MEAD: Pistons fall flat in draft

Detroit’s underwhelming draft pick raises questions

The Detroit Pistons’ first-round pick Stanley Johnson had one message to the NBA and Pistons’ fans after being selected No. 8 overall in the NBA draft: “Detroit versus everybody.”

While Johnson’s words have a promising ring, they would sound a lot better coming out of the mouth of Duke star Justise Winslow.

Winslow, who was drafted by the Miami Heat at No. 10, seemed to be the logical choice when he fell out of the top five, where many had him projected. Instead, Detroit opted for University of Arizona’s 19-year old flex-forward, leaving many Pistons’ fans scratching their heads.

Don’t get me wrong, Johnson fits almost perfectly into Stan Van Gundy’s system, but Winslow would have fit better. Both prospects are almost identical: Both are slated as small forwards, both are about 6-foot-6-inches and 235 pounds and both come from successful college programs, where they played one season. But Winslow has one thing Johnson does not, a NCAA championship ring, and it’s obvious the Pistons need players who know how to win.

Now before you hold a lighter to your favorite Pistons jersey, remember Johnson does have a lot of upside. He will step into a small forward hole Detroit struggled filling after handing Josh Smith his walking papers last December, and he brings a lot to the table.

Johnson is a tenacious defender and a versatile scorer who always seems to find a way to get open, but he did struggle to score while contested. He finished last season at Arizona with 13.8 points per game, 6.5 rebounds and a 44.6 shooting percentage. While those stats don’t jump off the page, Johnson’s value comes from the fact he can match up defensively against any player on the court.

Picking Johnson does raise a bigger question about the Pistons’ game plan going forward, though. After dumping all of their apples into one basket with their failed version of the Twin Towers (6-foot-11 Andre Drummond and 6-foot-11 Greg Monroe), the pick shows the team isn’t ready to drop it’s defense-first mentality.

The NBA has slowly turned to favor a score-first and ask questions later team, like Golden State, which spreads the court with perimeter shooters. The Pistons do have a solid base of players in Brandon Jennings, Reggie Jackson and Drummond, each of whom have tremendous upside. But the addition of Johnson doesn’t seem to complete a talent pool strong enough to hang with Eastern Conference foes, especially as Monroe’s departure seems inevitable.

In the end, Detroit did get a good, young player who is not a draft-and-stash prospect, but is rather a shoe-in for the starting lineup. Let’s just hope he develops into what the Pistons need.

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