NBA champions are built through the draft.
We all have heard this sentiment, and on a year-to-year basis, it proves true.
The Spurs have won multiple titles behind their own top pick in that decade, Tim Duncan, and supplemented him through shrewd moves on draft night.
And the favorite to win the title this year, Oklahoma City, built their team almost exclusively through the draft.
Sure, there are exceptions to this rule. For instance, Miami is also battling for the title this year, and they only have a couple of significant players on their roster that they drafted; the Heat chose to build up their team through free agency.
But for a team like Detroit, which does not offer the lure of sandy beaches and tropical weather, free agency is not the likely ticket for success.
This team is going to be built through smart moves and, most importantly, smart drafts.
Since team president Joe Dumars began rebuilding this team in earnest, he has had some nice successes in the draft.
Greg Monroe fell to Detroit a few years ago, and he appears to be one of the best young big men in the land.
Similarly, Brandon Knight fell to Detroit last year, and he could become the next great Pistons point guard.
The Pistons finally appear to be trending in the right direction, but they are not out of the woods as of yet. This draft is arguably the most important draft of Dumars' tenure, so, who exactly should this team be targeting with their top pick?
The Trouble with the Bigs
Everyone with an opinion seems to be drinking the same Kool-Aid: The Pistons need an athletic, shot-blocking big man to pair with Monroe.
In most people's minds, this is option A, B and C.
Take a look at all the mock drafts online. The Pistons are projected to pick anyone from Andre Drummond to Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Perry Jones III and Jared Sullinger.
Now, while an argument could be made for each of them, let's take a look at why each of them would not fit.
Drummond is the most tantalizing prospect of the bunch. His measurables are off the charts, his athleticism calls to mind a young Kevin Garnett and he has the size and strength to become a dominant force down low.
However, those were the same things that people said about Kwame Brown a decade ago, and we all know how well that one worked out.
Drummond lacks good defensive instincts, he vanished frequently in big games and too often shied away from contact. He also is not likely to even be available when Detroit picks since Golden State and Portland both have similar needs to Detroit and draft before them.
Zeller is probably the safest big man of the bunch, but he does not have a high ceiling. Some have called him an Eric Montross clone, and others see him as being no better than someone like Cole Aldridge.
Personally, I think Zeller could be a solid pro, but I also don't think he is the type of player who really makes a franchise demonstrably better.
Henson is probably the most popular pick amongst the pundits.
However, there are major red flags when it comes to Henson's size. During the recent NBA Draft Combine, Henson was even smaller than I feared, weighing a paltry 216 pounds.
Just for comparison's sake, that's the same as Tayshaun Prince; Henson is an inch taller and weighs the same as Prince.
If that doesn't give you pause, then you are a braver man than me. At the next level, Henson is going to be tossed around like a sack of flowers.
Jones is physically gifted, but too often played like a guard. If Drummond shies away from contact, Jones flat-out runs from it. He was over-matched when playing against top competition, vanished in big games and preferred to stay on the perimeter in most of the games I saw him play.
Sullinger is an intriguing player, in my opinion, as he calls to mind a more skilled version of Glen Davis.
But like Davis, Sullinger plays below the rim, and a player who can't block shots is not an ideal fit next to Monroe, who also plays defense rather vertically challenged.
There are other options amongst big men, but each would probably be a reach at No. 9.
Arnett Moultrie is talented, but tends to fall in love too much with the perimeter jumper. Meyers Leonard is a legitimate center prospect, but his offensive game is extremely limited. And Terrence Jones is more of a 'tweener who probably projects better as a small forward at the next level.
The Pistons likely will find themselves on draft night staring at the likelihood of one of the above options, minus Drummond, of course.
Therefore, they really have four options.
One, they can pinch their nose and swallow one of the above. Sure, it won't be a great pick, but it will probably be a safe one.
Two, they can attempt to trade up and secure one of the better prospects on the board.
There are two problems with this:
First, trading up is expensive. Not only would Detroit be swapping its pick but it likely would have to throw in another pick or two, which are valuable for a rebuilding team.
Second, the teams that are drafting before Detroit mostly have similar needs, so they will be unlikely to give up their pick. Besides, of the big men who are in this draft, the only game-changer is Anthony Davis, and there is no way Detroit can move up to No. 1 overall.
The third option is to trade down. The Pistons could try to accumulate another pick or two in exchange for giving up their place and moving down. There are a number of teams with multiple first-round picks, and that is probably the best bet.
However, the Pistons will risk still losing out on someone they like, and they might not get as good of a prospect.
This leads to perhaps the best option...
Take the Best Player Available
This draft, while not as deep as some may have thought a few months ago, still has plenty of talent.
When Detroit selects at No. 9, there will likely be a number of very good players still on the board.
The Pistons could be looking at their choice of Harrison Barnes, Dion Waiters, Kendall Marshall, Damian Lillard, Austin Rivers or Jeremy Lamb.
Okay, so nobody wants another shooting guard on this club. At the very least, the Pistons have two already, and depending on Knight's development, they could have a third.
But this is forgetting one major caveat. The Pistons most assuredly will choose to use the amnesty clause to free themselves from one of Dumars' disastrous past moves, and the likeliest candidate remains Gordon.
By cutting Gordon, the Pistons would be free to bring in a dynamic new guard.
Of the above, Marshall is the most pure point guard and therefore the least likely to be selected. Lillard also projects as a point guard, so unless the Pistons are playing chicken with Portland (who selects at No. 11 and is desperate for a point guard) and select one of those two in order to secure a trade with the Blazers, these both seem unlikely.
Lamb, Rivers and Waiters each have solid arguments in their favor; Rivers probably has the highest ceiling, Waiters is probably the most NBA-ready and Lamb is the most intriguing.
Any of these three would immediately add athleticism to a team that seems too stiff and disjointed.
But this brings me to the most intriguing name for Detroit: Harrison Barnes.
Barnes began the year as a candidate to go No. 1 overall, but has slipped in some projections to the bottom of the lottery. There still is a possibility that he could get taken in the Top Seven, but there is also a strong chance that he slips to Detroit.
Barnes is an excellent scorer, has legit small forward size and can shoot the lights out. Detroit needs to get more athletic on the wings, and Barnes definitely is a step in the right direction; in a lot of ways, he calls to mind Rudy Gay.
If Barnes falls to Detroit, the Pistons would have their small forward of the future.
None of these options is ideal for Detroit. In fact, most teams are facing a similar predicament right now. This draft has a true superstar in Davis and a lot of question marks after.
Detroit certainly needs to keep its options open and should definitely try to secure another first-round pick. The Pistons currently have a few bargaining chips and would be wise to dangle Tayshaun Prince to Boston for one of their picks in the low 20s.
That being said, Detroit really can't afford to mess this draft up. The Pistons need talent at nearly every position, and they cannot pass up on talent just because they are picky about the position said player plays.
Without a doubt, Detroit needs to throw out the depth chart and just pick the best player available.