Detroit Pistons fans and writers will be re-litigating the decision to draft Luke Kennard over Donovan Mitchell for years to come. Some of those arguments are going to be good, but few will be as truly awful as the one Shawn Windsor published in the Detroit Free Press calling the decision to take Kennard worse than Detroit’s decision to take infamous draft bust Darko Milicic.
To believe something so stupid you’d have to believe that one or both of the following are true -- Luke Kennard is a worse player than Darko Milicic, and/or Donovan Mitchell will be a better player than Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
Nobody in their right mind believes the first and nobody outside of the most die hard Jazz fan would believe the latter. Hell, I don’t even think Windsor believes this, but it didn’t stop him from publishing 859 words of nonsense.
And since we’re being forced to relive a draft day decision from 2003, perhaps the most fitting response would be to dissect the article piece by piece like the blogfathers of old. Hell, with Blog Boys being in the news, it’s like everything old is new again.
Let’s get started.
Twelve teams gave up the chance to draft Utah Jazz shooting guard Donovan Mitchell. A few teams had good reasons and landed potentially great players.
Still, nearly a third of the league’s executives missed something. It wasn’t just the Detroit Pistons.
This is ... not a promising start. Windsor doesn’t even have the courage of his own convictions here to state the column’s actual thesis. Instead, he feels the need to lay out a bunch of track establishing the “reasonable view.” I’m about to argue something incredibly stupid but I’m not an idiot, trust me, he seems to be saying.
It’s easy to forget that now, watching Mitchell torch the NBA this spring, watching the star rookie conjure memories of the next Dwyane Wade. This doesn’t ease the pain for Pistons fans when Mitchell plays.
Emphasis mine. Throwing out Wade’s name in paragraph three is a precursor to Windsor’s completely bad faith argument, but we’ll get there eventually.
What Gores knows is that Van Gundy and the front office cost themselves a potential superstar. Because instead of thinking about the team they might one day be, they thought about the team they already had. And how Luke Kennard — in theory — fit those pieces better.
This is the classic argument — a team drafting for need instead of drafting the best player available. This argument transcends sports, space and time. It has always been with us and will always be with us. It is known.
And that is all well and good as long as you have ... evidence. Windsor doesn’t even pretend he has any -- he just treats it as an established fact that Kennard was a need pick while Mitchell was the obvious best player available. But neither of those things are obvious at all.
First, about needs. Van Gundy was very upfront about his “needs” for the upcoming season. He listed three needs in several interviews and press conferences -- 3-point shooting, high character and secondary ball handling/playmaking.
In fact, he mentioned this in his introductory press conference of Avery Bradley. You remember, Avery Bradley, right? The shooting guard he traded for despite drafting a shooting guard in Kennard. He also mentioned it when talking about his big free agent acquisition Langston Galloway -- a 3-point shooting guard given big money despite drafting Kennard. This also comes on the heels of Van Gundy drafting Henry Ellenson, who played a total of 146 minutes his rookie year. So tell me again how Van Gundy drafts for need. Or quote someone in the organization saying they drafted for need. Or show me any evidence whatsoever.
Second, neither Kennard nor Mitchell were sure-fire prospects. There was a reason both were available when the Pistons were selecting. Both had obvious skills and obvious holes in their games in college, and whether you were going by the eye test or the advanced analytics Mitchell and Kennard were good but not great prospects. Anthony, Bosh and Wade were far more revered, even in college, than Mitchell ever was. Maybe Mitchell will defy the odds and reach those heights, but as a college player he wasn’t in the same league.
Back to Windsor.
Think of it this way: whatever else you say about the drafting of Darko Milicic in 2003, at least the Pistons won a championship the next season. Then narrowly missed another the season after that.
Here Windsor inadvertently destroys his own argument. The Pistons drafted Darko ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade -- three eventual basketball Hall of Famers. But to Windsor, that’s OK because, hey, it all worked out in the end, Detroit trades for Rasheed Wallace and wins a title. Nobody knows if it would have played out that way if not for Darko.
Why, though, isn’t the same latitude granted to the Kennard selection? Windsor has no clue what the future holds for Kennard, Mitchell or the Pistons. Nobody does. Arguing in hindsight is usually a bad idea, and doing it selectively makes zero sense.
Mitchell could be a Hall of Famer. He could also be Steve Francis. Nobody knows! Kennard could turn into Kyle Korver but with handles. The Pistons could win a title because Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond figure it out. They could bottom out and draft a player better than Mitchell next year or the year after.
And comparing Kennard and Darko is just categorically unfair. Kennard played more minutes as a rookie than Milicic did in all but three seasons of his 10-year NBA career. His 2.6 win shares as a rookie are better than all but one season in Darko’s career.
