Do Pistons need more lottery balls or wins?

Posted: February 21, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Second-year player Greg Monroe (right) is nearly averaging a double-double for the Pistons this season and is a cornerstone for the future. He has helped the Pistons win seven of their last nine games. (AP)

When February began, the Pistons were struggling with a 4-19 record,had the league’s second-worst record and appeared to have a high probability of landing one of the top five picks in the upcoming NBA draft.

The past few weeks have shifted the Pistons’ outlook completely. With a 7-3 record this month and seven wins and the last nine games, the suddenly surging Pistons are 11-22 and suddenly find themselves five games behind eighth seed Boston for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Pistons have benefited from a favorable schedule this month to get on a bit of a roll, beating other struggling teams. Detroit, which is 8-10 against teams below .500, has beaten the Nets (10-24) twice and New Orleans (7-24) and Sacramento (10-21) during their February surge. They also own two wins over a Celtics team that is struggling with injuries. On the contrary they did nearly beat a red-hot Spurs team that has won 11 straight. But they also did lose to the Wizards (7-25) at home during their surge.

While it is a good sign that the Pistons are finding ways to win with young players Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe playing big roles, is it really in the best interest for the future of the  franchise to continue to win games? Currently the Pistons have the seventh-worst record in the NBA, but are within three games of becoming more of a middle of the pack NBA team.

Even if the Pistons were to sneak into one of the last playoff spots, is it really worth it to go against the far superior Bulls or Heat and see an early exit?

The case for lottery balls

In a league where star players now seem focused on playing in big markets with other stars by their sides (i.e. LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh on the Heat), it seems like the best way to stockpile talent is the draft. Detroit isn’t a city where elite free agents rush to play, so in that case it would be of the best interest for the Pistons to accumulate as many lottery balls as possible to ideally gain a top-five selection.

Plus there likely will be a talented group of players declaring for the draft this season, especially since no labor issues loom for the NBA this offseason like they did last year. A player like Kentucky freshman center Anthony Davis could be an appealing lottery choice for the Pistons if he were to declare for the draft. The Pistons need size and could pair him along side Monroe. Ohio State sophomore big man JJ Sullinger and North Carolina big men John Henson or Tyler Zeller are among other possibilities.

Lottery picks Kevin Durant (pictured) and Russell Westbrook are the highest scoring duo in the NBA and have helped the Thunder own the NBA's best record at 25-7 this season. (AP).

Oklahoma City used the draft to become a strong force in the Western Conference. Kevin Durant sand Russell Westbrook were each top-four draft picks that have become stars for the Thunder and helped them reach the Western Conference finals last season. Durant, a former scoring champion, is third in the league in scoring (27.7 ppg) and Westbrook (23.4 ppg) is fifth for the the Thunder, who are tied with Miami for the league’s best record. The Pistons could have a combo like that with Monroe and Knight.

The Hawks have also capitalized on draft picks. Lottery picks Al Horford and Marvin Williams and mid-first round pick Josh Smith have helped the Hawks compete in the East the last few seasons.

Dumars won without draft

On the flip side, when the Pistons became one of the top teams in the NBA in the 2000s and won the NBA title in 2004, it wasn’t the draft that made their team. GM Joe Dumars acquired most of the key players  that helped Detroit reach back-to-back NBA Finals (04-05) and six straight Eastern Conference finals (03-08) via trades.

Rip Hamilton was acquired in a trade with the Wizards,  Ben Wallace in a trade with the Magic, Corliss Williamson in a trade with the Raptors,  Rasheed Wallace and Mike James in a three-team trade with the Hawks and Celtics and Lindsey Hunter (a former Pistons draft pick) in a trade with the Raptors.

Chauncey Billups, who at that time had bounced around with several teams and was no star, signed with the Pistons as a free agent in 2002. The only main contributors Dumars drafted were Tayshaun Prince (first round pick, 23rd overall selection in 2002) and Mehmet Okur (second round pick, 37th overall selection in 2001). And yes, Darko was a member of the team but wasn’t a major contributor.

So Dumars has built a dominant NBA team without utilizing high draft picks in the past so maybe winning more games and making a run at the final playoff spot could be beneficial to the Pistons. More wins and a young base of talent could make Detroit a more attractive destination for solid free agents.

Besides there are no guarantees lottery picks will definitely be productive NBA players (i.e. the injury prone Greg Oden and Darko). But Dumars has found productivity with his lottery selections over the past two seasons with Monroe and Knight and even with second round pick Jonas Jerebko, who appear to be cornerstones for the franchise. Monroe is averaging a team-best 16.2 points and 9.7 rebounds, Knight has made 28 starts and is averaging 12.4 points and 3.5 assists and Jerebko is averaging 9.8 points off the bench.

With the season at its halfway point and 33 games remaining, it will be interesting to see what direction the Pistons head. But it seems that the best thing for the future would be to strike gold on another lottery pick.


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