Most NBA teams make finding their long-term point guard and center priorities before any other positions. The Detroit Pistons have done just that with their last two drafts. True, Greg Monroe can play some power forward, and Brandon Knight looks to shoot more than pass. However, it remains likely these two players will earn most of their minutes next season at the 1 and 5 spots.
Therefore, in the 2012 draft, Detroit can be comfortable taking the best prospect at either forward position or the off-guard position. Likely drafting around No. 9, Detroit can find someone to back up and eventually replace Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon, Tayshaun Prince or any power forward on the roster.
Coach Lawrence Frank would love to find help for the team's horrific offense, which struggled with ball security and making shots inside the 3-point line. As Knight improves so will the Pistons in both areas, but he'll need more help. Assuming the Pistons don't luck into the top three picks, here's a draft breakdown:
Team needs: Power forward, shooting guards, long-range shooting, finishers in the paint
Jones is too mercurial a talent to be selected by a franchise that is not on solid footing. He clearly has talent, but Detroit is not a team that is ready to nurse him along -- the Pistons have too many issues to fix. Austin Daye has been a disaster as a skill guy who has never learned how to play, and the Pistons still have Charlie Villanueva and the underrated Jonas Jerebko, who will probably be on the roster next season. The bust factor on Jones in Detroit would be high.
Lillard and Marshall, as players, would fit in fine in Motown. But each would be disappointed to be drafted by Detroit knowing the Pistons drafted Knight to be their point guard only last year. Plus, they know Stuckey is there, too. That is not a great way to welcome in a new point guard, especially when the team will have other needs to fill with quality players in this draft.
Zeller does not project to be a special player, but he does have a chance to be solid. And who doesn't need a solid 7-footer? Zeller would allow Monroe to move to power forward, giving the Pistons a nice option to go big on offense while not giving up much on defense. Zeller also is a good finisher around the rim, a big area of need for the Pistons. What the Pistons could be passing up in upside if they go with Zeller, they could gain in value if Zeller becomes the 20-plus minutes per game guy he should be.
Jones fits into the power forward spot and would give Detroit a player with explosive scoring potential. He has some bust factor built in, but he also has talent that would be top five in any draft thanks to his skill game in a good body with above-average athleticism. His motor and focus are fairly questioned, but plenty of ultra-talented players had similar issues on stacked college teams. I fondly remember all the same questions about Rudy Gay, and to some extent, Monroe, players who were forced to lock in as NBA players and are now stars for their teams. Jones has a similar trajectory in his future if he gets to the right team and situation. Detroit is such a team.
Perfect fit: John Henson
Henson presents the Pistons with a low risk/high reward opportunity. At worst, he will be a defensive upgrade off the bench, and someone who should develop into a better-than-average rebounder once he fills out physically. He can pair with Monroe to become a fearsome defensive duo; both players are agile and coordinated. Henson also has significant offensive upside, improving each year at North Carolina as he developed strength and touch. He's not a good shooter -- yet -- but he's certainly improved in that area, as well.
My guess is he will end up being a solid shooter and someone who will be able to score consistently inside. The nice thing about Henson is that he does not have to be a big-time scorer to be a positive contributor for the Pistons. But he has the potential to be a legit 16-point, 10-rebound guy while also routinely being among the league leaders in blocks. He's 21 with an 18-year-old's body.
The Pistons have 20 minutes a game for him next season, at least, which would allow him to improve considerably as he continues to mature physically. As he, Monroe and Knight get another year or two of seasoning, considering their collective intelligence and high basketball IQ, they would form an excellent foundation to help the Pistons to return to the playoffs.