Pure Passer, Shot Creator, Tall Passer

Luka Doncic Scouting Report

A couple of weeks into the season and 16-year-old Luka Doncic has already been forced into the rotation in his first couple of weeks as a full time pro. Injuries to Rudy Fernandez and Jeffrey Taylor have left Real Madrid thin on the wing and Pablo Laso has not hesitated to send the teenager out there against high-level competition.

Doncic played the wing in the first game against Bauru and then ran point for a good stretch of game two, after Sergio Rodriguez was ejected early in the first half.

The strengths and weaknesses he showed at the junior level have pretty much translated into the pros so far.

Doncic is not very explosive off the dribble at this point of his life, struggling to blow by Robert Day attacking off a live dribble darting around a pindown screen and failing to turn the corner around Rafael Hettsheimeir to get to the rim in a position of strength.

He struggled navigating screens but signaled he is going to be at least a good individual defender due to his physical profile (six-foot-six, 195 pounds). Doncic contained Leonardo Meindl’s dribble penetration through contact in isolation, which was quite impressive when you consider Meindl’s size (six-foot-seven, 200 pounds). He also showed lateral quickness to keep pace with Alex Garcia stride-for-stride chasing him around a side screen and then used his length to contest Alex’s short toss-up attempt very well.

His most impressive skill at this point remains his court vision, though. Doncic kept his turnovers under control when running offense and then flashed his ability to create corner three-point shots without even threatening to dribble inside the arc. He does it by anticipating rotations extremely well.

Against Unicaja, Doncic played as a wing in all of his 14 minutes, was off the ball and didn’t do much of anything other than hit a three-pointer and draw some shooting fouls in garbage time. That was also the case in his 16 minutes against the Celtics. Fernandez returned against Valência yesterday and Laso utilized Doncic only as a minutes-eater, giving him just six minutes.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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Post Scorer, Shot Creator, Stretch Big, Tall Passer

Kevin Love Scouting Report

CONTEXT

Kevin Love’s first season in Cleveland was quite underwhelming.

LeBron James and he often appeared to be addressing each other through the media, the offense didn’t take full advantage of his skill-set and he was speculated to be dealing with a back injury for most of the year before Kelly Olynyk screwed up his shoulder in the first round of the postseason.

Based on how frustrated he looked at times, there was skepticism Love would return but he quickly signed on July 1 a five-year, $110 million contract to stay in Cleveland. James and he appear to have worked out whatever issues they had with each other on a meeting by a pool just before free agency opened and James has followed up in preseason by saying all the right things about just how important Love is going to be from now on.

JACK-OF-ALL-TRADES

Integrating Love to an offense shouldn’t be as challenging as the Cavaliers made it seem last season. He was a remarkable offensive player in Minnesota, a star that could create shots whichever way his team needed. Other than bringing the ball up the floor and running a pick-and-roll 25 feet away from the basket, everything was on the table with him.

A diverse post player, Love was able to score on hook shots, short drives or turnaround fadeaway jump-shots and also produce three-point shots for shooters spot-up on the weak-side. He helped facilitate offense from the elbows. He spot-up beyond the arc around Ricky Rubio-Nikola Pekovic pick-and-rolls. He was a deadly option out of the pick-and-pop. He could fake a hand-off, turn around and jack a quick one-dribble pull-up from the top of the key. He extended possessions.

All of this in an efficient manner too. According to basketball-reference, Love averaged 1.41 points per shot on 28.8% usage, converted 37.6% of his three-point shots, averaged three offensive rebounds per 36 minutes, shot 11 free throws per 100 possessions and assisted on a fifth of Minnesota’s scores when he was on the floor in his final year with the Timberwolves.

Of course James strongly suggested to the Cavs’ front office that he would prefer playing with a guy like that rather than a 19-year-old rookie.

CORNERED

Very few of those things carried over to Cleveland, though. David Blatt tried installing a Princeton offense that would probably take more advantage of Love’s skill-set but eventually gave up on it, transitioning to a spread pick-and-roll attack that bottled Love into a pure stretch-four role, spacing the floor around James- and Kyrie Irving-led pick-and-rolls on the middle of the floor. Over 40% of his shots were taken from the beyond the arc (a third of them from the corners) and over half of them were taken from beyond 16 feet.

