The Pistons point guard of the future is going to be an important choice. This year’s draft may have the answer.
After the buyout of Reggie Jackson and season ending injury of Derrick Rose, we saw just how important the point guard position is. It’s not a spot to be trusted to a guy who can kinda sorta fill the position, but rather begs for someone who actually really is a point guard.
Playing the likes of Brandon Knight, Bruce Brown, and Khyri Thomas at point guard led to a predictable outcome: an ineffective offense.
Though not always particularly efficient, Rose and Jackson showed the importance of having a dynamic player at the position. Without them, the offense devolved into swinging the ball around the perimeter and hoping Christian Wood can bail them out.
After Rose went down to injury on March 1, the Pistons had the 27 ranked offensive rating and their true shooting percentage dropped to 53.9 percent. Stagnant. It was just a stagnant offense.
Yeah, point guard is an important position. And of course, whether through injury or effectiveness, it’s a position that the Pistons have struggled at since trading away Chauncey Billups more than a decade ago. Hopefully, this offseason can finally offer a solution.
This year’s draft has four point guard prospects expected to go in the top 10, Cole Anthony, LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton, and Killian Hayes. Each comes with their own reasons for landing as a potential top 10 pick, along with their own warts.
When it comes to predicting the draft, it’s always an imprecise proposition. Point guards can be an especially difficult position to evaluate. So much depends on a player’s mental makeup, his injury prevention, the change to the more open style in the NBA. Perhaps more than any other position, intangibles make a huge difference for point guards.
Look back to the 2009 draft class, also loaded with five point guards in the top 10 picks. It was Tyreke Evans who won Rookie of the Year, Brandon Jennings 55 points in his seventh NBA game, and both are now out of the league. Jonny Flynn went right before...two time MVP and three time NBA Champion Stephen Curry.
And this year’s class is even more challenging to project. Two of the players spent the season overseas and even the two NCAA guys spent a significant chunk of the season injured. Then, losing the Combine and all other real workouts - who really knows how this process is going to play out?
So all that to say, there’s no right answer here. We’re all operating off of guesswork. If you have your preferred prospect, cool. If you happen to be right about that guy being the best of the bunch next year, congrats on your lucky guess. Don’t pat yourself on the back too hard.
Still, it’s worthwhile to debate the merits of each player and his potential fit with the Pistons, considering what the franchise needs.
I see the four players broken into two different styles of point guards - the dynamic and the floor generals.
When you google LaMelo Ball, the first question under “People also asked:” is “Is LaMelo Ball actually good?” That’s a great question. Ball has his believers - and that extends outside the strange Big Baller Brand cult. And most mock drafts put him as the top of the point guard quartet. He brings some very clear strengths and weaknesses to the table. If he puts it all together, sure, there’s a ton of potential there. But if it turns out that he can’t shoot, how valuable is he?
LaMelo has great size and will still be just 18 years old on draft day. He only played a dozen games in the Australian NBL and certainly put up numbers, averaging 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. He’s praised for his basketball IQ and noted to be a solid defensive player.
His athleticism doesn’t jump off the page, but he does a nice job changing speed and has a tight handle.
It certainly tends to be the LaMelo show, which might not be a bad thing for the young core of Pistons who tend to be rather deferential.
He took nearly 7 threes per game and made just 25 percent. It’s a hideous looking shot to me, and he really loves to shoot it. His brother Lonzo has come around to being a 38 percent three point shooter in the NBA, so there’s reason for hope. But much of his NBA potential relies on him developing as a shooter.
It’s probably pretty clear that I’m a LaMelo skeptic. That’s because he’s mostly faced lesser competition and the results haven’t been anything spectacular. But I’d definitely be interested in the case for LaMelo from any of his supporters in the comments. SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell argues that Bell should be the number one pick, so check out his work for that viewpoint.
My personal favorite. It was a rough season for Anthony at North Carolina, where the team had the worst year of Roy Williams’ 17 year tenure (also, I can’t believe Williams has been there that long. One of those “I feel old” moments). But in case you missed it, Cole finished the regular season showing flashes of the kind of player he’s capable of being.
The first thing that jumps out about Anthony’s style is his aggressiveness. He plays an attacking approach and can score in a variety of ways, posting a 40 percent three point rate and a 37 percent free throw rate. That helped him get buckets even when one aspect of his game wasn’t clicking, finishing with double digits in 19 of the 22 games he played as a freshman. It’s not generally wise to use highlight videos as your evidence for a player’s pro potential, but this dude just looks like a NBA style game to me.
I like how he’s able to break down a defense, create easy looks for other players, and I trust his shot long term.
His shooting numbers were quite poor for a guy who shot the ball as much as he did. In more than one game, he straight up shot UNC into a loss. It’s tough to win with a point guard going 5-22 or 5-19 from the field. He showed the lowest inclination or ability as a distributor of the point guard class, with only a 24 percent assist percentage. He was also abysmal scoring inside the arc, shooting just 40 percent on two point field goal attempts. Lastly, there are some health concerns thanks to a partially torn meniscus in his right knee.
It’s difficult to attribute whether his struggles were due to typical freshman challenges, his team being abysmal, injury, or general gaps in his game. But his struggles were definitely there.
Haliburton was a late riser in mock drafts through the season, thanks to some pristine numbers at Iowa State. His season ended early due to a fractured left (non-shooting) wrist. Where Ball and Anthony are aggressive, ball dominant point guards, Haliburton’s style is more of a silky smooth player who lets the game come to him and seemed content to just pick apart what the defense gave.
About those pristine numbers: he averaged 15 points per game on a sterling 50/42/82 shooting line, which led to a 63 percent true shooting percentage. He had a solid 35 percent assist percentage, but more than that, showed a really nice feel for leading an offense.
I like his ability to get into the paint and the way he sets up his teammates from there. He seems to play with a genuine unselfishness with a knack for spotting an open guy. Seems like he’d be a fun guy to play with. It’s not hard to see him generating open looks for Luke Kennard, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Sekou Doumbouya.
He’s super lean. Killian Hayes is probably the only one among this group with a NBA ready body, but Haliburton’s is the least NBA ready - and he’s the oldest. He has a definite finess game, or alternatively a lack of physicality. He doesn’t get to the line, can’t really finish through contact, and can get overwhelmed defensively.
Iowa State sucked, which isn’t all on him. But even before he broke his wrist the team sucked. They were 12-20, after going 23-12 last year.
Too often he disappeared. He doesn’t have that ability to assert himself at will, coming more in the flow of the offense. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for a high lottery pick and potential franchise key piece, it’s not ideal.
I should defer to DBB’s Laz (@lazchance) on this one.
When it comes to Hayes, I get it - but I just don’t see it.
He has great size. He’s 6’5, 190 and still 18 years old. He’s French. Sekou speaks French. That seems fun. His numbers were fucking awesome. 17 points, 8 assists, 2 steals per 36 with a shooting line of 46/39/91.
In all likelihood, he’s going to be good.
This is a quite enjoyable breakdown of what he brings to the table, via ESPN’s Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz).
He’s not very athletic.
Can he get to the rim in the NBA? Is he the guy or just a guy? How much of his productivity translates against elite competition? Is he just the International Man of Mystery pick?
I don’t know. I don’t think so. But I do wonder if he’s really a difference maker in the NBA.
It was already bound to be a hard draft. Losing so many opportunities for evaluation makes it that much more of a crapshoot. Heck, we don’t even know how the Draft Lottery will play out. The Pistons currently project to pick fifth, which is about perfect for them considering the high-end salary requirements of picks above that slot who might not deserve it.
One of these guys will likely be a Piston. Who’s your favorite?