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Six years of drafting explains a lot of the Detroit Pistons’ current woes

John Krolik of Cavs: the blog wrote an extremely interesting piece yesterday called, “This is why the Cavaliers are terrible.” As you can probably guess, the post was about some guy named LeBron James. But it wasn’t for the reason you think.

Krolik’s argument: After LeBron, the Cavaliers became very good very quickly. That meant they didn’t have time to supplement LeBron with high picks, minimizing their chances of drafting good players.

The Pistons experienced a similar fate in the earlier part of the century. Instead of drafting a remarkable talent who immediately transformed the franchise, the Pistons did it differently. But they still went from 32 wins to winning at least 50 games the next seven seasons.

That’s a long time without having a poor enough record to land a high draft pick.* It’s mighty difficult to stay competitive with that disadvantage. Just the Mavericks and Spurs won 50 games each of those seven seasons, and they’ve only remained contenders because the Mavericks are willing to pay the luxury tax and the Spurs are the model franchise.

*Although, the Pistons lucked into a No. 2 pick during this run. You might have heard about it. It didn’t go so well.

Krolik targeted post-LeBron drafts and found seven years of gaining little in the draft. The Pistons’ run of relatively fruitless drafts lasted just six years, so they’ve got that going for them.

Let’s inspect what happened:

2003 draft

  • No. 2 Darko Milicic – never panned out in Detroit, traded for a pick that became Rodney Stuckey
  • No. 25 Carlos Delfino – played OK in Detroit, dumped to the Raptors for a pick that later became Jonas Jerebko
  • No. 58 Andreas Glyniadakas – never signed with the Pistons, played 13 career NBA games (with the Seattle Sonics)

2004 draft

  • No. 54 Rickey Paulding – never reached the NBA

2005 draft

2006 draft

  • No. 60 Will Blalock – played 14 games with the Pistons before bouncing around NBDL and overseas

2007 draft

2008 draft

In this time span, the Pistons also traded their first-round pick three times:

  • 2004 – helped to land Rasheed Wallace, whom the Pistons eventually let walk in free agency
  • 2006 – helped to land Carlos Arroyo, whom the Pistons later threw in with Darko in the Magic trade
  • 2008 – traded for Sharpe and Plaisted

That leaves the Pistons with three players they drafted or acquired by trading one of their first-round picks during this span – Stuckey, Maxiell and Jerebko. From the seven years Krolik examined, Cleveland is left with Antawn Jamison, Anderson Varejao, J.J. Hickson, Daniel Gibson and Christian Eyenga. Which group would you rather have?

To close, this post isn’t meant solely to criticize Joe Dumars. This haul is based on a number of factors – circumstance (winning 56 games per season during this span, which leads to lower draft picks), poor drafting (Darko) and failure to retain successful picks (Afflalo, Johnson and, perhaps, Delfino).

Strong drafts in 2010 (Greg Monroe) and 2009 (Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko) have the Pistons back on track, but going so long without adding young talent via the draft was obviously a setback Detroit is still working to overcome.


  • Jan 28, 201111:40 am
    by brgulker


    Great post, Patrick!
    Interestingly, I think it’s possible to make the case that if Dumars had found a way to retain several of his late first-round and second-round picks, the Pistons might be in much better shape than they are now.
    He’s done a really good job, actually, in terms of finding value where it wouldn’t be expected. His main problems have been his major whiffs in the lottery.

  • Jan 28, 201111:55 am
    by nuetes


    Say Dumars just retained guys like Delfino, Afflalo, Amir, Budinger, etc. Your talking the ability to build a core of role players via 2nd round picks, and he still has Jerebko as well. Daye, Stuckey, Prince, etc all these mid/late firsts. Again all great secondary/role players. If he just had the chance to find a young star or two Dumars has shown the ability to find enough talent to sustain a long period of success by putting players around them. If Dumars had a Lebron he’d be set because I don’t think he would have let a Cleveland scenario happen because he would have put productive role players around him.

  • Jan 28, 201112:11 pm
    by Patrick Hayes


    That post was actually Dan’s.
    But I’d just like to point out that he gave up on Mateen Cleaves way too early.

