Pistons are confident heading into NBA draft


Villanova senior Darrun Hilliard was not among the 60 players to receive a spot in last year's NBA draft combine.

At the age of 22, there were concerns the lefty scorer was close to his ceiling. He wasn't on the draft boards of some teams, but the Pistons assigned Hilliard a first-round draft grade.

They used their second-round pick (38th overall) to select the 6-foot-6 shooting guard in the 2015 NBA draft.

Hilliard's playing time was inconsistent and he needs to develop physical attributes, but he displayed a good shooting touch and a nice all-around offensive game as a rookie.

It looks like a plus pick for the Pistons scouting department.

"I think he had certain qualities and attributes away from basketball that were kind of in line with what we've outlined and what we want to be about," Pistons assistant general manager Brian Wright told the Free Press last week. "As you evaluated the basketball piece, there were a lot of things that he did well that fit well with the other players on our roster, and then when you break down the physical aspect of it and how he could develop, he had considerable growth left even though he was 22 and a senior."

Add in the promise of first-round pick Arizona swingman Stanley Johnson, and the Pistons have the confidence of one successful haul to carry them into the upcoming draft season, which gets in full swing this week with the combine in Chicago.

There was criticism of the Johnson pick. He was selected eighth by the Pistons, but many thought Duke swingman Justise Winslow should have been the choice.

The jury remains out _ Winslow had a promising rookie season as well for the Heat with the No. 10 pick.

But the Pistons trusted their process.

President-coach Stan Van Gundy said toward the end of the season that Johnson and Hilliard performed exactly as expected.

"From that standpoint we were pretty prepared, and I think it kind of helped Stan throughout the season kind of knowing what these guys need, knowing where they are, knowing they can do and can't do and how they'll grow over the next few years," Wright said.

The Pistons have a first-rounder (18th overall) and second-rounder (49th overall) in this year's draft, which occurs June 23.

But the Pistons signaled they were willing to move out of what is considered a weak draft when they gave up a protected first-rounder in the rescinded trade for Rockets power forward Donatas Motiejunas.

And with a track record of being active on the trade market combined with the obvious need for ready-to-contribute players at power forward and point guard, it's safe to say the Pistons will be on the phones in their third off-season under Van Gundy.

But don't assume the Pistons will trade the pick.

"Whether it's for a player or as a part of trades, we'll have a totally wide-open door on that and be aggressive in our discussions with teams of that nature, but at the same time good players have been drafted at that pick and we feel that we'll be in position to draft a player that we like if we keep the pick," Pistons general manager Jeff Bower said.

And that's where Wright, four collegiate scouts and two international scouts enter the picture.

Wright acknowledges the draft is an inexact science.

But so far, so good.

"You're gonna have ups and downs struggles with everybody throughout the course of their careers _ just like we have struggles in our everyday lives, but I think the information that you gather along the way helps you manage how to deal with that, how to see some things coming and how to manage that whole thing," Wright said.