Pistons to see how prospects measure up at NBA combine

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

It’s back to work for Pistons president Stan Van Gundy and his front-office staff. Actually, they’ve been back to work in trying to sift through the rubble of a disappointing season that produced only 37 wins.

Last week, Van Gundy met with his pro-player scouting staff to look at potential free-agent targets and international players who may interest them.

The next step is getting ready for the June 22 draft, where the Pistons likely will have the No. 12 pick, but could move up when their position is finalized next week in the draft lottery. After picking Henry Ellenson 18th overall last season, the Pistons look to find another young player to add to the mix.

They’ll get an up-close look at some of the prospects this week at the NBA draft combine in Chicago, where some of the top college players will be measured, go through some workouts, interview with teams and plays some five-on-five scrimmages. It’s a one-stop shop for teams to get a look at the draft prospects.

Well, most of them.

Many of the top prospects, such as Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, Kansas’ Josh Jackson (Detroit) and Duke’s Jayson Tatum, won’t play in the scrimmages. Fultz, though, possibly the No. 1 pick, will be tested and measured.

For the Pistons, there is no sure-fire pick that will help them immediately, unless they’re able to catapult into one of the top picks through the lottery.

Van Gundy, who appeared on Fox Sports Detroit’s broadcast of the Tigers game on Tuesday, gave a hint of what direction the Pistons might be looking.

“We’ve got a couple areas we need to get better. We don’t really have any big holes, position wise, but clearly our biggest need is we haven’t shot the ball well at all,” Van Gundy said. “We were the worst-shooting team in the NBA, so we have to — with the players we have, improve in the offseason. As we address roster things, shooting will be a big part of what we’re looking at.

“We’re always looking for more guys who can create off the dribble and make plays and with anybody in any sport, just the guys who are great, tough competitors every night who can go out and win.”

Duke’s Luke Kennard is regarded as the best shooter in this draft class and he could be available at the No. 12 spot. The Pistons could decide to go in another direction and find another young point guard or a big man to become the third center and back up Andre Drummond and Boban Marjanovic.

With their roster composition, the Pistons aren’t necessarily picking for need; rather, they’re building depth. Though Ellenson didn’t play much last season — he saw more time in the D-League with the Grand Rapids Drive than he did with the Pistons — he could find more playing time based on his performance in the last few games of the season.

That could preclude the Pistons from looking at two of the top local prospects, Michigan’s Moritz Wagner and D.J. Wilson, underclassmen who shined during the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament run. Neither has hired an agent and like the dozens of underclassmen who declared early, that gives them until June 12 to retain their college eligibility and return to school.

Drive for 5-on-5

For many who are testing the waters, the combine provides an opportunity to measure themselves against the best in strength and agility drills and to get in front of teams to interview and assess whether it’s the right time to go pro.

The 5-on-5 scrimmages also give a glimpse into what the prospects are in many of the measureable categories and a chance to impress the executives and scouts on the court, rather than just timed drills.

“You have a circle graph and you’re shading in different part (for each drill). He might have a 40-inch vertical and might be extremely quick and that gives teams more confidence and adds to the strengths,” NBA consultant Ryan Blake said. “If someone wasn’t looking at him, that may be a reason to bring him in for individual workouts. If he doesn’t do well on shooting drills, it doesn’t mean he can’t shoot.

“When you’re in a 5-on-5 game situation, playing to win, it’s also stuff you do on the court and away from the court.”

For many executives, it will be the first time they’ve seen the prospects up close, so there is an opportunity to make an impression, but also plenty of competition for attention, with so many other players also trying to make a mark.

It’s not an end-all, be-all, but it’s a shot, which many players won’t get.

“(The college) season is over by the time we’re done so I really don’t get a chance to see them live,” Van Gundy said. “We’ll get them into (an individual) workout so you’ll get a chance to see them, but I’ll generally get a chance to see them on video.”

NBA Draft Combine

What: Strength and agility drills, 5-on-5 scrimmages and interviews for almost 70 of the top prospects for the NBA Draft

When: Wednesday through Sunday

Where: Quest Multisport Center, Chicago

Local prospects: Michigan’s Moritz Wagner, Derrick Walton Jr. and D.J. Wilson.