Now officially eliminated from the 2014-15 NBA Playoffs, Detroit Pistons fans can concentrate on the upcoming draft. For the sixth straight year, the Pistons are likely to finish the season with the odds of picking in the range of 7th to 9th. Unfortunately, last year the Pistons lost their first round pick to the Charlotte Hornets to finish up the Ben Gordon trade from 2012. They do not have to worry about that this year.
The four previous picks in the range of seven to nine have yielded the Pistons with some decent players.
The first of those was Greg Monroe in 2010 with the 7th overall pick. This was a surprise to a lot of Pistons fans as some wanted DeMarcus Cousins, Monroe had less of an attitude issue and was expected to be drafted before the Pistons had a chance to pick him. Though Cousins has had marginally better statistical seasons than Monroe, they both are great players. Monroe would start 48 games in his rookie year.
The following year yielded Brandon Knight with the 8th overall pick. Now, his years in Detroit were not so great, but since being traded to Milwaukee, he has seemed to turn a corner. Prior to being traded to the Phoenix Suns, Knight was leading a young Bucks team to a strong playoff birth. His numbers did not seem sustainable at the time, but his role in Phoenix changed and his numbers started to drop. In Milwaukee, he was having a career year. Knight would start 60 of 66 games his rookie year.
In 2012 the Pistons had a present drop in their lap with the 9th overall pick. Prior to the 2011-12 NCAA season, Andre Drummond was projected to be either the number one or number two pick of the following draft. Due to some turmoil, some coach problems, and a less than stellar season, major questions arose about Drummond that had him sliding down the draft board expediently. Since being drafted by the Pistons, Andre has squashed many of those concerns (except for free throws and boxing out) and has put up some historical numbers in efficiency and rebounding. Much to the chagrin of the fans, Drummond would only start 10 games his rookie year.
Possibly the weakest of the four would be Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Pistons 8th overall pick in 2013. After an amazing sophomore season at Georgia and being selected by the Pistons over the likes of Trey Burke, KCP has had two inconsistent years with the Pistons. His play this year has been better than last years, but he has still been inconsistent. His numbers of shots are up, but not his overall field-goal percentage. His three point percentage has only increased by 16 one-hundredths of a point, and his free throw percentage has dropped almost seven tenths of a point. His splits of away and home three point percentage is stark: 26.5-percent away from the Palace and 38.8-percent at the Palace. KCP would start 41 games his rookie year.
So going into this year's draft, the Pistons can be confident that they could yield a strong contributor at their position. But here's the thing: None of these players were rookies when Stan Van Gundy was coach of the Pistons.
Going into his first year with the Miami Heat, Van Gundy had four rookies on the roster: Kirk Penney (undrafted), Jerome Beasley (33rd overall), Udonis Haslem (undrafted) and Dwyane Wade (5th overall). Penney and Beasley only played in two games each, totaling 23 minutes between them. Neither would be with the team the following year. Haslem was used quite a bit more than them playing in 75 games, starting 24 of them, and averaging just under 24 minutes per game. Wade, who missed 21 games due to injury, would start all but five of his 61 games and would average just under 35 minutes per game. But you have to remember, he was slated to go as early as third in the draft.
The following year Van Gundy only had one rookie on his team and that was Dorell Wright (19th overall). He would only see the floor three times the entire season for a total of 27 minutes. Van Gundy would play him in more games the following season (20) including two starts, but he would only average 6.6 minutes per game on the season. Wright would go on to play as many as 38 minutes a game for the Golden State Warriors (starting all 82) in 2010-11 and average 16.4 points per game on 42.3/37.3/78.9 shooting to go along with 5.3 rebounds. He has sadly seen his usage drop to only 12.3 minutes per game this season with the Portland Trailblazers.
Van Gundy's final year in Miami would also leave him with four rookies: Earl Barron (undrafted), Gerald Fitch (undrafted), Matt Walsh (undrafted), and Wayne Simien (29th overall). Walsh would play in a total of two games for a total of three minutes. Barron would be lucky enough to see eight games for 45 minutes. And Fitch would see 18 games (one start) at 13.3 minutes per game. And though Simien would see 43 games including two starts, he would only average 9.6 minutes per game. Fitch and Walsh only lasted one season in the NBA, Simien only two. Barron has been able to stick in the NBA mostly (only missing two seasons) and is averaging 14.1 minutes per game on his career. But he has never played more than 46 game in a season and has only gone over 20 three times.
In the five years Van Gundy coached the Orlando Magic, he only had five rookies.
The first of which was Marcin Gortat (57th overall). Now, we know who Gortat is today, but back then he was a nobody. Gortat would see the floor for 41 minutes over six games. Over the following three seasons, however, his play would increase to the point of 25.4 minutes per game by 2010-11. Gortat has often explained to media that he would not be where he is today without the direction of Van Gundy.
The next would be Courtney Lee (22nd overall). Thanks to a willingness to play tough defense, as well as hitting over 40-percent of his three point attempts, Lee would play in 77 games with 42 of them as a starter. He would only play in Orlando for one season, but he has maintained a healthy playing career since.
The next three would be Justin Harper (32nd overall), DeAndre Liggins (53rd overall) and Daniel Orton (29th overall). Harper would see 14 games, but that was the extent of his NBA career. Liggins would see 17 games, but only last in Orlando for one season. (Harper and Liggins played for the Pistons during the Orlando Summer League this past year.) Orton would play in 16 games including two starts before being assigned to the D-League by December of his rookie year.
Then you have Spencer Dinwiddie. What Dinwiddie had that the other rookies likely didn't was Van Gundy's signature of approval since he was the President who selected him. Even still, Van Gundy started the season stating that he had no intention of rushing Dinwiddie back from his injury. In fact, he didn't expect him to play at all this year. Partially due to injuries to other players as well as his quick recovery, Dinwiddie was able to play in 34 games this year including one start.
Aside from Wade, and to a lesser degree Haslem and Lee, Van Gundy does not appear to play his rookies that much. Not even garbage minutes. In previous seasons, he did not have as much say as he does now about who the Pistons draft. So what does that mean for this year's draft?
The Pistons are likely to lose Monroe to free agency. They will then have a hole to fill at both small forward and power forward. Caron Butler and Tayshaun Prince are not likely to be back with the Pistons next year. Anthony Tolliver is better suited coming off the bench. What are the chances that Van Gundy will use his draft pick on someone to be a starter?
NBC projects the salary cap for next season to be around $66-million. That would mean that after Monroe signs with someone and without dropping either of Butler's ($4.5 million) or Tolliver's ($3-million) team options, the Pistons would have almost $24-million to play with. Now, some of that is likely to go to Reggie Jackson. For the sake of this article, let's say he gets $14-million a year. That would mean the Pistons would still have $13-million to play with. Mind you, the Pistons do not have to sign Jackson right away but could go over the cap to sign him.
I think it is more likely that Van Gundy will use his cap space to bring in starters and will likely use his draft pick on someone whom he does not expect to contribute right away. Therefore, if Moose leaves and Van Gundy drafts Moose 2.0 (Frank Kaminsky), do not expect him to start. If the Pistons do not pick up Butler's option and the Pistons draft Stanley Johnson or Kelly Oubre, do not expect them to start.