AUBURN HILLS – The question on the minds of Pistons fans today – “Who are they taking with the 12th pick?” – is one that needs to be bumped to second in line.
Before we can begin to address that question, we must attempt to answer this one: “Who’s going 1 through 11?”
The Pistons, after all, can’t take someone already drafted by another team. To be sure, general manager Jeff Bower and his team will be attempting to figure out for Stan Van Gundy who’ll be available to him when the Pistons’ time on the clock rolls around.
Here’s an early attempt – five weeks and a day before the June 22 draft – to figure out who’s going ahead of their pick.
LOCKS (4) – One way or another, point guards Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz and forwards Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum will be off the board. Early ripples indicate the Celtics will probably take Fultz with the No. 1 pick with the Lakers more than likely to grab the local product, Ball, with the second pick. But take all of that with a grain of salt. Danny Ainge isn’t tipping his hand until Adam Silver reads the selection sometime a bit after 7 p.m. in 36 days. Jackson is the athletic prototype of the modern NBA wing, Tatum the best isolation scorer in this draft.
NEAR LOCKS (3) – Kentucky teammates De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk have maybe a 20 percent chance of getting out of the top 10. Fox, in many ways, is a point guard for the 21st century – except for a 25 percent 3-point shooting figure at the shorter college arc. If Monk isn’t the best shooter in the draft, then he’s the best shooter in the draft who does enough other things well to earn a spot in the top 10. Less than ideal size for a shooting guard is about the only rap on Monk. Isaac is nearly 7 feet with a silky perimeter shooting touch. He’s barely 200 pounds; that’s his asterisk. If Fox had a more reliable shot, Monk had another few inches and Isaac a more developed frame they’d be with Fultz, Ball, Jackson and Tatum. In any case – unless something develops over the next 36 days with regard to medical or background issues – none of these three is likely to get to the Pistons.
CLOSE, NO CIGAR (4) – We’re at seven, meaning four more to go before the Pistons pick. The best estimate of who’ll comprise this group is Gonzaga 7-footer Zach Collins, point guards Dennis Smith of North Carolina State and Frank Ntilikina of the French pro league and Arizona 7-footer Lauri Markkanen. Collins sees himself as more center than power forward, though he can play both, and if the Pistons agree he’d be an ideal complement to a young frontcourt that includes Andre Drummond at center and Henry Ellenson at power forward. The calling card of Markkanen, the rare NBA prospect from Finland, is his 3-point potential, though he showed some willingness to scrap inside as his freshman season at Arizona unfolded. Smith, somewhat like Fox, is a jet who’ll thrive in the modern NBA, though there are some who question why North Carolina State had such a poor season under his direction. (For whatever reason, Washington’s lack of success hasn’t cast a similar pall on Fultz.) Ntilikina has great size for the position and there are rumblings that Dallas, picking ninth, has an affinity for him.
However sound all of that might or might not appear today, history tells us that at least one of those players will be available to the Pistons as the draft process shakes out. Five weeks before the 2012 draft, nobody believed Andre Drummond would slip to ninth. But if those, indeed, are the 11 players taken before the Pistons get their shot, then the next wave appears to include Indiana’s O.G. Anunoby, Duke’s Luke Kennard, Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell, Texas’ Jarrett Allen, Wake Forest’s John Collins and North Carolina’s Justin Jackson, but the farther you get from the top of the draft the wider those pools get. You can throw another half-dozen names in the mix, in all likelihood.
We’ll be doing deeper dives into many of those names over the next five weeks as the draft picture starts to get a little less fuzzy and the Pistons start bringing players to their practice facility for individual workouts. Stay tuned.