CHICAGO – Joe Dumars admitted slipping one spot to No. 8 in the lottery wasn’t what the Pistons went to New Jersey hoping would happen, but said he still feels they’ll come away with a good player in the June draft. I don’t know if they’ll come away with a player who can do for them what Greg Monroe did as a rookie, but I like their chances of landing another five-star citizen, as Monroe proved to be – someone who’ll help the Pistons re-establish the culture that pushed them into the NBA’s elite for both of their championship eras.
That impression was formed Thursday in talking with a few of the players who will be prominently on the Pistons’ radar over the next five weeks.
Start with Tristan Thompson. If we were going to put odds on which guy the Pistons are most likely to pick, I don’t know how high I’d go on Thompson. It wouldn’t be 50 percent. But I can’t think of another player any more likely to be the pick.
In part, that’s because I still can’t see Enes Kanter slipping that far – although I talked with DraftExpress.com president Jonathan Givony on Thursday, who has Kanter going eighth to the Pistons, and he stands by his belief that Kanter, because of his lack of a resume, will fall on draft night.
Jan Vesely is also at least 50-50 to be off the board at No. 8, probably more like 70-30. Thompson’s upper range is probably right about where the Pistons pick, though he certainly has plenty of time and opportunities ahead of him to change minds.
And if it turns out to be Thompson, Pistons fans are going to like him.
“If you draft Tristan Thompson, you’ll get someone who will work hard, on and off the court,” the Texas freshman, a native of Canada, said. “Whenever I get in the game, I bring toughness and play hard. If that means running up and down the court, blocking shots, rebounding – whatever a team needs to win, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Thompson’s stock in trade is his athleticism, his motor, his long arms and timing as a shot-blocker, and his self-awareness. He knows that his strengths are rebounding and defense. He acknowledges he has work to do offensively, but he’s already thought about how he could help the Pistons if he was to line up next to Greg Monroe.
“I think we would complement each other great,” he said. “He’s a terrific player. He’s a lefty, like myself. He’s really smart, has a great basketball IQ. He’s able to make plays out of the post on double teams. Me and him together, both rebounding and playing hard, it would be fun. People would enjoy watching us, I think.”
Nobody who was in Chicago knows Thompson as well as Cory Joseph, his teammate at Texas – and at a Las Vegas prep school before that, and everywhere else they’ve been together since the fourth grade.
“They’d be getting a guy with a high motor who always wants to win,” Joseph said. “He’s a winner. He’s a competitor and he loves the game of basketball. He’ll give you 110 percent every time he’s on the floor.”
I asked Joseph if there was anyone in the NBA he would compare to Thompson. He thought a minute – and then came up with a comp that sounded unlikely but might not be too far off someday.
“A lot of people say he’s like Lamar Odom,” Joseph said. “He’s not as good a shooter, but he’s working on improving his shot.”
Kanter was also very impressive. He chose to work out and fully participate in the combine and sounded sincere when he expressed pure joy at being able to do so after spending what should have been his freshman season at Kentucky on the sidelines due to NCAA eligibility concerns.
“I’m just so happy I’m here,” said the Turkish-born Kanter. “I can show myself to NBA guys. Finally, that was my dream. I didn’t play college, so I have to show myself to people and I don’t have to hide anything.”
Kanter said he didn’t want to go back to Turkey because, “When the NCAA made me ineligible, I was so sad because I came to the United States for education. When they told me I cannot play because I’m a professional, it just made me so sad because I didn’t want to be a professional. That’s why I came here.”
The Pistons will get glimpses of Thompson and Kanter here in Chicago and no doubt invite them to work out for them in Auburn Hills. Kanter said he wasn’t sure how many teams he will visit. His agent will control that process and will be talking to the teams that pick ahead of the Pistons first. If he gets an indication that Kanter will be gone before No. 8, he isn’t likely to come to Auburn Hills. Remember, Monroe didn’t visit last year; it was thought he would go no lower than sixth.
Kawhi Leonard and the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, are other potential Pistons draft candidates. They also made favorable impressions in media interviews, showing the type of honesty and poise that plays well in team interviews.
One more who impressed me was Kenneth Faried, perhaps a long shot to go as high as No. 8, but a player whose massive body of work in college – where he is one of the most prolific rebounders in NCAA history – will be hard to ignore for teams in a draft filled with uncertainties.
I asked Faried if he was at all taken aback by mock drafts that have players like Kanter or Kyrie Irving, with little to recommend them other than their potential, going ahead of him.
“I really don’t take it as offensive,” he said. “I just take it as I need to do better. I need to be better – just go out there and show them, hey, I can compete against this guy. But if they don’t believe it, I can’t knock it.”