Love eventually finished the season hitting his three-point shots at an above average clip, but last season could actually be considered an off year for him shooting the ball. According to NBA.com/stats, he converted 38.5% of his 345 three-point shots with no defender within four feet of him and 37.3% of his 362 overall catch-and-shoot three-point shots. Those are above average and damn good marks, but he was once even better, a 40% three-point shooter in both scenarios in his final season with the Timberwolves.

Love posted up more than most people realize, but not enough when you consider how efficient he was with his back to the basket. According to Synergy Sports, he finished (with a shot, free throw or turnover) 295 possessions out of post-ups, as these instances accounted for a quarter of his looks. Love averaged 0.98 points per possession on those, the second best mark for a player with a minimum of 250 post-ups and drew a shooting foul 15% of the time.

Love has significantly transformed his body since entering the NBA but has retained his core strength to establish deep position in the block. He doesn’t use that strength for power moves but downsizing against him is still a very risky proposition for most opponents. Relying on his footwork and crafty up-and-under moves, Love can get his shot off comfortably – blocked on just two of his 97 hook shot attempts last season.

Love didn’t put the ball on the floor as much, though, and did poorly when he attacked the basket off the bounce. There also weren’t many opportunities for him to run offense from the elbows or for him to crash the offensive glass due to his positioning far from the basket, assisting on just 10% of Cleveland’s scores when he was on the floor and collecting just 6.5% of Cleveland’s misses.

THE FIT

While it is clear that the Cavaliers didn’t maximize Love’s production, the question then becomes if this matters at all. Cleveland’s spread pick-and-roll offense was a bit anti-climactic when you consider this team had two of the best tall passers in the league but it was nonetheless mighty productive, averaging 118 points per 100 possessions after February 1. It is not ideal to have Love as a glorified Ryan Anderson but it’s hard to argue with the results, especially when one can assume he’ll make a higher percentage of his open looks if fully healthy.

Blatt has wiggle room to get Love more involved within this setting, though. Cleveland did well in the postseason with small-small pick-and-rolls; Irving, Matthew Dellavedova and JR Smith screening for James way high in the perimeter, then shooting a three-pointer off the catch or attacking off a live dribble with Tristan Thompson or Mozgov as an escape valve at the dunker spot. When 100%, Love is a more capable player off the dribble than we saw him be last season and should be an option for this play, as well as passing out of the short roll on tighter pick-and-rolls. Just having Love screen for the ball-handler is something that generally should be done more often.

His shooting and floor game could be more even impactful if he played some center but that’s off the table, at least for regular-season purposes, based on the presences of Mozgov, Anderson Varejão, Sasha Kaun and Thompson (who is expected to join the team eventually). And that’s probably for the best, as most of his impact on offense could be offset by his poor defense as a rim protector. Love can’t play above the rim as a shot blocker and generally doesn’t contest shots around the basket the way a big man is expected to, often giving up on contesting a shot in order to get a head-start on a potential rebounding opportunity. According to NBA.com’s SportVU, opponents shot 52.5% at the rim with Love within five feet of it.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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Post Scorer, Shot Creator, Tall Passer

DeMarcus Cousins Scouting Report

CONTEXT

Last November was the first month in a long time when the Sacramento Kings appeared to be heading in the right direction. Offseason acquisition Darren Collison was performing above expectation, Mike Malone had drilled his team into an above average defensive squad and DeMarcus Cousins had turned the corner into legit superstardom.

Then Cousins caught viral meningitis and missed 10 games, the team lost eight of those, Malone was stunningly fired and management clowned around by having Tyrone Corbin coach the team for 28 games before hiring George Karl to finish the season. After winning nine of its first 14 appearances, the Kings went on to lose 48 of their subsequent 68 games and another year of pure mediocrity went on the books.

Cousins, however, played well enough once he returned to earn the first All-Star selection of his career, named by Adam Silver as Kobe Bryant’s replacement.

In today’s NBA of multiple high pick-and-rolls per possession, a faster pace and increased emphasis on three-point shooting, Cousins stood out as a throwback – a post scorer who did best with his back-to-the-basket. He took a massive step forward as a defender as well, developing into a respectable rim protector – one a credible defense could be built around.

The Kings stay the Kings, though. Instead of constructing a team to leverage the strengths in Cousins’ skill-set, Sacramento put together a roster that will likely force him to play differently and should make it difficult for him to be as effective as he was last year. It also managed to do so in clumsy fashion, mishandling their assets and potentially fracturing their relationship with the biggest star they have had since Chris Webber.

HOW HE PLAYED LAST SEASON

According to Synergy Sports, Cousins finished 468 possessions out of post-ups. Only five players (Al Jefferson, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Greg Monroe) got more opportunities to create for themselves with their backs-to-the-basket and part of it is that all of them logged more games.

He didn’t post supreme efficiency as a finisher (43.2% shooting on such instances) but was fairly effective when you consider how poorly spaced the floor was around him, how he drew shooting fouls in volume (16.5% of the time) and how well he passed out of the post.

Despite his six-foot-11, 270-pound frame, Cousins is not simply a pure power player in the low block. He is a diverse scorer thanks to the combination of his polished footwork, strength to absorb contact, ball skills and patience finishing through contact – converting 59.1% of his 44 hook attempts, according to NBA.com’s SportVU tracking service.

But although his top skill is as a one-on-one scorer, Cousins is not difficult to integrate into a team context because of his passing. He has great court vision, both scanning the defense with his back-to-the-basket and facilitating offense around the elbows – assisting on a fifth of Sacramento’s scores when he was on the floor last season, per basketball-reference.

His impact on the other end was related to the fact that the team around him performed better under Malone’s guidance and often provided Cousins the opportunity to leverage his size at the basket to challenge shots from a positon of strength. He was, nonetheless, more engaged than in prior seasons and even after the team significantly dropped off with Malone gone, Cousins still finished the season as one of the league’s 30 best rim protectors by Seth Partnow’s ‘adjusted points saved per 36 minutes’ metric. He complemented his point saving by securing 30.6% of opponents’ misses, the second best mark in the league.

Sacramento allowed 103.3 points per 100 possessions with Cousins in the lineup, the equivalent of a middle-of-the-pack unit, and 109.7 when he sat, similar to the league-worst Minnesota Timberwolves.

HOW HE IS GONNA PLAY THIS SEASON

Analyzing how Cousins was at his most impactful last season, there was a clear path to how the Kings should have approached this offseason. They should have added more shooting to space the floor around his post-ups and more length in the vacated spots they had on their perimeter rotation.

Sure enough, Sacramento did about the opposite. It spent the sixth pick in the draft on Willie Cauley-Stein and immediately revealed the plan is to pair him with Cousins. It went on to give up on Nik Stauskas – the best shooting prospect they had, and used the cap space cleared with the asinine trade they made with Philadelphia on Rajon Rondo, Marco Bellinelli and Kostas Koufos.

These aren’t bad players. The issue is that this isn’t a good supporting cast to be fit around Cousins, who did best as a post scorer and defending close to the rim.

It could work fine on defense. When opponents downsize against them, Cauley-Stein is perfectly able to defend in space and permit Cousins the flexibility to stay in his more natural habitat. Cousins himself has flashed the ability to do it well, if he needs to when paired with Koufos. Saturday against the Blazers, he picked up CJ McCollum on a switch, kept pace with him stride for stride and challenged him at the rim. On a subsequent possession, Cousins challenged a pull-up by McCollum out of the pick-and-roll quite well.

The problem will be on offense, where Sacramento is expected to struggle when Cousins is in the lineup together with another big and then Rondo running point. In four preseason appearances, the Kings have averaged just 95.7 points per 100 possessions.

Against the Spurs, the offense looked decent on Rondo-Cauley-Stein pick-and-rolls with Rudy Gay and Cousins spotting up beyond the arc. A so-so three-point shooter for his entire career, Gay has shot very well from the outside in the preseason and the expectation is this will finally be the season when he hits these shots at an above average clip. Cousins, meanwhile, has nailed just one of the 10 three-pointers he has taken so far in the preseason but it might be on the table for him to hit at least a third of the triples he takes this season.

