Multi-skilled guards Kennard, Mitchell catch Pistons' eye

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Luke Kennard established himself as a versatile scorer in the mold of another Duke star, J.J. Redick.

In many ways, it’s an unenviable position to be in for a draft, picking outside the top 10 and trying to find an impact player. The chances of landing a player at that position are bleak.

The No. 12 pick rarely remains with the team that drafted him.

It’s sort of a crap shoot, but the Pistons will have to dig to find their best fit. Though publicly team president Stan Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower are saying there are no glaring needs in the rotation, there’s always room for improvement.

“Will it be a guy who can walk in next year and get in your rotation? We won’t know that until we know how everything else shakes out in terms of free agency and other offseason moves,” Van Gundy told Fox 2’s sports director Dan Miller this week. “There’s guys who can potentially be in your rotation next year and certainly guys in the last two years of that rookie contract, who have the potential to be very good players.”

As the Pistons’ biggest weakness was 3-point shooting last season — 33 percent, good for 28th in the league — they could covet an outside shooter in the draft on June 22. That could point to Duke’s Luke Kennard, who shot 44 percent last season as a sophomore or a playmaker in Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell, a combo guard who could bring that presence to the Pistons’ lagging offense.

Traditionally, Van Gundy has craved good shooting wings, but Mitchell, a 6-foot-3 guard, also brings a 6-foot-10 wingspan to the equation. He’s probably a better defender, which is always in high demand in the NBA.

Donovan Mitchell

“A lot of guys don’t have that willingness to defend,” Mitchell said recently at the NBA draft combine in Chicago. “As a guard who’s undersized, I’m able to defend and willing to defend.”

He’s drawing some comparisons to Dwyane Wade with his freakish wingspan, but he doesn’t have all the intangibles that Kennard brings to the table. In his freshman season, Kennard hit 32 percent beyond the arc, but he has a versatile game, with the ability to drive, create his own shot and hit from the outside. He hit 49 percent from the field last season and averaged 19.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists.

Kennard, 20, is 6-51/2 and has just a 6-5 wingspan, but doesn’t have very many more measurable, because he didn’t do any of the athletic testing at the combine. In his latest mock draft, ESPN’s Chad Ford has the Pistons selecting Kennard with the 12th pick.

“Kennard might be the top shooter in the draft, but that's not all he is. He can run the pick-and-roll and shoot it off the bounce, and he shows a toughness that has scouts feeling like he can do more than just spot up,” Ford wrote. “He might be a slight reach at No. 12, but he fits a definite need for the Pistons.”

Ford projects Mitchell going four picks later to the Bulls.

“I’ve had several scouts compare him to a young, pre-injury Eric Gordon (of the Rockets). He’s not the shooter that Gordon was coming out of college, but his jumper is coming along, and his ability to play some point could come in handy for the Bulls,” Ford wrote. “At this point, he's one of the few high-upside guys left on the board.”

Several mock drafts have the Pistons selecting either Kennard or Mitchell, but some also have them taking a center such as UCLA’s Ike Anigbogu or Texas’ Jarrett Allen. But without a second-round pick at this point, their No. 12 pick will be their only selection.

And whether that means another ball-handling scorer or another big is a point to ponder. Van Gundy seems to be leaning toward a spot-up shooter but in laying out the team’s needs, there could be multiple players who fit the bill.

“We’re looking for great toughness and competitiveness in a guy, 3-point shooting and guys who can make more plays off the dribble. Those are really our needs,” Van Gundy told Miller. “If you have a lot of guys who can be good 3-point shooters, you don’t necessarily need the Kyle Korvers of the world. It’s more having a lot of guys out there that people have to spread out and guard.”

Mitchell fits the mold of a combo guard such as former Piston Rodney Stuckey, who can pass and score, but there’s already one of those on the roster: Reggie Jackson. Mitchell has a versatile skill set and can do more than one thing, if needed, though.

“Whatever you need. A lot of people say I would play point if I do get drafted but I just want to go out there and provide any combo guard needs,” Mitchell said. “I’ll be able to play on the wing, hit shots, penetrate and find the open guy but also come off ball screens and lead the offense.”

With almost a month until the draft, there’s still plenty more sifting through prospects and several more workouts at the practice facility before the Van Gundy, Bower and their scouting staff start making decisions, but if they’re looking at Kennard and Mitchell — the second- and third-rated shooting guards in Ford’s Big Board of prospects — that’s a good place to start.

Donovan Mitchell

Ht: 6-foot-3

Wt.: 211

Reach: 8-foot-1

Wingspan: 6-10

Last season: 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists

Luke Kennard

Ht: 6-foot-5 1/2

Wt.: 196 pounds

Reach: 8-foot-3

Wingspan: 6-5

Last season: 19.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 44 percent on 3-pointers

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard