The Detroit Pistons have the No. 18 pick in this year's draft. And although Stan Van Gundy says that no matter who they pick, it will not change how they approach free agency, a poor pick - even outside the lottery - could hurt them sooner rather than later.
SVG on 18th pick's impact on free agency: "Nothing we do Thursday night will change the way we look at free agency."— Keith Langlois (@Keith_Langlois) June 21, 2016
Over the last week and more, DBB has cranked out some awesome draft profiles, accurately noting the Pistons' roster deficiencies. But combine roster needs with what Van Gundy says about how the draft won't change how they attack free agency, and it appears drafting for position is not a huge priority.
With that in mind, it's in the Pistons best interests to draft the best player who will be available to them: Denzel Valentine.
Yes, I am a Michigan State Spartans fan. Yes, part of that fandom does drive my desire to see Valentine don a Pistons jersey. But there are other reasons why the Pistons should not be afraid to draft Valentine if he's available:
The NBA is going smaller
Nowhere was this more clear than during the NBA finals.
Unfortunately, the Golden State Warriors lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Although knowing the team that swept the Pistons out of the playoffs were the eventual champions helps swallow the sweep a little bit, I am still not a fan of the Cavs. I love watching the Warriors play - their crisp passing, their astounding shooting, how deep their bench is, and the ability to play Draymond Green at center and still be efficient.
But one thing was noticeable during the finals. The Warriors played best when they had Draymond Green at center and there were moments when LeBron James played center for the Cavs. There were times when I think people were wondering why Andrew Bogut or Anderson Varejao were on the court. It was noticeable that while Timofey Mozgov played a huge role in last year's finals, he barely played this year.
It's a new, small-ball era in the NBA, and Valentine will provide the Pistons what they need to be effective and efficient against small-ball lineups: Perimeter shooting, the ability to distribute from the wing, and the potential to switch on the perimeter defensively.
Valentine is not Mateen Cleaves
Over the last near 60 years (post-Fort Wayne), the Pistons have selected a player from a Michigan-based school (high school or college) 52 times. Fun fact: Two players were selected twice - Reggie Harding in 1962 and 1963 (Detroit Eastern High School) and Fred Smiley in 1971 (Detroit) and 1973 (Northwood). From 1957 through 1987, the Pistons selected someone from a Michigan-based school in all but seven years. Since then they've only selected one from a Michigan-based school: Mateen Cleaves with the 14th pick in the 2000 draft.
At the time of the draft, the Pistons had Lindsay Hunter, who just had one of the best years of his career while shooting 43-percent from three. The backup point guard was John Crotty. So possibly looking to upgrade the backup point guard position, the Pistons drafted Cleaves. A two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, three-time Consensus All-American team member, and the 1999-00 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, a lot of Pistons fans had hopes he could be the Pistons point guard of the future.
We were mistaken.
Cleaves finished his college career with his best shooting in his senior year - but they were on the fewest attempts of his college career. His team had just won the national title against Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators, but he would start his NBA career behind Dana Barros and Chucky Atkins and have a slashline of 40/29/70. The Pistons would only have him for one season and then trade him for Jon Barry and a future first round pick (which ended up being Carlos Delfino).
Valentine is a much better shooter than Mateen ever was, and has gotten better every year as his attempts have increased. He's a better rebounder and has a better AST/TO ratio than Cleaves did while having a presumably higher usage rate than Cleaves. Valentine's a versatile guard that can play either position and can even slide over to small forward in small-ball lineups. Though he shot under 30-percent from three in his freshmen year, he has not been below 37-percent after that. Though he's been good each year he was at Michigan State, he was overshadowed by other good players until this year, where he won three Player of the Year awards (AP, Big Ten, and NABC).
Valentine is not Trey Burke
Many of us remember when the Pistons were in need of a point guard, and instead of drafting hometown favorite Trey Burke, the Pistons selected a lesser known player with an awesome name - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Burke came out of college after two years because he was going to be a lottery pick in a "weak" draft. The best pick in the top 10 of the 2013 draft may actually be the 10th pick, C.J. McCollum. There are some other decent picks later on in that draft. Steven Adams at 12, Kelly Olynyk at 13, Giannis Antetokounmpo at 15, Dennis Schroder at 17, and Rudy Gobert at 27. Don't get me wrong, Otto Porter, Victor Oladipo and others in the top 10 are decent players, but as good if not better quality was picked up later in the draft.
The same could be said for this draft. Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram will be a better one and two pick than Anthony Bennett and Oladipo. But after that, it's a free for all.
Unlike Burke, Valentine is not entering this draft because he has the chance to be a lottery pick, even though he was POTY this past year. He's entering the draft because...
Valentine is ready to contribute right away
Denzel Valentine is no spring chicken when compared to the other players in this year's draft. At 22, he's the seventh-oldest likely draftee, but oldest of projected first rounders. Valentine is already the player he is always going to be, which allows Stan Van Gundy to know exactly what he's going to do with him and how he'll fit into the lineups.
Valentine would be a perfect fit for when the Pistons try to go small-ball. The Pistons current small-ball center would be Tobias Harris; depending on fouls and matchups, Valentine could be used anywhere from point guard to the small forward alongside Stanley Johnson and Marcus Morris.
Valentine is undervalued by draftniks
Looking at the mock drafts out there, Valentine will fall somewhere between No. 14 and No. 29 (!?!?) Seriously, SBNation has Valentine falling to the San Antonio Spurs which, if he's available, would be an absolute perfect fit (great coach to another great coach). The reason he fell so far in the SBNation draft is because of reports that he is close to, or already has, a knee injury similar to that of Brandon Roy and Danny Granger, which is concerning.
NBA.com, HoopsHype, NBADraft.net, Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, CBS and Dick Vitale all have Valentine going to the Pistons at No. 18. At one point, so did ESPN's Chad Ford (he'll change it later to match what happens). How much of that is fit vs. "hometown hero", we don't know. Whether or not Van Gundy buys into the hometown guys, we don't know.
The Pistons have so many options available that there's no way to tell who they'll select. It all depends on who falls and what trades become available. Van Gundy and Jeff Bower have been thieves when it comes to trades, and they could do so again tonight. But if I had my way, I would keep the pick (if nothing else was offered) and I would draft Valentine.
What do you think? Does the knee report concern you? Does the ghost of Cleaves haunt you? Let us know how you feel about Valentine on the Pistons and what you would do with the pick in the comments.