They weren't paying attention to the position of the player. They weren't paying attention to mock drafts. This was a pick that they were looking at how the pick could factor in over the long term rather than looking that this player would make an impact this year.
Before the draft Van Gundy said, "Nothing that we do Thursday night will change the way we look at free agency. So if we draft a point guard Thursday night, we'll still be looking at a point guard in free agency. If we draft a true power forward in the draft on Thursday night, we're still going out looking for one."
Now he's saying that the Summer League won't change free agency plans...but about point guard. Not so much talk about that backup power forward spot.
While SVG will still be looking to add another big man (maybe even two), he's not nearly as emphatic about the idea of the draft changing nothing about their free agency approach thanks to Henry Ellenson falling to the 18 pick.
Van Gundy said, "I would say probably a slight edge to the backup point guard, especially after last night, because at least we've got a guy in Henry [Ellenson] that provides us with that size."
And it makes sense that Van Gundy would back off his pre-draft stance.
For the second straight year, the Pistons are drafting a teenage one-and-done player. They played Stanley Johnson 23 minutes per game last year, but part of that may have been due to a lack of options with Jodie Meeks' injury. Though there were plenty of flashes of potential, overall Johnson struggled.
And it was to be expected. Johnson is likely to develop into a terrific player, but some of his shortfalls were going to make it difficult for him to transition as a rookie. He's not a natural at the rim or behind the arc. When that's the case, it takes a little time to learn how to be an efficient player as a teenage wing in the NBA.
Growing pains are easier for big men. Henry Ellenson won't be tasked with the same ball-handling duties that Johnson had. He won't have a 20 percent usage rate. He'll be asked to make an open jumper, pass a bit, hit the boards hard, and be big. That's pretty do-able.
It's also unlikely that the Pistons would need as many minutes out of Ellenson as they did from Johnson. Though it was partly due to injury that Johnson saw the floor as much as he did, which is always possible at power forward too. But with Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris both also able to fill time at the spot, it'd likely take a few folks to go down for Ellenson to get close to 20 minutes per game. Aron Baynes providing a reliable, productive presence at the other backup big man spot also helps.
But what about Al Horford? The Pistons have reportedly expressed interest in Al Horford. That's exciting. Horford is good!
In previous years, the Pistons have also expressed interest in Danny Green, Draymond Green, Khris Middleton, DeMarre Carroll, Darrell Arthur, Norris Cole, Isaiah Thomas, Luol Deng, Brian Roberts, Trevor Ariza, and Anthony Morrow. None of these players ever became Pistons. Go ahead and pencil Horford onto this list.
Since Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower have taken the reins of the front office, it's been a contrast from the Joe Dumars tenure. Dumars picked his guys early and aggressively pursued them. Bower and SVG's approach seems to be to test the water for a variety of players and see where the value and/or mutual fit exists.
That's not to criticize Dumars for his approach, regardless of who those targets wound up being. Both approaches have their merits. And part of the difference may exist in the roster construction strategy. Dumars looked to free agency for significant contributors where Bower and Van Gundy have used it more for complimentary players. They may have been in play for a few starter-caliber players, but were soon priced out and addressed the needs in other ways.
So, yeah, Horford's probably not happening. It's great that the front office is checking in, but it probably won't add up to any more than that. You could also figure the same for Ryan Anderson, Pau Gasol, or any other big name free agent.
Still, the Pistons do need to add front court depth. But despite the pre-draft insistence on the 18th pick wouldn't be a variable that impacts things, Ellenson is good enough that he does change the equation.
The backup power forward spot changes from "clear and critical need" to "need." The Pistons won't need to pursue a top tier power forward and can instead look more at a cheaper alternative.
Who are some possibilities for that job? Hell if I know.
Bower and his crew have proved themselves to be so well versed on players who fit the mold the team needs and values that an outsider like me is just throwing darts at the wall. Van Gundy has at least indicated that they want a guy who can move on the perimeter and defend the post -- and presumably, they're also wanting at least some shooting ability.
But the point is that if it winds up being a move that resembles the Anthony Tolliver acquisition, that may be by design rather than missing out on bigger name targets. Heck, it may even wind up being Tolliver that makes the most sense (probably not though).
The opening of free agency is a fun time -- it's enjoyable to pretend to spend some of Tom Gores' money. But you can turn your attention to backup point guard. And with the way it sounds like the spending may go, it's probably a good thing that there's only one critical spot to fill.