Cousins has a methodical release but has proven to be a capable open-shot shooter from mid-range, which provides hope that he’ll be able to carry some of that accuracy over to the three-point line. He hit 46.1% of his 191 catch-and-shoot attempts in 2013-2014 and 42.6% of his 153 such shots last season.

Rondo-Cousins pick-and-rolls looked viable if Gay’s shooting continues to command respect or a better shooter like Bellinelli or Ben McLemore III takes his place. Cauley-Stein is always gonna be in an awkward spot around the baseline but Cousins is such a great passer and Cauley-Stein such a threat at the dunker spot that Karl could figure out a way to have Cousins alley-oop to Cauley-Stein out of the short roll, much like we saw the Rockets destroy the Mavericks last postseason. Cousins is also a decent option out of the pick-and-pop, as his catch-and-shoot numbers attest.

Having Cauley-Stein off the ball and Rondo remaining a non-threat to pull-up when the opponent goes under the screen is a very fragile arrangement, though. Gay sat out the game against the Blazers and Karl tried Rondo and Collison together in the backcourt, with Caron Butler as the wing. Portland absolutely strangled Rondo-Cousins pick-and-rolls, aggressively packing the lane with no fear of Butler and Collison as outside shooters.

The problem was much worse on Gay-Cousins pick-and-rolls or when Cousins posted up, with both Rondo and Cauley-Stein away from the ball. The Blazers had all four weak-side defenders with a foot inside the lane to prevent Cousins from trying to drive around Mason Plumlee. For someone who is such a smart passer, Cousins was incredibly stubborn and kept trying to get to the rim against all five Blazers in front of him – often losing possession.

This remains a severe gap in his game, by the way. Cousins is turnover prone. His 254 giveaways were the sixth most in the league last season. While nimble for someone his size, Cousins is not explosive and doesn’t blow by opponents. He succeeds on drives (51% shooting last season) by managing to maintain his balance and finishing through contact, but he is quite susceptible to getting the ball stripped in traffic. And he’ll face heavy traffic this season, likely logging most of his minutes with these two non-shooters.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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3D wing

Leonardo Meindl Scouting Report

After a strong showing in the Pan American Games but a letdown in the FIBA Americas, Leonardo Meindl had a couple of impressive outings against Real Madrid last week. Bauru came up short but put up a good fight against the Euroleague champions in the Intercontinental Cup, winning game one at the buzzer and only losing by 11 in the aggregate.

Meindl was Bauru’s third best player in the series, behind Ricardo Fischer and Rafael Hettsheimeir, and indicated he possesses the physical profile and athleticism to be an option for the European level sometime soon.

The 22-year-old guarded Jonas Maciulus extremely well in the post, holding ground thanks to the strength in his 200-pound frame. Bauru’s coach then had him guarding Sergio Rodriguez and Serio Llull in the second game. Meindl showed adequate lateral mobility to keep pace with Rodriguez one-on-one and agility denying him the ball when he was on the weak-side – face-guarding him as he attempted to come off side screens.

Meindl’s issue on defense is that he is too big to slide around screens, which keeps him from being a very good option to defend point-guards on the pick-and-roll or smaller shooters like Jaycee Carroll darting around pindown screens.

He was attentive to his help responsibilities crashing inside to crowd the lane against the roll man but not in a way that mattered very much, as he didn’t show the ability to pick up an eventual block and help protect the rim.

On offense, Meindl impacts the game with his shooting. He was not asked to come off side screens and shoot on the move, but proved able to get his catch-and-shoot three-point shots off quickly against European athletes closing out to him. Meindl hit three of his five three-point attempts in the two games.

He once again showed to not to be a viable option as a shot creator, though. Even attacking off a live dribble, Meindl proved unable to get separation against Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Llull, failing to get to the basket and finish with any sort of explosiveness. He also couldn’t get by 16-year-old Luka Doncic in isolation or take advantage of Carroll in the post.

