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2015 Pistons preview: Darrun Hilliard unlikely to make impact as rookie

For Darrun Hilliard, this rookie season is more about positioning himself to be a part of the Pistons' long-term plans than earning a key role.

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

1,500 minutes over the course of a season is only 18 minutes per game for an 82 game season. It's not a huge figure. Especially over the course of two or three years.

Since 2010, five whole seasons worth, only 23 second-round picks have broken that mark for their career. Out of 100 players. And many who have, haven't been very good.

Despite the success the Pistons have had with some of their second round picks, overall the success rate for second round picks isn't very good. That's the context to keep in mind with Darrun Hilliard.

That said, there's a lot to like about Hilliard as one of those second round picks who find traction in the NBA. In the first round, teams are looking for eventual starters. Which makes the second round a great time to shop for guys who are better suited for developing into role players. Hilliard should be perfectly suited for the job.

2014-15 Year in Review


Hilliard's rise to the No. 38 pick in the draft all starts with that number. That's the Villanova Wildcats' record over the past two years, a period of time where Hillard was the team's best player. Serving as the cornerstone for a team that wins that much is a big deal.

And he didn't do it through a tremendously flashy style. There's not a lot flashy about Villanova. Most folks don't even know where Villanova even is (admit it, you had to look it up to be sure). They're just one of those schools that always shows up with 20-something wins at the end of the year with a bunch of players you've never heard of.

Last year, Hilliard built upon a breakout junior season where he went from a role player to a team leader. He also went from sharing the scoring load with two other players to being the go-to guy. Though Hilliard averaged the exact same 14.3 points per game last season as he did the year before, he went from finishing second on the team in 2013-14 with 486 (491 and 479 points were the two closest) to leading the team with 501 total points (the closest player scored 365).

Hilliard was an efficient scorer for Jay Wright's three-point shooting attack. More than half Hilliard's shots came from behind the arc, where he shot 37 percent for his career. Not an outstanding mark, but he was closer to 40 percent the past two seasons.

Where most guys who are shooting the majority of their shots from three-point range come with a lower overall field goal percentage, it's not so for Hilliard. He does a nice job of balancing his jumper with a strong game inside the arc.

But Hilliard was drafted more for his versatility than as a pin-your-ears-back scorer. He showed the ability to do a little bit of everything offensively, handling and distributing the ball a bit, getting to the line, and helping out on the boards.

Perhaps the most interesting skill Hilliard brings is on the defensive end. Though he's not an exceptional athlete, he was the guy tasked to defend the other team's best guy - even helping out against point guards.

Despite showing plenty of flashes that he was cut out for life on a NBA roster, Hilliard's name didn't show up on many mock drafts. Going as high as he did in the second round was a definite surprise. But with a closer look, it's easy to see why Van Gundy and Jeff Bower were willing to roll the dice.

Arron Afflalo is the most obvious comparison for Hilliard for Pistons fans, but I don't think he has the same ability to lead a NBA team in scoring that Afflalo has. Spellcheck wasn't a prolific scorer at UCLA, but there were indications of a higher ceiling in that regard than Hilliard has shown. He reminds me more of a cross between Afflalo and Singler - and not in a bad way.

If you're expecting Hilliard to develop into a starter, you're probably going to be disappointed. If he does get that starting job, you're probably going to be disappointed. But as a guy serving as the primary backup at the shooting guard and small forward spots, filling that role that Singler always should have held if the team had more talent on the wings, well, that's a role Hilliard could thrive in.

Then again, there have been other second-round picks for the Pistons who have looked promising before but fizzled in the league. Guys like Kim English, DaJuan Summers, and Walter Sharpe. Well, maybe Joe Dumars was the only one who thought Sharpe looked promising, but there are plenty of other examples as well.

If the draft is a lottery, the second round is a scratch-off ticket. You're going to lose more than you win, and even winning doesn't mean you can you can quit working.

2015-16 Projected Production

When the Pistons traded a 2020 second round pick to acquire Marcus Morris, a lot of spare parts came along with him. Those spare parts could pose a threat to Hilliard making the Pistons roster.

The Pistons have 18 guaranteed contracts for the coming season, and the biggest glut in the roster plays the same role as Hilliard. Danny Granger, Reggie Bullock, Cartier Martin, and Adonis Thomas are all gunning for the roster, and that's even before taking into account the other offseason additions who will be playing small forward in Stanley Johnson and Marcus Morris.

Where Hilliard fits into the coming season depends largely who else makes the roster along with him - assuming he does. It's a pretty safe assumption though, as Hilliard provides three years of minimal salary in an upcoming cap explosion.

The rotation is essentially already set at shooting guard and small forward, where Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jodie Meeks, Morris, and Johnson will split the minutes. But that group leaves room for a guy who can easily fill in at either shooting guard and/or small forward the way that Kyle Singler and Caron Butler have in the past.

Hilliard could be that guy, or he could spend much of his season with the Grand Rapids Drive. It's all about what Stan Van Gundy is looking for in his reserve wing and how Hilliard performs in challenging for the job.

It's tough to see Hilliard having a leg up on any of his competition. The veterans come in with strong abilities, if not such strong recent track records. Thomas is just as young as the rookie but has spent the past two years in the D-League, including getting to know Van Gundy's system last season with the Drive where he performed admirably.

It'll take blowouts, injury, or some other unforeseen circumstance for any of these end-of-the-bench guys to see the court. Those things happen, but with a roster that's considered more intact heading into this season, it should be less than usual.

My guess is that the youngsters survive training camp, Hilliard and Thomas. But that it's Thomas who spends most of the season with the Pistons, Hilliard getting used to the way the Pistons work while getting his game time in with the Drive.


Drive: 26 games, 35 minutes per game, 16 points on 54 percent true shooting, 2 three point makes on 34 percent, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
Pistons: 15 games, 10 minutes per game, 2 points on 48 percent true shooting, 2 rebounds, 1 assist