Before the Pistons' 2nd round pick was announced during the 2015 NBA Draft, I really did not know who to expect. It could have been a European stash player, or a young center to develop. When it was announced as Darrun Hilliard, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed.
Yes, it was only a 2nd round pick, but I had never even heard of this guy!
Minutes were tough to come by for the rookie from Villanova early on in the season. Even with the injury to Jodie Meeks, there just wasn't much left for Hilliard. The Pistons had a breakout player during the preseason in Reggie Bullock, plus first round pick Stanley Johnson.
Stan Van Gundy was committed to a nine-man rotation and the development of Stanley Johnson early on. With Kentavious Caldwell-Pope able to handle nearly 37 minutes per game, the backup shooting guard position was obsolete. Most of Hilliard's minutes early on in the season had to come in garbage time.
The first good look I got of Hilliard was a game against the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 9, a game I was in attendance. Marcus Morris was a game-time scratch and Stanley Johnson got the start. Some Bullock struggles left the door open for the 2nd round pick to see some minutes. Hilliard played 20 minutes in that game and scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds.
He stood out to me because, well, he did not look out of place. He was poised and did not make rookie mistakes. For a 2nd round pick, especially one that played four years of college, that is important.
While this wasn't the first playing time for Hilliard, it was his first stretch of extended minutes. I was impressed with what I saw, and hoped the Pistons could find him some more minutes to develop.
Those minutes really did not come, though, not until an injury to Stanley Johnson on Feb. 24. Regulated back to garbage time, Johnson's injury opened up a more meaningful opportunity for Hilliard. It was then when he and Bullock found their strokes and the bench had a bit of a mini-resurgence during that stretch.
After Johnson returned in mid March, Hilliard's minutes were once again reduced to garbage time, but his performance while Johnson was out did not go unrecognized and he was rewarded with a couple starts before the season ended.
His first start came on March 23 when KCP and Bullock were both out with illnesses. In that start, he scored 11 points, grabbed six boards, and dished out a few assists against the Magic. He also got a start in the final game of the season against the Cavaliers.
Hilliard's numbers on the season -- 4.0 ppg, 0.7 apg, and 1.2 rpg in 10.1 mpg -- will not stand out , but one might: Hilliard's three-point shooting. He shot 38 percent from three, which is great for a rookie. He only shot 50 threes on the season, but I think that is sustainable. He had a reputation coming out as a solid three-point shooter, and it looks like that will translate to his NBA game.
He also appeared solid defensively. He isn't an elite defender or anywhere near the level of, say, KCP, but he is more than adequate. He held his own for the most part and doesn't make a ton of mistakes.
Hilliard showed enough to make me think that he can find a place as a 3-and-D wing in this league and warrants a more serious look in Year 2.
Minutes still might be tough for next year with the return of Jodie Meeks, plus the re-emergence of Reggie Bullock, but Hilliard proved during his rookie campaign that he's capable of stepping in when needed.
Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower have made a lot of great moves in their couple years. Final judgment certainly isn't written on Hilliard yet, but so far he seems to be another one of their solid finds. People may not have known much about him before the draft, but Hilliard's quietly making a name for himself in Detroit.