes a game over 31 games with the Grand Rapids Drive, the Pistons G League affiliate, King averaged 15.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting 34 percent from the 3-point arc on 4.5 attempts a game. In 62 minutes spread over 10 NBA games, King hit 4 of 11 3-point attempts.
FUTURE – With King set to become a restricted free agent, the Pistons will have a decision to make on his future whenever the off-season arrives for a season interrupted by the suspension of play amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The upside with King is considerable given his length, ball skills and shooting potential. If King hits his marks and continues on the physical and emotional maturity path, you don’t have to squint too hard to see a Khris Middleton play-alike. When Middleton came out of Texas A&M after three seasons, he measured 6-foot-8¼ and 215 pounds with a 6-foot-10¾ wingspan in 2012. At the 2019 combine after his one season at Oregon, King’s numbers were 6-foot-8 and 195 pounds with a 7-foot-0¼ wingspan.
Strength is the first area that King needs to address. At that same combine, King was one of just three players to test in the bench press who couldn’t do a single repetition at 185 pounds. But King had just one season in a college weight program and turns only 21 next week.
An improved handle will help King further expand his game on offense, but the potential to be more than a straight-line driver is there. The 3-point shot needs consistency, but the stuff to become a 40 percent 3-point shooter is there. The length gives King an added dimension at both ends.
Here’s what Pistons personnel director Gregg Polinsky said about King last summer: “We valued Louis. The scouts, the organization did a great job of digging in, getting information. Every kid’s different. He’s a kid that we think it was worth going in and having be part of our program. It’s hard to find wings with size that have a skill level. Louis knows there’s a lot of work ahead. He came back from some injuries. So why nobody picked him? I can’t answer for the league, but we’re really happy to have him.”
King showed enough in his G League experience to justify that evaluation. With significantly more wing depth and young prospects in the pipeline now than when Stefanski arrived, the Pistons must determine where King fits in the picture for 2020-21 and beyond.