For most of the 2000’s, Pistons general manager Joe Dumars was striking out in the draft. Besides Tayshaun Prince and Mehmet Okur in the 2001 and 2002 drafts, Dumars didn’t have another draft pick make an impact until Jason Maxiell in 2005.
He went another few drafts before Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo in 2007 – and not much in between – but in the last three years, he has done extremely well. Using the last few drafts, we’ll be taking a look at the Pistons young core of players and best-case projections for each. We’ll start with the team’s floor general, Brandon Knight.
The former Kentucky Wildcat became the team’s starter early on in 2011 and would go on to start 60 of the 66 possible games last year. Despite playing just one season of college basketball, Knight took to the NBA rather quickly, garnering All-NBA Rookie First Team. He averaged 12.8 points, 3.8 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and shot 41.5% from the field, showing an ability to shoot from the outside and penetrate the lane if he needed to. Reports have said that he has taken even more of a leader role this offseason, especially with the rookies in summer league play.
As expected with most first-year point guards, Knight will need to improve several aspects of his game to truly become an elite floor general. He averaged 2.6 turnovers, giving him a 1.47 assist-to-turnover ratio. Part of that was him being too fast with the ball and simply making careless mistakes, but part of it is inexperience – when to make a pass, when not to. Those are things he surely worked on over the summer, but it’ll be crucial for him to show it in real-game action. He must also work on getting to the line more often (and making it when he does) – he only averaged 2.1 free throws last season, making just 75.9% of his shots from the charity stripe.
Best-case scenario: Rajon Rondo
The comparisons are more than just their choice of college. Rondo played in 78 games his rookie year, only starting 25, but averaged the same amount of assists and shot similar numbers. Their frame is about the same, as well (Rondo is 6’1”, 186; Knight is 6’3”, 189). His rookie numbers aren’t great, but Rondo was never a first option with offensive-minded teammates like Paul Pierce and Al Jefferson; the rest of the roster was littered with bench players.
His second year, though, saw a massive jump in statistics. While the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen surely helped that, Rondo’s averages went up to 10.6 points, 5.1 assists, and just 1.9 turnovers a game. The increased attention to his new teammates even helped bump his shooting average up to 49.2%.
With more and more experience, Rondo has seen his assists go up every single season, with a career-high 11.7 last season. His turnover averages have doubled since his rookie year (3.6 in 2011-12), but that’s mainly because the coaching staff has given him the ball more. He also has become extremely skilled at rebounding, averaging 4.4 for his career. His ability to score, rebound and assist helped him secure six triple-doubles last season, also.
The Pistons supposedly had a chance to trade for Rondo a few seasons ago, but turned down the deal. If Knight can follow Rondo’s career path, that missed opportunity might not look so bad.