In my column today in the Detroit Free Press, I outline the tier system I use for ranking draft prospects. Here’s how the top of the draft looks from a Pistons perspective:
1. Nerlens Noel
Medical examinations of Noel, who tore his ACL in February, will be essential. Has he lost some of his athleticism? Will he be more likely to get injured? Will future injuries affect him more adversely than they would others? If the answers to those three questions is “no,” Noel is No. 1. He has proved himself the top prospect in the draft, and I wouldn’t mind waiting until midseason for his return. If there are injury concerns, he could slide, but it’s difficult to envision him falling past past the players currently in Tier 2.
2. Otto Porter
3. Trey Burke
4. Victor Oladipo
5. Ben McLemore
These players were very productive in college and have the youth/athleticism/raw talent to continue improving — a great combination in the draft.
As for the order, the Pistons could really use a do-it-all small forward like Porter, who’s the youngest of the group. (That boosts his value to the Pistons because that increases his upside, and they can afford to wait for him to reach it.)
Point guards generally impact the game more than shooting guards, so when teams need both — as the Pistons do — point guards like Burke get the edge over shooting guards like Oladipo and McLemore.
Oladipo’s defense gives him the edge over McLemore. The Pistons might need a score-first, score-only player such as McLemore right now, but in the long run, it’s difficult to win big with a player who can’t contribute more.
6. Anthony Bennett
Most have Bennett mixed with my Tier 2 players, but I had him a step below even before news of his rotator cuff surgery. His defensive indifference just gives me too much pause. For the Pistons, this distinction matters little because Bennett’s fit would rank him fifth among the second-tier players anyway.
7. Shabazz Muhammad
8. C.J. McCollum
9. Alex Len
Muhammad fits the Pistons’ current needs very well, but as is the concern with McLemore, a score-first, score-only player can help only so much in the long term. Can Muhammad do more? Ben Howland’s system at UCLA notoriously makes it difficult to assess guards.
A scoring point guard such as McCollum won’t exactly fit with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, who need entry passes and lobs, but McCollum might be too talented to pass up.
Len is polished and athletic, but he’d be stuck behind Monroe and Drummond. Also, is he tough enough?
This fourth tier is equally likely to add players as have a player emerge above the rest before the draft. The are many players (including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Cody Zeller) who are a small step below but could move up.
Chris Broussard of ESPN ranked the NBA’s current and potential coaching openings based on desirability from a coach’s perspective, and the Pistons ranked seventh. Here’s what an anonymous person within the league said about Detroit:
"I keep saying it, but being in the East always helps. They’ve had a winning tradition, so there are still going to be expectations. But they’re already in their process. And they’re not totally stripped down. They do have some good young talent that kind of makes sense. Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe,Brandon Knight — all those pieces make sense together. They just need to get some good veterans around them. And I think the owner is serious.
"Just the fact that he brought Phil [Jackson] in to help him find a coach. That speaks volumes about him and his ego because that means on some level he’s surrendered his ego and said, ‘We need help.’ I like that in an owner. If they make one or two right decisions with the money they have this summer, they could be right back in the mix."
The Pistons should be similar to the Raptors (No. 5), 76ers (No. 6) and Bucks (No. 9) – I have no idea why the Suns are as high as No. 8 – but this is good dose of reality from the propaganda that Drummond and Monroe alone will attract a quality coach. Right now, the Pistons’ job is middle of the road, and Joe Dumars (and/or Phil Jackson) will have his (their?) work cut out to land better than a middle-of-the-road coach.
Although Jackson passed on the Nets’ job, a source with knowledge of the Hall of Fame coach’s thinking told ESPN.com that he remains open to the possibility of coaching again if he had "influence" over personnel, similar to the arrangement Miami gave to Pat Riley.
So Phil Jackson wants a front-office job. That won’t make his arrangement in Detroit awkward at all. Nope, not one bit.
If I were running team looking for a general manager and a coach – not saying the Pistons particularly – I would be thrilled to hire Jackson as a GM/coach on one condition: He must coach for a couple years and choose a protégé to serve as an assist coach and his eventual replacement. I wouldn’t completely trust giving a general manager job to Jackson, who has no front-office experience. But I would be willing to give it a try if it meant a couple years on the bench from one of the best coaches of all time. He could hire Brian Shaw, or anyone else he chooses, as his coach-in-waiting and slowly transition to the front office.
Aw, heck, maybe I am talking about the Pistons. Who wouldn’t take that arrangement at this point?
