June 27, 2013 at 8:14 am

Bob Wojnowski

If Pistons want a leader, Trey Burke should be their man

It's not the Michigan connection that's enticing about Trey Burke, although the Pistons certainly could use a jolt. It's the intangible connection, the fierce competitive chip Dumars once identified in the Pistons' last great point guard, Chauncey Billups. (John T. Greilick/Detroit News)

The Pistons have piles of puzzles, but until they solve the main one, they won’t sufficiently solve any. Joe Dumars is running the show, and to keep running the show, well, he has to find someone to run the show.

The Pistons desperately need an on-court leader, and that’s what this offseason is about. That’s what tonight’s wildly unpredictable draft should be about. And that’s why, if he gets the chance, Dumars must draft a point guard, because in the NBA, you can’t ever stop looking for one.

If Trey Burke is available at No. 8, you take him, without a doubt. He could go as high as No. 2 to Orlando or No. 6 to New Orleans, but there’s a chance he slips to No. 8. If he’s not there, you take Syracuse’s enigmatic 6-foot-6 point guard Michael Carter-Williams or Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum. And if you really want to stir it up, maybe you grab Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

If it comes down to Burke and Carter-Williams, this is the question: Do the Pistons take the undersized guard who overachieved, or the oversized guard who underachieved?

Need for talent

I’d take Burke for his shooting and feisty flair, and because Dumars can’t wait around for another skilled guy to figure out who, or what, he is. Again, the debate is moot if Burke is gone, but the Pistons aren’t the only team wondering about his 6-foot stature, and he could slide. They’re also in no position to turn down talent, which is why they’d have to grab someone like UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett if he fell to them, and why they’ve been linked to Indiana 7-footer Cody Zeller.

It’s not the Michigan connection that’s enticing about Burke, although the Pistons certainly could use a jolt. It’s the intangible connection, the fierce competitive chip Dumars once identified in the Pistons’ last great point guard, Chauncey Billups. Since the ill-fated trade of Billups for Allen Iverson, the Pistons have been lost, plowing through combo guards unsure of their roles.

Brandon Knight has shown flashes, but he has better scoring instincts than distributing instincts. Rodney Stuckey hasn’t evolved at all and should be gone. The Pistons gave Jose Calderon a whirl but now likely will pass on the pass-savvy free-agent. Will Bynum could be re-signed but he’s an off-the-bench catalyst, not a floor leader.

Of all the reasons the Pistons have fallen so dramatically — and the reason Dumars sits uncomfortably in the final year of his contract under an unpredictable owner in Tom Gores — guessing wrong on guards is the killer.

Dumars sort of banked on Iverson, although not really. Then there was Ben Gordon, a disaster who didn’t fit with Stuckey and Rip Hamilton.

In a way, Dumars already is leaning on a new point guard in Maurice Cheeks, recently given the ever-changing key code to the Pistons’ coaching office. Theoretically, guards know guards and Cheeks was a good one, but the Pistons have been more fortunate with big men lately.

They landed Greg Monroe with the No. 7 pick in 2010 and Andre Drummond at No. 9 last year. In between, they took Knight at No. 8, a raw talent who has spent two seasons trying to figure out if he’s a point guard, a shooting guard or any kind of Palace guard.

Knight might think he can run the point but the Pistons obviously aren’t sure. In the franchise’s classic guard formulas of Isiah Thomas-Dumars and Billups-Hamilton, maybe Knight can fill the Dumars-Hamilton role. Ah, but who will be Isiah-Chauncey?

Leading the way

Based on leadership qualities, it could be Burke. He took the Wolverines to the national championship game, equally adept at creating shots for himself and others. He was the best player in college basketball and probably would be the top pick in a weak draft if not for one little issue — his height (hmm, Isiah size).

The Pistons once famously drafted another local star, Mateen Cleaves, but despite dazzling intangibles, he never made an impact because he couldn’t shoot. Burke absolutely can, and like many players in this draft, possesses enough qualities to be intriguing, but not enough measurables to be a lock.

So Dumars might face a crucial choice between Burke and Carter-Williams, a vexing talent who disappeared at times for Syracuse. McCollum is the safe pick, a 6-3 all-around guard who’s probably the most NBA-ready. And Caldwell-Pope is the wild card, his stock rising because of his size (6-6) and shooting.

The one time the Pistons got lucky with the lottery ping-pong balls, Dumars gambled on size and failed horrifically with Darko Milicic, who retired this week about six years after he essentially quit. With Drummond and Monroe, there’s hope, but the Pistons have been rearranging puzzle pieces for a few years.

They need someone to lead the way, and the last two times they had a supremely competitive point guard, they won championships.

From Isiah to Chauncey to — who? If he’s available, Burke is the next best answer. If he’s not, the Pistons had better find someone who is.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
Twitter.com/bobwojnowski