His size does lead to a lot of contact and that can potentially become an asset in the future but at this point, he is simply not a real capable player off the dribble. He is a so-so passer on the move but his handle is too loose in traffic, which led to six turnovers in his 52 minutes.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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Catch&Score Finisher

Andre Drummond Scouting Report

CONTEXT

Of all the players eligible to sign extensions, one in particular stands out as someone who should have already signed, yet hasn’t: Andre Drummond.

Drummond entered college expected to be the second pick in the subsequent draft but a disappointing season at Connecticut and concerns regarding how much he actually liked to play basketball sunk his stock. He ended up going ninth, an absurd in hindsight. Three years in, Drummond now projects as the sort of transcending player who can lead the Pistons out of mediocrity.

He is not that player just yet and might still be a couple of years from getting there, so one could argue Detroit is right to negotiate thoroughly and not rush to hand him out the max. But the thing about negotiations is that they aren’t about what is right, they are about leverage and the Pistons don’t have any.

Letting him reach restricted free agency risks hurting their relationship and might make him consider signing his qualifying offer to come back to the market a year later as an unrestricted free agent in a landscape where he could ink a more lucrative deal. He just witnessed teammate Greg Monroe take that route and do well for himself.

Simply moving on from him, like they moved on from Monroe, isn’t an option at all for the Pistons. In his 17 months atop the organization, Stan Van Gundy has made several moves that limited its flexibility for the near future. None was necessarily crippling in a vacuum but in total, they strongly suggest Van Gundy’s focus was building a squad to be as good as it could the soonest it could. In the process, he built a team that isn’t any sort of immediate contender but shouldn’t be bad enough to contend for a high pick next draft and also doesn’t have its financials handled in a way that keeps it in the running for difference making free agents like Mike Conley, Jr. or Al Horford next summer. Drummond’s development is the only foreseeable avenue they have to a superstar that can carry them into real relevance, which is why the Pistons don’t get to say no to him.

AT THE RIM

Entering his fourth season as a pro, Drummond is still only 22 years old. Some might expect him to make that jump into superstardom next season already, but odds are he is still a couple of years away from starting his prime and that’s the schedule Detroit should be working with. He has, nonetheless, already shown what kind of impact player he could be – a difference making force around the rim on both ends.

Drummond is already one of the very best finishers in the league, converting 65% of his shots within three feet of the basket in his 6,364 minutes as a pro – according to basketball-reference. Despite his massive six-foot-11, 270-pound frame, he moves very fluidly in space – able to screen far above the three-point arc and dive down the lane with the sort of speed that sucks in attention and can potentially open up shots for others around the perimeter.

Drummond can catch the ball on the move and play above the rim as a target for lobs. He has also used his seven-foot-six wingspan to rebound outside of his area and collect second chances in volume, leading the league in offensive rebounds the last couple of years.

His quickness and leaping ability translate on defense, as he is able to play above the rim as a constant shot blocking threat, rotating off the weak-side in a pinch and exploding off the ground to erase shots at the rim. Drummond has room to improve as a positional defender, using his mobility to contain drives and keep opponents from getting to the rim in the first place more often, but his prolificacy erasing shots at the basket is already really meaningful.

According to Nylon Calculus’ Seth Partnow, Drummond was one of the 20 best rim protectors in the league last season. His ‘Points Saved/36 Minutes’ metric estimated Drummond saved 0.92 points per 36 minutes at the rim more than the average big man.

His dominance on the glass is also a huge asset in deterring opponent’s scoring. Drummond is a truly elite defensive rebounder – collecting 30.1% of opponents’ misses last season, who uses his edge in athleticism, quickness tracking the ball off the rim and effort to win 50-50 balls, collecting 29.3% of his 667 defensive rebounds in contested battles.

SKILL LEVEL

A physical freak with decent instincts about how to play inside the lane, what is holding Drummond from becoming a true superstar at the moment is his skill level. All of the gaps in his game are skill-related.

Van Gundy had him posting up quite a bit last preseason and early last year. Drummond flashed some decent passing, hitting cutters darting down the lane in one motion and shooters spot-up on the opposite side from time to time. But he struggled creating and finishing good looks for himself with his back to the basket, very mechanical with his moves and lacking touch on his hooks – averaging a putrid 0.69 point per possession on these looks.

