CHICAGO – The way the lottery shook out reverberated from New York to Los Angeles – and certainly to New Orleans and Memphis – but not much of what happened in Tuesday’s lottery figures to affect the Pistons and their pick at 15 all that much.
The Pistons have essentially relocated basketball operations to Chicago for the week, first for the G League elite camp – where 80 players, equally divided between G League holdovers and college players not invited to the draft combine – and then morphing into the combine to end the week.
While draft preparation is a years-long process of information gathering – it starts with elite age-group competitions when players are 15 or younger – the ranking and sorting shifts into overdrive from the combine to the draft. That’s a period of 35 days from today.
As it stands now, it appears there are eight players who’ll be virtual locks to be unavailable to the Pistons at 15 and another pair unlikely to be on the board after Boston picks at 14. These last five weeks can send stock soaring or plummeting as the final critical pieces of information roll in, including medical reports and background checks.
The eight almost certain to be drafted ahead of the Pistons: Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, R.J. Barrett, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Darius Garland, Coby White and Jarrett Culver. Two others, Jaxson Hayes and Sekou Doumbouya, are more likely than not to be unavailable to the Pistons.
After that, it’s more difficult to project the next tier of players – the tier from which the Pistons are likely to find their guy, assuming they keep the pick. The conventional wisdom on last year’s draft is that there wasn’t a great dropoff from 25 to 45. This year that might be true from 11 to 30.
Ed Stefanski has only a one-year track record with the Pistons and he didn’t have a first-round pick last season, so it’s wildly speculative to extrapolate his preferences based on what he did last June. Going into the night with only the No. 42 pick, Stefanski traded two future second-rounders (2021 and 2023) to Philadelphia (they’ve since been rerouted to the Clippers as part of the haul for Tobias Harris) for the No. 38 pick used on Khyri Thomas and then opted for Bruce Brown with No. 42.
Both Thomas and Brown were highly productive college players, not one-year guys drafted solely on upside.
And there will be a lot of the latter on the board for the Pistons, it appears. North Carolina’s Nassir Little and Indiana’s Romeo Langford were both considered top-half-of-the-lottery prospects to start the college season. Bol Bol, a rail-thin 7-foot-2 shooter from Oregon, is in a similar vein. Southern Cal’s Kevin Porter is a fourth one-and-done player with a high ceiling. One or more – or all of them, even – could be available at 15.
Maybe Stefanski wound up with Thomas and Brown at 38 and 42 because the Littles, Langfords, Bols and Porters were long since picked over. The second round is usually where you’ll find more seasoned college players who perhaps lack one standout NBA trait that diminishes their draft value. Or it’s just as likely that Stefanski will continue to value college production over less predictable potential even with a mid-first rounder in a draft that gets hit or miss several picks earlier than most.
If that’s the case, then I’ll throw a few more names at you to keep in mind:
- Grant Williams, Tennessee: He was SEC Player of the Year as a junior, though he’s the youngest college junior in the draft and won’t turn 21 until November. He’s a tweener forward at 6-foot-7 and perhaps 240 pounds – it will be interesting to see what he tips the scales at in Chicago – with long arms. If the Pistons think he can guard bigger small forwards like Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler in addition to power forwards, there’s added appeal. Williams draws raves for his basketball IQ and citizenship. His toughness will appeal greatly to Stefanski and Dwane Casey. And, based on early reports out of the combine, Williams appears the highest-profile player who has agreed to play in 5-on-5 scrimmages, where even some players uncertain to be drafted – Michigan’s Jordan Poole, for instance – have declined. He’s projected 27th by The Athletic and 23rd by ESPN, so maybe 15 is simply too high even if the Pistons believe in Williams. But he checks off a lot of boxes.
- Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga: Teammates for an NCAA No. 1 seed and both highly productive college players. Hachimura, a three-year player who recently turned 21, took major strides each season, averaging 2.6, 11.6 and 19.7 points from one year to the next. At 6-foot-9, he only shot one 3-pointer a game but hit 40 percent as a junior. He’s a well-rounded player with solid athleticism and skill level. ESPN projects Hachimura to go 18th while The Athletic has him going to Charlotte, three picks ahead of the Pistons at 12. Maybe the final bit of appeal for the Pistons will be if they see Hachimura as having positional versatility, specifically the ability to guard a good mix of perimeter players. Clarke, 6-foot-8, spent two seasons at San Jose State and one at Gonzaga, averaging 16.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks in 28 minutes as a junior. The blocks seem to defy his measurements at this week’s combine when he checked in with a pedestrian 6-foot-8¼ wing span. ESPN projects Clarke 11th to Minnesota, The Athletic has him going 14th to Boston. Clarke turns 23 in September.
- P.J. Washington, Kentucky: A two-year starter who led Kentucky in scoring (15.2) and rebounding (7.5) in 29 minutes a game, Washington, at 6-foot-8, is physically similar to Williams. He shot 42 percent from the 3-point arc on low volume (78 attempts) but, also like Williams, displays a physical toughness that NBA teams will find endearing. He’d also fill a hole on a roster that needs someone with his physical profile since dealing Stanley Johnson at the trade deadline. Washington is projected to go 13th by The Athletic and 12th by ESPN.com. He’ll turn 21 in August.