Mid-first round strength could reside in 6 freshmen bigs for Pistons to consider

CHICAGO – Stan Van Gundy has identified shooting as the most urgent Pistons need, but they won’t spend their lottery pick on someone who gives them the best chance to win a game of H-O-R-S-E.

The June 22 draft is less about plugging holes on next year’s roster than it is about landing a player good enough to make an impact on the NBA – someday. Next season? If it happens, bonus. More than likely, whatever skill whomever the Pistons draft in June brings to the table won’t be fully realized for two or three years down the road.

That’s assuming the Pistons don’t land a top-three pick in Tuesday’s lottery, a 96.4 percent probability. If they do, they’re less likely to solve their perimeter shooting deficiency than their lack of playmaking diversity.

The strength at the top of the draft is at point guard, where Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball might go 1-2 and three others – De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith and Frank Ntilikina – all are likely to be drafted ahead of the 12th pick, the spot the Pistons start in before Tuesday’s lottery.

In the middle of the first round, the Pistons figure to have a better shot at finding a young big man to develop behind Andre Drummond and Boban Marjanovic.

Among the candidates: Justin Patton, Tony Bradley, Harry Giles, Ike Anigbogu, Bam Adebayo and Jarrett Allen.

All of them just completed their freshman seasons in college. None of them are particularly rounded players at this point, but each offers at least one skill that gives them a chance to make an impact.

Patton’s ascent was relatively unexpected after the Omaha, Neb., native spent a redshirt year and one season at hometown Creighton, where he averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting nearly 70 percent and even flashing a 3-point stroke on the few occasions he stepped out to the line. But he’s just 229 pounds and probably needs a few NBA redshirt seasons. At 6-foot-11¼, Patton’s wing span measured 7-foot-3.

He fits the modern NBA with his agility and potential for shooting range.

“If they’re looking for a stretch five, they’ve come to find the right person,” he said at the NBA draft combine. “My skills translate perfectly. I can put the ball on the floor. I can shoot the ball with range and (from) mid-range and I’m a willing passer, too, a great passer. And I have a high IQ.”

Bradley – who said he interviewed with the Pistons here – is cut from a similar cloth, measuring 6-foot-10¾ with a 7-foot-5 wing span. He played behind seniors Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks for national champion North Carolina and, he says, didn’t get to play to his strengths.

“I’m definitely a stretch four and I play the five, too,” he said. “My game – the game you saw at Carolina – is completely different from what I’m going to play in the NBA.”

He’s undecided about staying in the draft, but gave the strong impression that if feedback indicates he’ll go in the first round he won’t be back in Chapel Hill.

Allen, also coming out after one season, averaged 13.4 points and 8.4 rebounds at Texas. Teams might have to wait on his offense, but his athleticism gives Allen a shot to make a difference at the defensive end. He measured 6-foot-10¼ but had a whopping 7-foot-5¼ wing span. In a similar vein is UCLA’s Anigbogu who, at 18, measured 6-foot-9¾ with an even longer wing span than Allen at 7-foot-6¼ on a solid 252-pound frame. Anigbogu, like North Carolina’s Bradley, played off the bench for a stacked team.

Giles would be out of reach for the Pistons if not for a litany of knee injuries – torn ACLs in both knees over the past three years and a third, lesser procedure that delayed his freshman season at Duke – but he has perhaps the highest ceiling as a dominant defender. He measured 6-foot-10 ½ with a 7-foot-3¼ wing span.

Adebayo is a player whose stock is higher today than it would have been even five years ago because of his potential as a pick-and-roll force on the offensive boards and a target for lob passes. He averaged 13.0 points and 8.0 rebounds for Kentucky and measured at 6-foot-9¾ with a 7-foot-2¼ wing span.

Not one among them boasts an old-school center’s skill set – it might be years, if ever, before anyone throws the ball to them in the post and expects a basket – but the fact all six freshmen are at least testing the draft speaks to the needs of NBA teams. It might not be the most urgent need for a Pistons team still building around the 23-year-old Drummond, but it might be the need they can most readily satisfy with where the lottery figures to slot them.

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