The Pistons made the right choice on draft day.
Every year when the draft rolls around, fans always get their favorites. And with a talented class this season, it’s only reasonable that many had their guys they were hoping would wind up in a Pistons uniform.
We see it every year. TREY BURKE versus Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Justise Winslow or Devin Booker versus Stanley Johnson. Believe it or not, once upon a time there was quite a bit of angst around DBB about Andre Drummond ahead of Jared Sullinger or John Henson.
This year was no different.
Tantalizing players like Dennis Smith, Jr., Zach Collins, and Malik Monk came off the board just before the Pistons’ pick. It was a pretty clear choice between two guys: Luke Kennard and Donovan Mitchell.
In many ways, the two players were opposites that play into the personal preferences of fans. Do you prefer the conservative option or the high-upside choice? There’s probably a strong correlation between folks’ retirement investment options and their Kennard/Mitchell preference.
But taking away the personal aspect of choosing between two promising young players, Kennard was the correct call for the Pistons. That’s not to say that Kennard is definitely going to be the better player or that Mitchell definitely wouldn’t have been successful in a Pistons uniform. Just that laying out the situation and looking at the facts as objectively as possible, Kennard clearly fits best.
There’s the old adage in the NBA that talent should take precedence over need. But when two players are about equal in terms of talent, need should cast the deciding vote.
You could make a solid argument that either player’s talent level is vastly superior to the other thanks to their dramatic contrast in what each brings to the table. Mitchell brings tremendous athleticism, a strong motor, good enough physique, and sweet-looking shot - yet his on-court results have been unspectacular. Meanwhile Kennard’s box score looks much more impressive than he does.
So which is a better test of talent: results or physical characteristics? Both are important.
There are plenty of tales of busts who produced great numbers in college and plenty of busts who were just combine superstars. And players who have been successful with either as their calling card heading into the draft.
Kennard has the results, Mitchell has the physical characteristics. The important thing is that the each player is at least sufficient on the other side of things - and each is. Kennard has prototypical height for a NBA shooting guard and enough athleticism. Mitchell’s college numbers weren’t outstanding, but they were at least solid and provide a reasonable base to indicate he’s a legitimate prospect.
Without a clear advantage in the talent department, it’s left for the team’s need to make the decision. And that part is clear.
The Pistons were 28th in the league in three point shooting percentage at 33 percent and 27th in the league in three pointers made. They were dead last in true shooting percentage at 52.1 percent. Behind these two figures, the Pistons were 24th in the league in offensive rating.
Last season Kennard shot 43.8 percent from three and 63 percent true shooting percentage while Mitchell shot 35.4 percent from three and 54.4 percent true shooting percentage. The difference is dramatic.
Mitchell is clearly a far superior defensive player to Kennard, in the Summer League looking like a legitimate force to be reckoned with on that end. But the Pistons were already eighth in the league in defensive rating last season. Certainly they’re not a perfect defensive team, but the need is far greater on the offensive end.
Certainly one player isn’t enough to make too much of a difference for the Pistons, especially a rookie. But if this team is ever going to be even a moderately efficient team, they need to add efficient players.
Letting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope walk
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Mitchell is a talented, athletic prospect entering the NBA after his second season who looks playable immediately thanks to his defensive prowess and whose upside depends on his ability to knock down the three point shot.
During his two years at Georgia, KCP averaged 19.2 points per 40 minutes on a shooting line of 41.5 percent from the field, 33.9 percent from three, and 75.2 percent from the stripe, good for a true shooting percentage of 54.3 percent. He also added 7.4 rebounds per 40 minutes, 1.8 assists, and 2.3 steals.
During his two years at Louisville, Mitchell averaged 18 points per 40 minutes on a shooting line of 41.8 percent from the field, 32.9 percent from three, and 78.8 percent from the stripe, good for a true shooting percentage of 53.2 percent. He also added 6.4 rebounds per 40 minutes, 3.4 assists, and 2.2 steals.
Which begs two questions. First, why use a first round pick to basically just go back to 2013 at the shooting guard position? And the second is if they find KCP and Mitchell’s skills to be so valuable, why didn’t they just #PayKCP?
The importance of shooting
The results of the NBA.com Rookie Survey made me chuckle. One aspect in particular struck me as a contradiction.
Rookies said shooting was the most important skill they needed to develop, with 38 percent of the players identifying that trait. They overwhelmingly said Kennard was the best shooter in the draft with 48 percent of the vote.
Ok, so he’s the best in the class at the most important skill. Cool. So when asked which rookie was the biggest steal, it was Mitchell who led the voting while Kennard didn’t get a single vote.
Shooting is probably the most important skill in the game right now. Most of us can agree on that simple statement. But once it comes down to a micro level, comparing one player against a next, its importance suddenly diminishes dramatically.
If shooting is actually important, it should remain as important when it is being discussed abstractly as when it’s talked about in a specific sense.
And for the Pistons with Kennard, it’s important. Especially considering how Stan Van Gundy has discussed using Andre Drummond.
Van Gundy incorporated the dribble hand-off with KCP and Drummond last season, something that both Mitchell and Kennard will both be able to keep going. But in the vision of utilizing Drummond like DeAndre Jordan, Kennard offers some different wrinkles to the offense.
Check out this set from the Clippers:
The Clippers' "one pop veer" is fascinating to me. It works *because* DJ can't shoot. His defender sags to the paint. pic.twitter.com/zMhE7Rpssi— Mike O'Connor (@MOConnor_NBA) July 31, 2017
It’s not at all difficult to see Kennard-Drummond playing the part of JJ Redick/DeAndre Jordan. In fact, we’ve already seen it to an extent in the Summer League.
SVG has long tried getting his wings involved off screen but few have been reliable enough options. But that’s a shot Kennard can make with his eyes closed. His elite shooting ability can open up the offense in a way that no Pistons player has been able to during Van Gundy’s tenure. And that shooting threat can create more space for Jackson and Drummond to be attacking the rim.
Kennard: elite shooter who will probably struggle defensively.
Mitchell: tenacious defensive player who will probably struggle to score efficiently.
Each has their own specific, contrasting skillset. Personally, I love defensive oriented teams. But the offensive challenges of this team have been so long-standing that outcomes aren’t going to change until the personnel does.
Donovan Mitchell will be fun for Jazz fans to watch. But KCP will be fun for Lakers fans to watch. Just the same, unless you don’t like seeing three point shots actually go through the hoop, Kennard will be fun for Pistons fans to watch too.