The Pistons Must Draft the Best Player Available, Regardless of Position or Fit
The question of how to draft is one that many people ask. Do you draft the position that you need? Do you draft for highest upside or the surest thing? Do you go for a project who will take time or a guy who is more likely to contribute right away?
Well the Pistons, just like any other team, must ignore any issues of fit or position or anything else and draft the best player available.
But what does “Best player available” mean?
Fairly straightforward, the guy who will be the best player while still on your team. You must hope that whoever you draft at least starts to become a good player while they are still on their rookie contract, there are some guys who take longer than that to start to show real signs but they are outliers.
They are not getting someone who will be a big contributor right away.
The Pistons are drafting 15th in the first round of the draft. Even in a good draft that is not likely to return a great player and this draft is supposed to be quite weak. Beyond that, even the players drafted 15th that end up becoming good or great players take several years to get there.
So for instance, you may have been telling yourself “Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo were drafted 15th so the Pistons have a shot at a game changer!” do remember that even with that, the absolute best case scenario, that Giannis was in his 3rd season before he was actually a useful NBA player and into his 4th before he started to actually get really good. Kawhi spent his rookie season as a mid rotation piece who was a rebounding specialist and didn’t crack 13 points per game till his 4th season.
So even if the Pistons nail that pick with a generational talent, count on them to be, at best, a edge of rotation guy his rookie season and not start to really hum until their 4th season and not reach that full “generational talent” level until they are on their second contract.
And that right there, is exactly why they have to pick the guy that will be the best player no matter what position they play or how they fit with the current roster.
You’d really want them to draft a power forward if they will be the best player?
That’s 100% right. As stated above, even the picks (outside of the top few picks) usually take at least 3-5 years to start to get really good. Blake Griffin has 3 years left on his contract and Andre has two (and a player option that could make him a free agent after this coming season) which means that even if the Pistons draft a generational superstar, they won’t be ready to take the full mantel of superstar until the Pistons current front-court is off their current contracts.
But they won’t get the minutes they need to develop!
There is some truth to this but not a huge worry. If they drafted a power forward it would be highly likely that he would be able to give minutes at backup center next to Blake while Andre gets a breather if they need to find them minutes. For this scenario the worst case scenario would be if they drafted a screen and roll center who turned out to be too good to just be a backup. Like say they drafted Jarrett Allen.
Even if they did draft Jarrett Allen, your worst case scenario is that Allen spends one or two seasons backing up Andre Drummond which isn’t a terrible thing. Perhaps the Pistons are not getting the most possible out of Allen, but now Drummond doesn’t have to play a billion minutes for the Pistons to survive and if he gets hurt you have a totally viable guy ready to step in, if Andre doesn’t get hurt and you still want to play him in the top 20 for total minutes in the NBA then you just enjoy that for the 16 minutes per game where he sits you still have a center playing at a high level for a couple of years. Especially considering the quality of backups the Pistons have had up front the past couple of seasons, this would be a great luxury.
What if it causes locker-room friction?
I would start off by suggesting that avoiding such things is very much so Dwane Casey’s specialty but lets entertain it. The comparison here will be the Pistons own Reggie Jackson and his time in OKC. First off, Jackson is another pick who was a very low-usage backup for his first two seasons, but after that he broke fully onto the scene, thought he deserved more and caused a stink before being traded before he hit restricted free-agency.
Even in that time, Jackson had a great season as a backup for the Thunder that saw him fill in for an injured Russell Westbrook for 27 games, in those 27 games, both Jackson (and the Thunder) played well enough that many wondered aloud about whether or not the Thunder even needed Russell Westbrook, this is also the stretch that got it into Reggie Jackson’s head that he ought to be starting full-time.
On top of that stretch, Jackson performed well in the playoffs, including a playoff game against the Grizzlies where Jackson basically won the game for them with a monstrous 32 point performance.
On top of that, even though he spent much of his second season as a low-minutes backup, he performed well in the playoffs that season as well which is what paved the way for his best season with the Thunder.
Then, after half a season of whining about wanting a new contract and to start, the Thunder traded him to the Pistons for DJ Augustine, Kyle Singler, and a second round pick.
So in conclusion, if the Pistons were to draft a big (at either position) who turned out to be a good player, your worst case scenario is that they help to uphold a season while one of your stars is hurt, have a pair of great playoff showings that includes a signature game where they carry the team in a huge playoff game. Then, at the end, after some whining, you trade him for a pair of useful role players and a second round pick.
If we ignore the fact that Kyle Singler totally forgot how to play basketball when he got to OKC (remember he was a solid rotation guy in Detroit, think to the past couple of seasons. Would it have been nice to have a great backup big, then part way through last season trade him for DJ Augustine, a serviceable wing, and a second round pick? Even if we let Kyle Singler forget how to hoop in this fake scenario, you get Augustine and a second round pick still.
But the Pistons REALLY need a wing:
This is true. The Pistons need a wing, and their priority should probably be to try and maximize the next couple of years to see if they can do anything while Blake is still in the back end of his prime. If they really feel that they need a wing who can play 30 minutes per night right away, then they should just trade the pick. It sucks, but its the reality. Once again, even if they nail the pick and get a generational talent, they will spend this coming season as a decent bench player and won’t start to get really good for another couple of years, by which point Griffin will be either gone or out of his prime.
If they keep their picks, they must simply draft the best guy, regardless of position or fit. If you draft a center who ends up being incredible, you let Andre walk in free agency or you trade one of your centers for wings. If you draft a power forward who is incredible you find a way to play him next to Blake, if you can’t do that then you can trade him or ride it out till Blake is gone and have a foundation for when Blake leaves.
So to conclude: If the Pistons need to use the draft to get a wing who can play 30+ per night the next two seasons, they should just trade the pick(s), if they do keep the pick, they cannot be worried about what position they draft or how they fit with the current roster. The current build of the team has probably got two more years, if he doesn’t fit with this roster then you re-tool in a couple of years just as they start to get good enough to actually take the load.