Kennard had, arguably, a better rookie year than Josh Jackson, De’Aaron Fox, Jonathan Isaac, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr. and Malik Monk. All the above have what seems to be promising futures because, and this is important, THIS WAS A REALLY GOOD DRAFT CLASS.
He just had the misfortune of being drafted directly in front of Donovan Mitchell who has the makings of a star player. That has nothing to do with Kennard and certainly doesn’t warrant Darko comparisons.
Back to Windsor.
This isn’t to excuse the Milicic pick. He’ll go down as one of the NBA’s biggest whiffs, and when Pistons fans think of the Dumars regime, they’ll always think of what might have been …
… if he’d taken Dwyane Wade, the second-best player in that year’s draft behind LeBron James.
After spending several paragraph excusing the Darko pick, Windsor assures the reader he is not excusing the Darko pick. Then he wonders “what might have been” if the Pistons had taken ..... Wade?!?!
This is all just so convenient. Wade, in retrospect, was the second best player behind James, of course. He was coached by Van Gundy. His game is similar to Mitchell’s. Brilliant. Narratively, it’s irresistible.
Except for we know that Wade was not the consensus pick after James at the time nor was he on Detroit’s radar. Carmelo Anthony was the other hot name at No. 2 after Darko, and it is well known that Detroit was not debating between Darko and Wade or even Anthony, it was between Milicic and Bosh.
Of course, Bosh didn’t win a title with the team that drafted him like Wade did, and he suffered a series of first-round disappointments in Toronto before joining with James and Wade in Miami. It undercuts Windsor’s already ridiculous argument so he just doesn’t mention it. Oh well.
This is where the column really goes off the deep end. Windsor basically abandons his entire established premise and just starts railing on a bunch of things wrong with the Pistons while also providing “nuance” on just how difficult the draft process. It’s what Very Serious People do to obfuscate the fact they have a poor argument.
He writes “teams make mistakes in the draft. Every year.” Then he talks about Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz.
If Van Gundy truly thought Kennard had a higher ceiling than Mitchell, then the logic of choosing Kennard would’ve been fine. But he chose Kennard because of fit.
Again, evidence. You have none.
Then Windsor writes that the real problem is spending big money on Jon Leuer and Langston Galloway??? Not sure why that has anything to do with the NBA Draft.
Now, if healthy next season, the Pistons are good enough to make the playoffs, and maybe even win a playoff game for the first time since 2008. Which is why Gores is reportedly interested in keeping Van Gundy around as his coach.
That makes sense. He’s a good coach with a good resume, and giving him another year to see what he can do with a full squad is intriguing. But he’s not a good enough general manager.
It’s true he took over a dysfunctional mess, changed the franchise’s culture, and upped the talent level.
Yet he missed in the first round twice — Stanley Johnson over Devin Booker — and hurt himself with a couple of odorous free-agent signings. Eventually, the Griffin contract will bog the franchise down, too — the Pistons could owe him more than $140 million over the next four years.
All of which leaves Gores three choices: start over, fire the general manager but keep the coach or give Van Gundy the keys to everything for another round. A decision — or arrangement — could be settled soon.
What does ANY of this have to do with Luke Kennard or Donovan Mitchell? Or the NBA Draft. Or talent evaluation? Or drafting needs vs. best player available?
Hell, even the needless dig at the wound of selecting Johnson over Booker makes no sense because it is more evidence against his own argument. The Pistons were deciding between Johnson and Booker and were desperate for shooting and had an established starter at small forward in Marcus Morris. They went with what they considered the best player available in Johnson who projected to have a solid two-way game. He spent most of his rookie year playing out of position at shooting guard. Tell me again about drafting for need?
And all of this — about the Pistons being good enough to make the playoffs if healthy, changing the culture, what he inherited, the Griffin contract all leads, OBVIOUSLY, to this statement:
Meanwhile, Mitchell will keep playing, and keep making plays, torturing basketball fans around here with what might have been.
This isn’t Darko.
- So in the end, we have a column that:
- Depends on Luke Kennard being a worse basketball player than Darko Milicic or Donovan Mitchell being better than Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade -- both absurd on their face.
- Argues Luke Kennard was drafted purely based on need despite providing no evidence.
- Acts as if Donovan Mitchell was the consensus best player available when both traditional scouting and advanced analytics indicated neither.
- Spends no time on how Luke Kennard performed as a player during his rookie year.
- Handwaves the disaster of the Darko pick because Detroit won a title but doesn’t allow for anything good possibly happening in Detroit’s obviously unknown future.
- Pretends Detroit would have drafted Dwyane Wade if not Darko despite all evidence to the contrary.
- Then turns the column into a general Stan Van Gundy bashing exercise that has nothing to do at all with a decision to draft one player over another.
- In the end, 257 words of 859-word column actually engage in the premise of the incendiary column. And that is being charitable.