The Detroit Pistons have found many of the franchise’s greatest players in the NBA Draft, but it’s been seven years since their last game-changing pick.
For a team like the Detroit Pistons that does not have a lot of salary cap space to work with during free agency, the fastest and easiest way to improve is through the 2019 NBA Draft.
On one hand, that should be comforting for Pistons fans who remember that their team has landed most of its greatest players via the draft — Isiah Thomas, Dave Bing, Bob Lanier and Grant Hill, to name a few.
On the other hand, that could be cause for concern in Motor City, since the Pistons haven’t drafted a real star since 2012. That was when they grabbed All-Star center Andre Drummond with the ninth overall pick. Before that, one could argue that Detroit hadn’t made a great draft choice since 2002, when its used the 23rd pick on Tayshaun Prince.
At the moment, the Pistons own the No. 15 and No. 45 picks in the 2019 NBA Draft. While history suggests it’s tough to find a star outside of the lottery, there are plenty of great players who have been picked in the spot the Pistons currently hold.
The two men sitting on top of the Eastern Conference right now — Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and Kawhi Leonard of the Toronto Raptors — were both picked at No. 15 in their respective drafts.
Hall-of-Famer and two-time MVP Steve Nash was also a 15th overall pick. Former All-NBA center Al Jefferson and All-Star forward Mike Mitchell were No. 15 picks. Retired sharpshooter Dell Curry was also a No. 15 pick. So even if the guy Detroit takes this year doesn’t become a star, maybe he’ll sire a future superstar. (Would the Pistons get first dibs on that kid?)
This is the third time in the league’s modern era that the Pistons have had the 15th pick, and the previous two were definitely hit-or-miss.
Stuckey was a starter for the majority of his seven-year stretch with the team, averaging over 15 points and five assists per game at his peak. Stuckey was one of the Pistons’ cornerstones during a period when they were phasing out of the “Going To Work” era that produced an NBA championship in 2004 and six straight conference finals appearances.
Daye, meanwhile, never made much of an impact. He spent three and a half seasons as a backup in Detroit, averaging 5.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game before he was traded. In 2014, Daye won an NBA title as a little-used member of the San Antonio Spurs.
There is actually a decent chance that in 2019, the Pistons again find their 15th pick at a school in the Pacific Northwest.
Gonzaga has another star forward, junior Rui Hachimura, who might be off the board by the time Detroit’s pick comes up. But his teammate, junior forward Brandon Clarke, might be available for the Pistons. Clarke posted 36 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in the Zags’ NCAA Tournament win over Baylor.
Oregon freshman Louis King and Washington senior Matisse Thybulle are also projected to go in the first round, and both could help fill the Pistons’ gaping holes on the wing.
Outside of the No. 15 spot, a few mid-first round picks have worked out for the Pistons over the years.
Luke Kennard, drafted at No. 12 in 2017, made noticeable improvements this season and could be the team’s starting shooting guard of the future.
Theo Ratliff was taken No. 18 in 1995. He was a good defensive center coming off the bench in his two and a half years with Detroit, before he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. Given starter’s minutes, Ratliff went on to lead NBA in blocks three times, make an All-Star team once and the All-Defensive Team twice.
Ricky Pierce won two Sixth Man of the Year awards and made an All-Star team for the Bucks. Before that, the Pistons drafted him No. 18 in 1982. He was a little used rookie backup who got traded after one season.
Kelly Tripucka made two All-Star teams and averaged 21.6 points per game in his five seasons with Detroit after it took him with the 12th overall pick in 1981.
Of course, “worked out” would be an understatement for Joe Dumars, who went to Detroit with the No. 18 pick in 1985. Dumars was arguably the second-best player of the “Bad Boys” era. He won Finals MVP in 1989 — the first of two championships he helped Detroit win — and is now in the Hall of Fame.
The Pistons haven’t had the 45th overall pick since 1980, when they took SMU big man Brad Branson. He never played a game for Detroit and spent most of his pro career overseas. Notable 45th overall picks throughout NBA history include Hod Rod Williams (1985), Antonio Davis (1990), Bryon Russell (1993), Lou Williams (2005), Goran Dragic (2008), Dwight Powell (2014) and Dillon Brooks (2017).
The Pistons franchise has had better luck with other second round picks.
Dennis Rodman is their marquee second-rounder, picked No. 27 overall in 1986 (there were fewer teams back then, hence fewer first round picks). Rodman famously worked his way from a little-known scrapper at a small college into a Hall-of-Famer who is arguably the sport’s greatest rebounder pound-for-pound. He helped Detroit win two championships and collected two Defensive Player of the Year awards with the team.
The Pistons took local legend John Long in the second round in 1978. The Michigan native and University of Detroit product played parts of 10 seasons for the Pistons, and was a 20-point scorer in his prime.
Current NBA standouts Khris Middleton (2012) and Spencer Dinwiddie (2014) were also second round picks by the Pistons, but they didn’t hit their stride in the league until after Detroit had let them go. Middleton is an All-Star shooting guard for the Bucks, and Brooklyn Nets point guard Dinwiddie is perhaps the league’s best backup at his position.
Two of the Pistons’ biggest roster needs right now are on the wing and at point guard. The franchise just happens to have made some of its best draft picks at those positions.
Isiah Thomas, the greatest Piston ever and one of the greatest point guards in basketball history, was the No. 2 pick in the 1981 NBA Draft out of Indiana University. Dave Bing, another Hall of Fame point guard whose best days were in Detroit, was the No. 2 pick in 1966 out of Syracuse.
Pistons fan favorite and former point guard Lindsey Hunter — who ranks in the team’s all-time top 10 in assists, steals, 3-pointers and games played — was the No. 10 pick in 1993 out of Jackson State.
Grant Hill, a Hall-of-Famer and the most talented small forward in Pistons history, was the No. 3 pick in 1994 out of Duke. Dumars and Tripucka are two more wing stars drafted by the Pistons.
Prince, a four-time All-Defensive Team pick who was an integral part of the Pistons’ championship core in 2004, was another great small forward pick.
No one with realistic expectations should assume Detroit will find a future Hall-of-Famer or Motor City icon in this NBA Draft. But history has at least provided some reasons for the Pistons and their fans to be optimistic.