How we got here: Grading the Pistons’ drafts from a lost decade
This feels unfair.
We have the benefit of hindsight when grading past NBA Draft performances by teams.
At the time, many outsiders would have made some of the same mistakes – maybe even worse ones.
In hindsight, the Pistons' drafts this decade were actually better than the teams. The franchise is helped on draft report cards by two of the best second-round picks of the 2010s. Unfortunately, mismanagment never gave Khris Middleton (2012) or Spencer Dinwiddie (2014) enough of a chance in the Motor City.
Some of the mistakes, like Luke Kennard over Donovan Mitchell and Henry Ellenson over anyone, punctuated a lost decade.
Diehards are rightfully worried that another dark decade just got underway.
Acing the 2020 NBA Draft, whenever it happens, is crucial: The Pistons could have their highest pick since Darko Milicic went No. 2 in 2003 or their last first overall pick, Bob Lanier in 1970.
Here’s how the draft helped get us here:
Picks: Greg Monroe, Georgetown (7); Terrico White, Ole Miss (36)
Three they missed on: Gordon Hayward, Utah (9); Paul George, Indiana (10); Lance Stephenson, Indiana (40)
Hindsight: The Pistons missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years and needed a serious talent infusion to reinforce the remnants of the glory days. Monroe had five productive seasons in Detroit. More significantly, “Moose” was symbolic of an organization unwilling to move on from old heroes and unable to grasp where the perimeter-oriented, shooting-centric league was headed. The only regular season 3-pointer in Monroe’s nine-year career came in his final NBA game. At 29, he led Bayern Munich in scoring this past season in Germany.
Picks: Brandon Knight, Kentucky (8); Kyle Singler, Duke (32); Vernon Macklin, Florida (52)
Three they missed on: Kemba Walker, Charlotte (9); Klay Thompson, Golden State (11); Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio (15)
Hindsight: A five-star stud out of Fort Lauderdale, Knight went to Lexington with hopes of following 2010 top pick John Wall as another stud Kentucky guard taking over the league. But Knight was clearly not that type of talent in one uneven year at UK. Meanwhile, Walker took the NCAA by storm, Thompson had one of the best-looking shots of any prospect in years, and Leonard was a potential two-way beast. Singler’s career fizzled out after a somewhat promising start.
Picks: Andre Drummond, Connecticut (9); Khris Middleton, Texas A&M (39); Kim English, Missouri (44)
Three they missed on: Draymond Green, Golden State (35); Darius Miller, New Orleans (46); Kyle O’Quinn, Orlando (49)
Hindsight: After Drummond was taken at nine, there wasn’t a player you’d rather have drafted after him until Michigan State’s Green was snatched in the second round. With Middleton at 39, the Pistons somehow made out with two of the best six players in the draft. We only list Miller and O’Quinn to be nit-picky as they would’ve been better than English at 44. But still, you even can see what Joe Dumars was thinking there, as Mizzou’s English had the defense and shooting that may have reminded him of, well, himself.
Picks: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia (8); Tony Mitchell, North Texas (36); Peyton Siva, Louisville (56)
Three they missed on: CJ McCollum, Portland (10); Steven Adams, Oklahoma City (12); Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee (15)
Hindsight: Look, everybody missed on Giannis and you have to tip your cap to the Bucks for taking a chance on him. But it was a calculated risk given the lack of talent in this crop. The Pistons went with the two-way potential of KCP, who has basically played at a level pretty close to his draft position for this bad draft. The second-round misses were not impactful for Detroit, as there was no one on the board late.
Picks: Spencer Dinwiddle, Colorado (38)
One they missed on: Nikola Jokic, Denver (41)
Hindsight: Stan Van Gundy knocked his first pick as Pistons team president out of the park. Sure, Jokic would’ve been a grand slam even better than the Dinwiddie home run, but that’s splitting hairs. Van Gundy the president couldn’t convince Van Gundy the coach to give the young guard a proper chance. The exec would trade Dinwiddie in 2016 for Cameron Bairstow, who was taken 11 picks after Dinwiddie but has not played an NBA game since the trade.
Picks: Stanley Johnson, Arizona (8); Darrun Hilliard, Villanova (38)
Three they missed on: Myles Turner, Indiana (11); Devin Booker, Phoenix (13); Josh Richardson, Miami (40)
Hindsight: Van Gundy went with the defense and potential of Johnson when he should’ve taken Booker’s shooting, a mistake he’d reverse two years later. Hilliard’s non-descript career looks worse considering Richardson went to Miami two picks later. Miami also took Justise Winslow two picks after Johnson, but injuries have hampered his career. The Pistons did eventually end up with a lottery talent from this class, as Christian Wood went undrafted before a winding path led him to Detroit this year.
Picks: Henry Ellenson, Marquette (18); Michael Gbinije, Syracuse (49)
Three they missed on: Caris LeVert, Brooklyn (20); Pascal Siakim, Toronto (27); Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee (36)
Hindsight: Ellenson was projected as a possible lottery pick before falling and falling on draft night. Van Gundy said Ellenson was 10th on the Pistons’ draft board, though they never brought him in for a workout. Maybe if they had, they would’ve seen defensive shortcomings and an offensive game not good enough to overcome them. This was a bad draft class but the Pistons didn’t do themselves any favors.
Picks: Luke Kennard, Duke (12)
Three they missed on: Donovan Mitchell, Utah (13); Bam Adebayo, Miami (14); John Collins, Atlanta (19)
Hindsight: It’s unfair to Kennard and always will be, but Mitchell was the right pick here that night and every night since. In his final summer in charge, Van Gundy focused on turning his bad shooting team into a passable one, missing the big picture along the way. The soul of the Pistons had long been abandoned at this point with owner Tom Gores looking to executive Ed Stefanski and coach Dwane Casey to restore pride to the organization the following year.
Picks: Khyri Thomas, Creighton (38); Bruce Brown, Miami (42)
Three they missed on: De’Anthony Melton, Houston (46); Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Los Angeles Lakers (47); Shake Milton, Philadelphia (54)
Hindsight: This was an unusually deep draft with many “first-round talents” failing deep into the second, including Devonte Graham and Mitchell Robinson. To his credit, Stefanski noticed this and sacrificed two future seconds for an extra bite at the apple. Anytime you get a decent rotation player like Brown in the second round, you can’t complain. Bonus points to Stefanski for acquiring Mykhailiuk for Reggie Bullock at the trade deadline of Svi’s rookie season.
Picks: Sekou Doumbouya, France (15); Deividas Sirvydis, Lithuania (37); Jordan Bone, Tennessee (57)
Three they (might’ve) missed on: Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia (20); Brandon Clarke, Memphis (21); Kevin Porter, Cleveland (30)
Hindsight: Time will tell on this draft, but the Doumbouya pick was an appropriate upside gamble with not a lot of talent on the board. There were a couple weeks where the rookie looked like a revelation this winter. A couple of puzzling moves later that night sent Porter to Cleveland and brought in Sirvydis, who because of a costly trade to move up could someday grade worse than a typical second-round bust.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.