Five likely first-round targets for Pistons

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — As the final days tick down before Thursday’s NBA draft, the Pistons still have plenty of options with the 18th overall pick.

Their run to the playoffs was highlighted by some standout performances by the starters, as wll as with some areas of concern on the bench which could be improved through the draft.

But there may be few options for their two positions of need, backup point guard and backup power forward.

The top point guards in the draft — Kris Dunn, Dejounte Murray and Wade Baldwin IV — all project to be gone before No. 18.

Pistons president Stan Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower could go in several directions with the pick, or could package the pick in a trade to try to get a veteran at either position.

Assuming the Pistons decide to keep the pick, here are the five best targets likely to be available at No. 18.

Demetrius Jackson, point guard, Notre Dame

Of the top prospects, Jackson seems to be the only one who will be available at No. 18. He doesn’t have elite size — 6-foot without shoes — but has the quickness and athleticism to make up for it. He averaged 15.8 points as a senior, but among the reserves, Jackson might only be called upon to be a facilitator, which could alleviate concerns about his 3-point shooting (33 percent).

Domantas Sabonis, power forward, Gonzaga

The skilled big man is likely to be gone by No. 18, but with such equal talent after the top few picks, there’s a possibility someone unexpectedly will drop to the Pistons. Sabonis could slide in and play right away, and at 6–10, would be the stretch forward the Pistons covet to help open lanes for the guards and rebound and bang in the middle with Andre Drummond.

Denzel Valentine, guard/forward, Michigan State

He isn’t a point guard or power forward, but he’s likely to be available because of concerns about his knee. Valentine could be a bigger combo guard who can handle the ball and shoot. Defense would be a concern, but Valentine’s would be an upgrade over Steve Blake, at least.

Thon Maker, forward, Australia

He should be available, but there’s so much intrigue around his skill set and upside the Pistons could be pressured to go for a player who can contribute right away. Maker is a prospect who could play overseas for a year or two to get more NBA-ready, but that’s not what teams ideally would want to do with a first-round pick when they’re knocking on the door to being a contender.

Zubac hopes to make dream come true with Pistons

Ivica Zubac, forward/center, Croatia

He has excellent size and a frame that could add some weight to make him coveted earlier in the first round. But if he can hit a perimeter jumper, he could be what Van Gundy is looking for. At age 19, he’s also a candidate to stash in Europe for another year or so, but he has the potential to be good.