Chad Ford’s second NBA mock draft for ESPN has the Pistons selecting Shabazz Muhammad with the No. 7 pick:
The Pistons have had a bit of luck the past few years in the lottery. Every year a player who is ranked very high at the start of the season seems to slide to them later in the draft and somehow fits a perfect need. First it was Greg Monroe in 2010. Brandon Knight slid in 2011. Last year it was Andre Drummond. At times, all three were ranked in the top five with Monroe and Drummond going as high as No. 2. Could it happen again this year with Muhammad? The Pistons clearly have a need for a shooter, and before the season began, many scouts had Muhammad as a top-three pick. He didn’t look like one at UCLA, but draft prospects rarely shine in Ben Howland’s system.
Unless the Pistons move up in the May 21 lottery, expect a lot of mock drafts projecting them to draft Muhammad. A top consensus top six has emerged – Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Otto Porter, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke and Anthony Bennett – and most mock drafts, like Ford’s, will have those six taken before the Pistons pick. At that point, Muhammad is a big name whose scoring ability and position makes him a decent fit with the Pistons.
J.B. Bickerstaff is perhaps best know for being Bernie Bickerstaff’s son and a piece of one of David Kahn’s harebrained schemes. Jerry Zgoda of the StarTribune:
The idea with hiring Bickerstaff — 67 and a head coach with four different NBA teams during his long career when he also was a president and GM — would be to sign him for a year or two while his son J.B. is groomed to take over the job when he’s ready.
Fortunately for the Timberwolves, they hired Rick Adelman instead. It worked out for Bickerstaff, too. He went to the Rockets and worked with a team with a winning record for the first time since 2000-01.
Obviously, that losing streak isn’t only Bickerstaff’s fault, but it’s certainly not a positive. Teams obviously like to hire winners, so how did Bickerstaff shine amid despair work his way up the coaching ranks while losing? Nepotism, perhaps? Leonard Laye of BobcatsBasketball.com when Bickerstaff was a Bobcats assistant:
John-Blair is the NBA’s youngest assistant coach. His father had the same distinction when, in 1973 at age 29, he started his coaching career in the league as a Washington assistant.
“Getting an opportunity like this, at my age, is a blessing,” John-Blair said. “Getting to work with my dad every day is a blessing.
Even if Bickerstaff got a leg up because his dad coached – and that’s not necessarily the case – maybe he seized the opportunity and developed into a worthy coaching candidate. For a small window into what Bickerstaff does, here’s an article excerpt from 2011, when Bickerstaff was a Timberwolves assistant. Judd Spicer of City Pages:
Bickerstaff is quick to laud the lack of generational gaps between the rest of the staff — coaches Kurt Rambis, Bill Laimbeer, Reggie Theus are all 53-years old; Dave Wohl is 61 — and the players, but adds that being a young coach has allowed him to serve in a conduit-capacity with players.
"The relationships — because of the similar generation I have with players — it opens doors up for us as a coaching staff," Bickerstaff explains. "It gives me the ability to relate to the guys, but also to be in a position as a coach to demand things from players. I think I can get a lot out of people because I do have that relationship with them. And it’s a relationship built on respect, and they understand that my best interest is for them and the team. Because of that, the coaches can come to me and I can go to the guys and get what we need to get done."
By nature, assistant coaches have different relationships with players than head coaches do. Assistant coaches often smooth over the hardline messages head coaches must deliver, and it sounds like Bickerstaff fills his role well. But can he also make and communicate the difficult decisions as a head coach?
And what has he done to prove himself in Houston? There’s only so much work for assistants to do, and the Rockets have two – Bickerstaff and Kelvin Sampson – good enough to interview for head-coaching positions. By both sharing responsibilities, there’s a limited opportunity for either to prove himself. But Sampson at least established his bona fides with the Bucks and Indiana University.
I asked for a wide-ranging coach search that includes candidates who would command a large salary, and the Pistons – who have or will interview Nate McMillan, Nate Budenholzer, Lindsey Hunter and Bickerstaff – are doing jut that. If they hire Bickerstaff because they like him more than McMillan and Budenholzer, I could maybe get behind that. If they hire Bickerstaff because more-established candidates turn them down, I’d be pretty underwhelmed.
In the meantime, I’ll keep reminding myself it doesn’t matter who they interview. It matters only whom they hire, and they’re probably not going to hire Bickerstaff.
Knicks assistant coach Darrell Walker is a candidate for the Pistons coaching job, sources say. Walker was a Pistons assistant from ’08-’11
Walker was a head coach for parts of three seasons between 1996 and 2000. In his best season, he went 15-23, and his career record is 56-113. It’s unfair to pin the losses of bad Raptors and Wizards teams entirely on him, but Walker hasn’t done enough to prove himself otherwise.
He served as an assistant in Detroit under John Kuester and Michael Curry, and if Walker impressed Joe Dumars during that time, I worry it was due only to the comparative level of the coaches he was working under.
