In my column today in the Detroit Free Press, I outline the tier system I use for ranking draft prospects. Here’s how the top of the draft looks from a Pistons perspective:
1. Nerlens Noel
Medical examinations of Noel, who tore his ACL in February, will be essential. Has he lost some of his athleticism? Will he be more likely to get injured? Will future injuries affect him more adversely than they would others? If the answers to those three questions is “no,” Noel is No. 1. He has proved himself the top prospect in the draft, and I wouldn’t mind waiting until midseason for his return. If there are injury concerns, he could slide, but it’s difficult to envision him falling past past the players currently in Tier 2.
2. Otto Porter
3. Trey Burke
4. Victor Oladipo
5. Ben McLemore
These players were very productive in college and have the youth/athleticism/raw talent to continue improving — a great combination in the draft.
As for the order, the Pistons could really use a do-it-all small forward like Porter, who’s the youngest of the group. (That boosts his value to the Pistons because that increases his upside, and they can afford to wait for him to reach it.)
Point guards generally impact the game more than shooting guards, so when teams need both — as the Pistons do — point guards like Burke get the edge over shooting guards like Oladipo and McLemore.
Oladipo’s defense gives him the edge over McLemore. The Pistons might need a score-first, score-only player such as McLemore right now, but in the long run, it’s difficult to win big with a player who can’t contribute more.
6. Anthony Bennett
Most have Bennett mixed with my Tier 2 players, but I had him a step below even before news of his rotator cuff surgery. His defensive indifference just gives me too much pause. For the Pistons, this distinction matters little because Bennett’s fit would rank him fifth among the second-tier players anyway.
7. Shabazz Muhammad
8. C.J. McCollum
9. Alex Len
Muhammad fits the Pistons’ current needs very well, but as is the concern with McLemore, a score-first, score-only player can help only so much in the long term. Can Muhammad do more? Ben Howland’s system at UCLA notoriously makes it difficult to assess guards.
A scoring point guard such as McCollum won’t exactly fit with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, who need entry passes and lobs, but McCollum might be too talented to pass up.
Len is polished and athletic, but he’d be stuck behind Monroe and Drummond. Also, is he tough enough?
This fourth tier is equally likely to add players as have a player emerge above the rest before the draft. The are many players (including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Cody Zeller) who are a small step below but could move up.