Brandon Clarke, who is projected to be a lottery pick, could be in play for the Pistons with the No. 15 pick. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Auburn Hills — The Pistons are close to wrapping up their pre-draft workouts and had two big names likely to be available when they pick at No. 15. That hasn’t been the case throughout the parade of prospects, most of who appeared to be second-round options.
With Gonzaga's Brandon Clarke and Kentucky's Keldon Johnson visiting on Monday, the Pistons hosted two of the highest-rated prospects they’ve had during the process, looking to fill what could be the biggest void in their roster, at the forward positions.
“It’s always hard when you’re at 15 and people you think are in the mix, their agents are saying they’re not going to be there,” Pistons senior adviser Ed Stefanski said. “It’s all a game the agents and teams play. It’s very difficult to get guys in, but I’ve been happy with what we’ve had.”
The lack of big names in their workouts hasn’t deterred the Pistons, who are looking to get a wing but could turn to the strategy of taking the best player available. That could end up being Johnson or Clarke, both of who are invited to the green room at Barclays Center for Thursday’s draft in Brooklyn, New York.
Clarke is known as a better defender than scorer and at 6-foot-8, he could be a good fit with that strength.
“Defensive versatility but offensively, my game is getting better and better,” Clark said. “In the paint, I feel like I can score every time. I can pass well but can guard everybody (from point guards to forwards).”
The Pistons’ priority seems to be getting a wing and Johnson could be one of the best available, with the year he had at Kentucky, with 13.5 points and 5.9 rebounds and hitting a respectable 38 percent on 3-pointers.
Scoring at that position had been a dire need to complement Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, which continues to be the path forward for the Pistons. Johnson sees an opportunity to step in, as he’s tried to set himself apart from the other top wings — including former teammate Tyler Herro, USC's Kevin Porter Jr., North Carolina's Nassir Little and Stanford's KZ Okpala — in the draft, many of whom he’s competed against in pre-draft workouts.
“I’m my own player. We all are really different and bring different things to the game. I bring energy, hard work and playing hard. I’m very versatile and do many things. I bring intensity every day,” Johnson said. “Every workout, I came with a high motor, in shape and ready to go.”
Having played with other lottery prospects at Kentucky, including P.J. Washington and Herro, Johnson has gotten a glimpse of the level of competition he’ll need to bring with him to the NBA.
Clarke had a similar experience at Gonzaga with Rui Hachimura, another potential lottery pick. Clarke said he has worked out mostly for teams in the 10-17 range. At age 22, he’s a bit older than the typical top prospects, but that’s something he’s trying to use as an advantage.
“The way the draft is set up, I’m older. I burst onto the scene later than most of these players did,” Clarke said. “It took a while for scouts to see me. I’m happy to be in the place I am now.
“It’s actually really cool to see that (Rui’s) right there by me, if not in front of me. He’s a great guy and I want the best for him. Whatever team we’re on is going to be better for it.”
With the draft process wrapping up, the Pistons still are putting the finishing touches on their draft board and figuring out what might happen in the picks before them in the first round.
With No. 15 in the first round and No. 45 in the second, the Pistons are positioned to get two players who could help out in the rotation next season, but they’re not dismissing the idea of trading up or down to try to improve their lot of assets.
“I would think by tomorrow, hopefully, we’re done (with our draft board). It’ll be set by draft time. You don’t want to be in there arguing. It’ll be set by Wednesday,” Stefanski said. “In this draft, you have to look at who you look and the group of players you think are going to be there. I think I know the top three and the top eight that shouldn’t be there at 15. After that, I don’t have a good feel.”
The Pistons could be in luck, as wing looks to be the deepest position in the draft. But if they don’t like the choices at their spot, they could look to deal and find another option.