The Pistons might be doing their due diligence by talking to Walker, and that’s great. But I’d be surprised if this is anything more than courtesy and shocked if Walker is a top-five candidate.
Pistons president Joe Dumars traveled to San Antonio on Wednesday and spent several hours meeting with Budenholzer, the top assistant to Gregg Popovich.
This is really exciting. I’m a Budenholzer fan, and even if he doesn’t get the job, it’s good he’s in the mix. The more quality candidates in the mix, the more likely the Pistons hire a good coach.
I’m also interested in the timing of the news breaking.
As Wojnarowski notes, this meeting occurred before the Pistons brought Phil Jackson on board. So why does it leak now? I don’t know, but completely speculating, here’s a theory: Dumars, upset with the perception he can’t run a competent coaching search, leaked it to prove he knows what he’s doing. If that’s the case, well done, Joe. Any general manager who scores a several-hour meeting with Budenholzer is doing something right.
Of course, there are a number of possibilities, such as Budenholzer or his agent leaking it to boost Budenholzer’s stock. So, don’t read too much into my speculation. Just sharing a thought that passed through my head.
To see how much a difference pace can make, here’s how McMillan’s teams ranked in points allowed per game/points allowed per possession:
2000-01 SuperSonics: 24th/24th*
2001-02 SuperSonics: 12th/17th
2002-03 SuperSonics: 6th/17th
2003-04 SuperSonics: 24th/27th
2004-05 SuperSonics: 13th/27th
2005-06 Trail Blazers: 18th/28th
2006-07 Trail Blazers: 14th/26th
2007-08 Trail Blazers: 8th/17th
2008-09 Trail Blazers: 4th/13th
2009-10 Trail Blazers: 3rd/15th
2010-11 Trail Blazers: 7th/14th
2011-12 Trail Blazers: 18th/23rd**
And his teams usually perform well offensively. After all, if his defenses do poorly, there has to be some reason his teams win more often than not.
There’s plenty of variation in rankings for McMillan’s teams offensively (using points scored per possession) — 10th, 5th, 19th, 3rd, 2nd, 30th, 20th, 14th, 1st, 7th, 10th, 11th — but they certainly skew to the positive.
Zach Lowe of Grantland wrote a great article (redundant) about New Age Shane Battiers, in other word players who can:
• Defend shooting guards.
• Defend small forwards.
• Shoot 3-pointers proficiently.
Lowe names two Pistons with the potential to meet that criteria:
• Kyle Singler: Singler shot 35 percent from deep and provided some valuable spacing for the shooting-challenged Pistons while logging time at both wing positions. Has to prove he can hold his own defensively.
• Khris Middleton: Detroit is high on Middleton’s potential to become precisely this sort of player, but he attempted just 45 3s and didn’t receive consistent minutes (or really any meaningful minutes at all) until the last month of the season.
It’s rather generous to include Kyle Singler and Khris Middleton, neither of whom shot even league average on 3-pointers. Middleton was a really bad defender when the Pistons inserted him into the rotation, and though he made great strides, he still didn’t prove he can defend either position. Singler lacked the foot speed to defend shooting guards, and he was only so-so against small forwards.
Both players have potential to improve on their rookies years and become New Age Battiers, but they have a long way to go to meet all three criteria.
Pistons might draft Ben McLemore, Otto Porter or Anthony Bennett with No. 1 overall pick in NBA Draft
In his latest NBA Draft rankings, Chad Ford of ESPN focused on which players teams would draft with the No. 1 pick, and he mentioned the Pistons when discussing Ben McLemore, Otto Porter and Anthony Bennett:
We now project McLemore as the No. 1 pick for five teams — the Pistons, Pelicans, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers and Jazz.
While we currently don’t project Porter to go No. 1 to any team, a number of teams — such as the Pistons, Suns and Wizards — would consider Porter there and would likely take him at the No. 2 spot if they landed it.
A few teams, including the Bobcats, Kings, Pistons, Wizards and 76ers, would probably give [Bennett] a strong look at No. 1.
Ford also linked the Pistons to C.J. McCollum and Shabazz Muhammad:
The Suns, Timberwolves, Pistons, Thunder and Jazz all could use [McCollum’s] skills.
The Kings, Pistons, Pelicans and Wizards all remain strong possibilities to select Muhammad in the top 10.
If the Pistons got the No. 1 pick, I’d take Nerlens Noel. To me, he’s a tier above every other player in this draft. I know he’s not a perfect fit with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe – heck, he might be a bad fit with them – but I wouldn’t settle for a lesser prospect unless someone who fits better elevates himself onto that top tier. So far, nobody has.
If the Pistons are forced to pick between players like McCollum and Muhammad, well, I really hope it doesn’t come to that.