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Pistons have luxury of taking best player available

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Stan Van Gundy

Auburn Hills — In preparing for the NBA draft last season, things were a bit easier for Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and his staff. With the No. 8 pick, the Pistons had a small pool of prospects and definite needs to address.

After making the playoffs this season, there’s a lot less certainty about the talent they can get at No. 18 — and a lot more hand-wringing about what to do when it’s their turn Thursday.

“I don’t know at No. 18 if there’s a guy that we look at and say that guy can step in right now,” Van Gundy said Tuesday. “It would be great if they could, but there’s nobody that I look at that way that I think we can count on on draft night, that if we make that pick, we can plug that guy into our rotation.”

While the Pistons have immediate needs at backup point guard and backup power forward, there aren’t many can’t-miss options.

Many mock drafts project the Pistons taking a point guard such as Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson or Vanderbilt’s Wade Baldwin IV, or a big man such as Australia’s Thon Maker, Croatia’s Ivica Zubac or UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman.

That means some extra digging trying to unearth a gem, or even selecting a player who might not have an immediate impact.

Van Gundy estimates at least 10 players from last season’s roster would be returning — it’s unlikely the Pistons will bring back veterans Steve Blake and Anthony Tolliver — leaving little room for a project.

“Our roster is a little more solid now, so it’s possible, especially with that second pick (No. 49), that we bring him in and he spends more significant time in the D-League, but within our system,” Van Gundy said. “We’re not ruling that out at all. It’s not the only route we can take and I don’t even know if it’s the preferred route.”

With free agency looming July 1, there are some other spots where the Pistons could make upgrades. That almost gives them the luxury of taking chances on high-upside players, even if it means they don’t bloom into their full potential next year.

“We think we can get somebody who can grow into a good player for us,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t know if there’s anybody there who’s going to be an immediate rotation player or immediate help, but we think we’ve got some guys that could be fairly early on in their career, so we’ll just see how the draft falls.”

Van Gundy also said that they’ll look to draft the best player available, regardless of position, at No. 18. That could open some possibilities, such as Florida State shooting guard Malik Beasley, whom they interviewed Tuesday.

But they also could take a long view and draft some of the European big men such as Zubac, Ante Zizic, or forwards Juan Hernangomez or Guerschon Yabusele.

It’s all speculation, but the difference this year is the Pistons aren’t in the lottery and looking to hit a home run.

“We like the group we think we’ll have available to us,” Van Gundy said. “We think there will be good players available at 18; we think there will be good players available beyond 18, for that matter.”

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

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Local flavor

Four players who will be drafted Thursday:

Deyonta Davis, Michigan State

He’s been slotted among the lottery picks since he decided to leave after his freshman season. Davis may not be a polished prospect, but could develop into a solid inside-outside player who excels on defense.

Projection: First round

Kay Felder, Oakland

In three years at Oakland, he showed he could play with top-level competition and excel. Felder is an adept scorer and distributor and dispelled questions about his defense because of his size.

Projection: Early second round

Caris LeVert, Michigan

If not for a couple of foot surgeries, he might have been a sure first-round pick. But after missing almost half his final two seasons, LeVert’s outlook has more questions than answers. He looks to be an almost certainty to be headed for the D-League.

Projection: Second round

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

He could be a versatile combo guard who benefits a team in the middle of the first round. But concerns about the health of Valentine’s knee have dropped his stock. Still, he won’t fall far.

Projection: First round