John Henson vs. Meyers Leonard: The battle for the direction of the Pistons

The Pistons will work out several big men today, and there’s always a chance Andre Drummond slips, too.

But according to every indication, Detroit’s first-round pick is coming down to John Henson and Meyers Leonard. Today, Leonard is favored. Yesterday, it was Henson. Tomorrow? Who knows.

It’s a matchup that will be a focus of today’s workout and a battle that could extend all the way to draft day.

Light vs. height. UNC vs. we’ll see. Defensively sly vs. Fighting Illini.

In a broader sense, present vs. future.

And a very important sense, Arnie Kander vs. Lawrence Frank.

Present vs. Future

John Henson, as long as you’re willing to accept the limits that come with players in this range, is the perfect fit for the Pistons. They need a help-side defender to pair with Greg Monroe, and as the two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Henson would provide the rim protection required to make Detroit’s below-average defenders look competent.

Meyers Leonard, if all goes well, replicates Andrew Bynum. He’s big and athletic and coordinated, but he hasn’t quite figured out how to impose his will. He might not make Detroit better right now, but if the Pistons’ other pieces blossom, Leonard might take the them from good to great some day.

Which of those profiles is preferable for the Pistons? I have no idea. When I ranked Henson and Leonard within a single draft tier – at which point the exercise becomes assessing which player is a better fit – I was stumped.

Not only are Henson and Leonard similar in value, they’re extremely different in style – yet, in a way that still makes ordering them on a draft board difficult.

Henson would help more in the present, but should that matter for a team that is still years from contending for a title? Leonard might help more in the future, but should that ever matter when its so difficult to project so far ahead?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but ultimately Joe Dumars and his advisors must ask themselves, what direction does this franchise want to go? Perhaps, to answer that question, they must ask, whom do they trust to get them there?

Arnie Kander vs. Lawrence Frank

In his end-of-season press conference, Joe Dumars said he needed to get Lawrence Frank more players who fit the coach’s style, and that’s definitely true. Frank does not have enough defenders thanks to Dumars tying up so much money in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.

Drafting Henson would be an easy solution. Skills-wise, Henson could fit in Frank’s system today. But the 6-foot-10.5 Henson weighs just 216 pounds, so the key question becomes, can Arnie Kander bulk him up?

Drafting Leonard probably won’t immediately solve anything. At 7-foot-1 and 250 pounds, Leonard has the frame to play in the NBA today. But, skills-wise, he’s not very polished, so the question becomes, can Lawrence Frank groom him?

Draft Henson because you like Frank and want to see the coach succeed. Draft Leonard because you trust Frank and know the coach will succeed.

Picking Leonard would show a huge amount of trust in Frank’s long-term future in Detroit, especially for someone like Dumars, who might be best know for firing coaches. Picking Henson would give Frank a better chance to prove himself, if he hasn’t already.

The battle for the direction of the Pistons

The Pistons have wandered aimlessly for the last couple years as the championship core has aged and departed, the team has been sold and Dumars has mistakenly shifted his philosophy.

Thursday’s draft present an opportunity for the Pistons to plant themselves firmly on an upward arc.

Maybe one of the super six (Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Andre Drummond, Harrison Barnes and Bradley Beal) falls to Detroit, and the pick will be easy. But that’s a longshot.

The pick will likely be hard, and it very well could come down to John Henson and Meyers Leonard. If not those two per se, the other candidates – Terrence Jones (Leonard), Tyler Zeller (Henson), Perry Jones (Leonard) and Arnett Moultrie (Leonard) – still represent one side of the debate or the other.

It’s not an easy call, and I don’t know what the Pistons should do. But their choice will say a lot about where they want to go and how they want to get there.

Tags: Ben Gordon Charlie Villanueva Greg Monroe Lawrence Frank