The NBA Draft is more than two months away — and while it’s too early to pinpoint what the Pistons might do, looking at a few of the prospects who could be available is a worthwhile exercise.
The Pistons finished the season at 37-45 and are in position to have the No. 12 pick if the draft positions don’t change after the draft lottery on May 16. They have a 0.7 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick, which is unlikely, but with the likelihood of staying around 12th, they could look to address their most glaring need: outside shooting.
This season, the Pistons were among the worst 3-point-shooting teams in the league (28th, at 33 percent) and could try to find a player who could provide a more diverse skill set on offense. They also could look to replace backup center Aron Baynes, who likely will opt out of his contract and move to another team for a bigger salary.
Shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who will become a restricted free agent, is the biggest question mark. He could get an offer sheet from another team for up to the max salary and if although the Pistons could match any offer, they’ll be in a tough spot with the salary situation.
Even with the pieces they had on the roster, they didn’t achieve their potential this year, which could lead to some moves to improve the playing rotation and bench.
“I really like this team and watching them play; it was puzzling to me,” ESPN college basketball analyst Tim McCormick said. “I always expected they would go on a really impressive run and it never happened.
“There are a lot of really good pieces on this roster.”
Barring a trade, the Pistons’ roster looks to be set at several positions, but that doesn’t rule out getting a young player who potentially could break into the rotation, or could sit for a year and learn the craft from a more experienced veteran.
Here’s a look at five players the Pistons could consider at the No. 12 spot on June 22:
Kennard, a 6-5, 200-pounder, is regarded as the best shooter in the draft and made huge strides in his sophomore season at Duke, averaging 19.5 points and earning second-team All-America honors.
Kennard shot 44 percent from the college 3-point line, which should translate well to the NBA. He’s a lefty and has good court awareness and can score from both inside and beyond the arc.
“I’m a big fan and he’s an underrated athlete, exceptionally smart, has a beautiful mid-range game and he’s an underrated finisher,” McCormick said. “He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective; he moves very well without it and creates space with his outside shot.”
The Pistons don’t have many elite-level perimeter defenders, and if Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson stick around, they can cover up for any potential deficiencies Kennard has.
How he could help the Pistons: They lacked a consistent knock-down 3-point shooter all season as they struggled to find offense after guard Reggie Jackson’s knee tendinitis caused him to miss the first 21 games. He wouldn’t have to fill the role as primary scorer, so he could ease along in his development without as much pressure to be a primary scorer as on other teams.
Every year, there’s an under-the-radar European talent — and this year, it’s Ntilikina, a 6-5, 180-pounder. He’s just 18 years old, but he’s been playing professionally in France for a couple years. In a draft regarded for its top-tier point guards, Ntilikina could be among the second level, available to the lower lottery teams.
He’s regarded for his defense and pass-first skill set, but with his youth, he may take some time to develop and defend some of the smaller, quicker point guards in the league.
How he could help the Pistons: Ish Smith was a big addition last summer as a backup option to Jackson. If they’re looking to groom the next point guard, they could opt for Ntilikina, if he’s still available.
Allen, a 6-11, 235-pound freshman from Texas, shines on the defensive end and his athleticism and versatility compares well to another former Texas big man, Myles Turner, a growing talent with the Indiana Pacers, according to McCormick.
“Allen is a raw prospect, but his combination of length, athleticism and impact on the defensive end of the floor makes him appealing,” ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford wrote.
With a 7-foot-6 wingspan, he could be an eraser in the middle, a potential upgrade in rim protection. He averaged 13.4 points and 8.4 rebounds in his only college season.
How he could help the Pistons: He has a similar game to Andre Drummond, and can develop slowly without having to contribute to the rotation yet. He brings a defensive presence that could be missing if Baynes decides to leave.
He played well in the NCAA Tournament, helping Gonzaga to the NCAA title game, including 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks against South Carolina in the semifinals. The 7-0, 230-pound center got into early foul trouble in the championship and wasn’t able to contribute as much.
“He’s going to be good but has a high center of gravity,” McCormick said. “He plays a little like Henry (Ellenson). With his skill set, he can make a 15-foot shot, but that’s a bit different than the NBA 3-pointer — I never saw that.”
How he could help the Pistons: If his game is similar to Ellenson’s it’s a duplication of skills, which wouldn’t be ideal with a lottery pick. They could like his versatility on the perimeter and decide that it’s too good to pass up, sending him for some seasoning with the D-League Grand Rapids Drive until they can clear up the logjam at forward.
Anunoby, a 6-8, 235-pound sophomore, suffered a knee injury in January and could miss significant time, which had him leaning toward returning to Indiana for his junior season. If he’s in the draft, he’ll be an intriguing prospect for teams to consider with his athleticism and run the floor.
But if he doesn’t create his own shot well, he might be hard to use a top pick to obtain.
“Anunoby has all the physical tools NBA scouts are looking for in an NBA wing,” Ford wrote. “He’s long and athletic, he guards multiple positions and he stretches the floor.”
How he could help the Pistons: They seem to be set at their forward positions, but if they look to take a player they can wait for and keep in the D-League until he’s ready, Anunoby is a long-shot candidate.
THE GOOD AND THE BAD
PROS: He’s an excellent scorer and shooter and played his best in the regular season; his versatile offensive game make him a coveted piece, who showed leadership skills and was the key to the ACC Tournament title.
CONS: Some question whether his defense will be up to guarding some of the best scorers in the NBA on a night-to-night basis. He’ll need to work on his athleticism, strength and stamina to endure the grind of the long season.
PROS: He’s already been playing professionally in Europe, so the jump to the NBA won’t be as huge. Good NBA size and point-guard instincts, with ability to change pace and use quickness.
CONS: Jump shot isn’t fully developed and needs to improve as a scorer.
PROS: Defensive-minded big man who could add rebounding and toughness. He’s a good athlete who can bring energy when needed.
CONS: He’s still developing a consistent skill set on offense and might not be ready to be a focal point in the next few years.
PROS: Good athlete who can score from many spots on the court and has good shooting touch. He’s athletic for his size and brings a defensive presence.
CONS: He’s not very strong and would need to get stronger to contend with NBA big men.
PROS: Outstanding defender who can guard several positions well and could help in the transition game.
CONS: His knee injury could curtail much of his rookie season, but it might be worth the risk for some teams.