He is not any sort of asset passing out of the short roll or facilitating offense from the elbows and has no such thing as shooting range, assisting on just 3.2% of Detroit’s scores in his three years in the league.

But perhaps the biggest concern regards his foul shooting. Drummond has missed 60% of the 852 free throws he has taken in the NBA, a historically poor mark. If the Pistons ever get good but Drummond doesn’t improve his foul shooting, this will become very problematic because opponents will have a lot of incentive to not only employ a Hack-a-Shaq strategy but also foul him on the catch whenever he touches the ball inside the lane and limit his availability late in games. Considering how great of a threat Drummond is at the rim, this could become the most efficient strategy to stop the spread pick-and-roll offense Van Gundy plans to implement, if his personnel decisions turn out wise, of course.

TEAM CONTEXT

In his second offseason as top decision maker, and the first one where he had real flexibility to implement his vision, Van Gundy has built a team that very clearly will look to leverage Drummond’s presence inside the lane on both ends.

Detroit returns nine players that finished last season with the team, none more prominent than Reggie Jackson. After acquiring him at the trade deadline for Kyle Singler, DJ Augustin and a second-round pick, the Pistons re-signed Jackson to a five-year, $80-million dollar contract in the summer, a deal many considered to be poor management given the landscape of the market at that time.

By July 6, there was no clear landing spot for Jackson to command that sort of commitment somewhere else. Detroit clearly decided sometime in March or April that it would retain Jackson no matter what it took and opted to bypass the part where it actually analyzed and negotiated what exactly was needed for that to happen. That makes it even more confusing how they haven’t extended Drummond already.

Aside from Jackson, Van Gundy also overpaid for Aron Baynes – a decent backup center but one who is expected to log just 18 minutes per game, yet was given a three-year, $19 million dollar contract while a more proven commodity like Brandan Wright commanded three years, $18 million. Joel Anthony also got a two-year, $5 million dollar-deal for being a good locker room presence.

This sort of disregard for market value might cost the Pistons in the future. Daryl Morey has proven that squeezing value out of every single deal is vital to building a legit contender. But perhaps just as vital is luck, and none of this might matter if Van Gundy’s bets hit, especially his bet on Jackson.

In his 27 games with Detroit, he did well enough in a vacuum to justify the team investing on him long-term. Jackson struggled to hit his pull-ups and turned it over at a high rate just like he had in Oklahoma City but proved able to turn the corner out of the pick-and-roll, finish against length at the rim, draw shooting fouls and find open shooters more consistently. As the triggerman in Van Gundy’s attack, Jackson took 31% of his shots at the rim, scored them at a 64.1% clip, averaged 4.5 free throws per 36 minutes and assisted on 51.2% of Detroit’s scores in his 870 minutes on the floor. At age 25, he is right at the beginning of his prime.

That attack looked healthier once Van Gundy waived Josh Smith via the stretch provision and cleared more minutes for Jonas Jerebko, Anthony Tolliver and Shawne Williams in lineups that didn’t feature Drummond and Monroe playing together. It should look even healthier now that Monroe is gone to Milwaukee, and the power forward slot will be occupied by a shooter full time.

Van Gundy traded for Ersan Ilyasova to be the most prominent of those shooters and hopes the Turkish sniper can be an upgrade over last season’s stretch fours. Ilyasova isn’t the elite shooter some portray him to be but tends to finish seasons hitting his three-point shots at an above average clip and should get better looks playing off a decent dribble penetrator like Jackson and an excellent roll man like Drummond.

The biggest issue is his health. He has logged more than 66 games just twice in his seven years in the NBA. Ilyasova is also a great case to figure out just how smart the league as a whole has gotten, though. He isn’t much of a threat off the bounce and can’t take advantage of smaller players on the post and in the offensive glass. Theoretically speaking, opponents should always go small against him to contest his shots a little quicker and then force him to defend in space on the other end. Tolliver offers the exact same issue.