  • Jan 28, 201112:18 pm
    by Mike Payne


    Nice write-up Dan, as painful as it is to go back through…  I’m also bugged about the other story in this situation, the preference to draft the “Best Player Available” when those picks didn’t fit a positional need.  Had we picked based on needs, we’d have DeAndre Jordan instead of Walter Sharpe, Ty Lawson instead of Austin Daye and DeJuan Blair instead of DaJuan Summers.  The “best player available” strategy clearly didn’t net us the, well, best player available…

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  • Jan 28, 20111:09 pm
    by gordbrown


    What this analysis doesn’t look at is the room to develop players while trying to win now. To my mind, Darko was two problems. One was his terrible attitude, believing he could hit the floor without having to earn it, partying late into the night when he wasn’t playing, not staying in shape etc. But also he fact that the coaches wouldn’t play him, even giving him only limited minutes in blowouts, etc. How much of that fed into the bad attitude is another question. Sometimes players stay well low of their ceilings because they’re buried so deep on the bench that they miss out on crucial opportunities. Don’t forget as well that players who are “annointed” by shoe companies early in their careers get all the calls. The one that hurts the most is Afflalo, Pistons could/should have given him more of a chance but for whatever reason (cough hamilton cough) didn’t.

  • Jan 28, 20111:59 pm
    by Laser


    as my old english teacher used to say, this is kind of a “yeah but nah.”
    joe’s done a lot wrong over the past three years. if he’s made a move in that stretch, safe bet is it was bad. and he hasn’t done anything particularly good since signing mcdyess almost six years ago. plenty of teams do alright without the benefit of high draft picks.
    the spurs come to mind. yes, they hit the jackpot when they landed tim duncan, but picture what happens when he’s gone. it’s going to be lebron-like, in that they’re not going to get anything for him. he will retire a spur, so they’ll get less for him than cleveland ended up netting when lebron bolted. but do you really think the spurs are going to suffer a stretch like we’ve seen, or like cleveland figures to enjoy? maybe if they trade parker and ginobili for cap space, then blow it all on ben gordon and charlie villanueva.
    and yes, we never had a player on the level of tim duncan, but as a whole we were as good as the spurs for a good, long while. so if dumars did even a half-decent job of rolling over his assets, we’d never have to see this precipitous of a drop-off. you don’t have to personally DRAFT young talent if you can acquire it by other means.
    imagine if we’d actually gotten any value at all for the assets we’ve dumped since the championship run. chauncey, afflalo, dyess, amir, sheed’s expiring contract; imagine if dumars never gave rip and maxiell instantly regrettable extensions; imagine if he hadn’t turned a huge chunk of cap space into significant liabilities on the books (and, depending on whom you ask, on the floor); imagine if he’d pulled the trigger on that deal with cleveland that would have netted us rondo and ray allen’s expiring contract; even trading max for big baby (i think it was the same year) would have been an uprade.
    i think the draft is among the least of our worries. and it’s an odd thing to criticize. when you’re a good team, you don’t get the juiciest draft picks. that’s the trade-off for being legitimate contenders for most of a decade. and, yes, most perennial contenders tend to be willing to pay the luxury tax to improve (which, as good of an owner as he was, mr. d. just wouldn’t do), but the draft is a silly thing to point to. when you win 50-60 games every year, you’re not going to draft the kevin durants and blake griffins and john walls…
    and you end by saying strong drafts have us back on track, but those picks were the direct result of being TERRIBLE. so, uh, you’re basically saying as long as the pistons are always terrible they’ll remain on the right track. or something. i can’t get behind this article at all.

  • Jan 28, 20112:02 pm
    by Laser


    “deal with cleveland” should read “deal with boston.” obviously.

  • Jan 28, 20112:12 pm
    by Laser


    …and if cleveland had traded lebron last year at the trade deadline* they could have positively FLEECED some other franchise and been set for the next decade. so should we be pointing to their low draft picks? or the fact that their superstar– arguably the best player in the entire league, who could carry absolutely any team to the playoffs every single year– left for absolutely nothing?
    (*i’m told from a friend of mine who stays part-time in cleveland that trading lebron was never going to happen. apparently the fans would have revolted or something. still, i’ve always maintained that they have a legitimate excuse for being awful. we don’t.)

  • Jan 29, 201112:04 am
    by gmehl1977


    Gee that fcuk up move letting Afflalo go for nothing looks almost as bad as Joe drafting Darko. I am seriously starting to think there are spies from Denver in Detroit’s ranks somewhere. I mean how many times have we been fleeced by that organization?

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    by hair chalking sets


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