Van Gundy, however, deserves praise for how he acquired contingency plans for when his pure stretch-fours are played off the court.

Armed with the eighth pick, the Pistons selected Stanley Johnson in the draft – the name they were expected to choose all along, but who was nonetheless a surprise choice once Justise Winslow dropped and remained available. Based on summer league, Johnson seems more prepared to contribute right away. He projects as a wing but thanks to his physical profile, he is suited to log stretches as a smallball power forward and could add a lot of flexibility to the offense at that position with his ball skills.

He tends to drive right but proved able to turn the corner out of the pick-and-roll and get to the rim with some consistency, hung in the air and finished through contact at the basket, showcased the ability to make the pocket pass and flashed a floater to finish over length in the in-between area. Concerns over this three-point shot remains, though. Johnson can hit open shots but has a low release off the catch and might struggle against legit NBA length contesting his long-range attempts.

Smartly, Detroit also picked up Marcus Morris, grouped together with Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger, from Phoenix for a second round pick in 2020. Morris became available once the Suns needed to clean their books for a run at LaMarcus Aldridge, but also because he faces aggravated assault charges with his brother in Arizona for beating up some guy who texted their mother something they didn’t like.

Anyway, on the court Morris figures to be of help. He brings the better of two worlds – used almost entirely as a big in Houston, then logging most of his minutes as a wing in Phoenix. He developed as a legit open shot threat – converting 36.8% of his 573 three-point shots the last two years, and also brings a capable floor game to the table – assisting on 10% of Phoenix scores when he was on the floor and finishing his drives at a 42% clip last season, according to NBA.com’s SportVU tracking data.

Bullock, by the way, is a great low-percentage bet as well. He has prototypical size for a wing in the NBA and hit 38.7% of the 486 three-point shots he took at North Carolina. Doc Rivers just never took much of a look at him and Phoenix had a massive logjam of bodies at his position. Bullock has shown flashes of potential plus defense in the few minutes he has played and stretched himself a bit running side pick-and-rolls with Bakersfield in the D-League.

The competition for minutes on the wing will be intense, though. These newcomers join Jodie Meeks and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, two players the Pistons have a lot invested on.

Meeks was signed to play the role JJ Redick did in Orlando, a shooter with gravity who can be moved around the floor and command attention from the defense. But injuries limited him to just 60 appearances last season and 35% shooting from three-point range. Van Gundy probably expects more from him on healthier legs and within a healthier offensive ecosystem next season.

Caldwell-Pope enters his third season, meaning the team will have to make a decision on whether or not to extend him next summer. Drafted eighth overall in 2013, he has not been able to make shots or plays on offense and be an impactful presence on defense. Caldwell-Pope did hit 37.5% of his catch-and-shoot three-point shots last season but averaged 0.55 points per possession out of the pick-and-roll, missed 65% of his pull-ups, finished his drives at a 39.8% clip and rated as a negative on defense according to ESPN’s ‘defensive real plus-minus’. He will need a big year three to kick the tires on those extension talks.

Van Gundy has also speculated he might attempt playing Jackson and Brandon Jennings together some. Both guys are good enough catch-and-shoot three-point shooters for it to work well enough on offense and Jackson is big enough (208-pound frame, seven-foot wingspan) to guard some smaller wings. Both guys are ball-dominant but Jennings is returning from a left ruptured Achilles injury and not having the responsibility to attack the lane on every possession could aid him in his comeback. The landscape of the East could also make it possible for these two-point-guard lineups to work fine.

This roster is clearly structured based on Drummond. The point guard who creates for him at the rim was retained at an obscene value, several shooters to create space for his dives were added, there is a lot of length to contest passing lanes and funnel drivers towards his help-defense, and even his backup was chosen in part because one of his top skills (foul shooting) hedges against Drummond’s potential unavailability late in games.

Drummond is the franchise. Quality frontcourt players were not retained because they didn’t fit with him, the roster was tailored around his skill-set and the coach in place has a track record of developing someone exactly like him into superstardom. Every decision is informed by his presence, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense that they haven’t made the financial commitment he commands yet, especially considering the other contracts they didn’t have a problem handing out above market value.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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