The Detroit Pistons' 5 Biggest Draft Busts Since 1990
When approaching the NBA draft, any team's philosophy has to be one of three options. Either take a player who will be an immediate starter for your team, take a player who can contribute off of the bench and develop into a starter within two or three years, or take a player who is a project and needs time to develop but that you believe will be a special player down the road.
Outside of that, I don't agree with GM's philosophies when they draft a player for a specific niche. I believe that is what free agency or trades should be used for. A sign of a good coach is when they take younger players and mold them into stronger and more well-rounded players. Otherwise, the coach doesn't have the team's best long-term success in mind.
When I started thinking about the young, developing building blocks that the Detroit Pistons have in Brandon Knight, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, I thought we should look back at some of the Pistons' biggest busts of all time.
These types of lists are so subjective, and I was born in 1980, so a lot of this is based on research and talking to family members. That being said, I don't feel I'm equipped to accurately rank the players before 1990, but I have put the players since 1990 (when I can remember when each player was chosen) in ranking order.
I based this list on two criteria: 1) production of the draft pick while they were in a Pistons uniform and 2) who the team passed on to select the player. I left off players who were drafted but never played for the Pistons.
Draft Picks Before 1990
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Again, since I either wasn't born or didn't remember them in a Pistons uniform, I listed the players who were considered draft busts but didn't rank them in any order.
Sonny Dove, St. John's: 1967 Round 1, Fourth Pick
Going into the 1967 draft, the Pistons had the first and fourth picks and should have come out of it with two star players. With the first overall pick they took Jimmy Walker. Then with the fourth overall pick they made their huge mistake in selecting Sonny Dove.
Dove played sparingly for the Pistons over two seasons averaging 3.1 points per game and 2.0 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, he couldn't match his production at St. John's and was gone after the 1968-69 season.
What makes this pick so bad was who the Pistons passed on—Walt Frazier, Phil Jackson and Pat Riley.
Bob Nash, University of Hawaii: 1972 Round 1, Ninth Pick
Bob Nash may be best known as the former head coach of Hawaii who complied a 34-55 record, but he was once the Pistons' first-round pick in 1972.
Nash was drafted out of Hawaii and only played two seasons for the Pistons. In his rookie year, he played 36 games, shot .222 from the field and averaged 1.2 points per game.
In his second season he followed it up with only playing in 35 games, shooting .357 from the field and averaging 3.0 points per game. The Pistons had seen enough when deciding to part ways with him.
When you're better known as a head coach with a winning percentage of .378, chances are you didn't have a successful playing career. Add in the fact that the Pistons passed on Paul Westphal and Julius "Dr. J" Irving in the draft and you see that they really dropped the ball.
Al Eberhard, Missouri: 1974 Round 1, 15th Pick
Al Eberhard was drafted by the Pistons in 1974 and stayed with the team for four seasons. While he wasn't a star on the team, he averaged 6.8 points per game to go along with 3.5 rebounds per game.
Eberhard's best year came in the 1975-76 season, where he averaged 9.3 points per game while playing in 81 games.
The problem with drafting Eberhard is that the Pistons passed on Hall of Famer and Detroit native, George Gervin. Forward Billy Knight was also still on the board when it was the Pistons' time to pick.
Ricky Pierce, Rice: 1982 Round 1, 18th Pick
Ricky Pierce had success in the NBA as a one-time All-Star and two-time Sixth Man of the Year, but the problem was that it all occurred after Pierce left the Pistons. Pierce only played one season with the Pistons before moving on to the San Diego Clippers.
In his one season in Detroit, Pierce didn't get that much time to show his talent as he only played in 39 games and averaged 2.2 points per game.
In selecting Pierce, the Pistons didn't miss any impact players in that draft, but they missed on their draft pick since they lost a player who could score whether he was starting or off the bench.
Terry Driscoll, Boston College: 1969 Round 1, Fourth Pick
When you take a player fourth overall like the Pistons did in selecting Terry Driscoll, you hope that they stick around for more than a season. But unfortunately, the Pistons messed up this draft pick.
Driscoll only played one season in Detroit and averaged 5.4 points per game. To make matters worse, the Pistons thought so poorly of him, they just waived him and got nothing in return.
Usually a team will take a chance on talent and potential even if they flopped on their previous team, but the Pistons couldn't even trade him.
When the Pistons selected Driscoll they passed on seven-time All-Star Jo Jo White.
5. Scot Pollard, Kansas: 1997 1st Round, 19th Pick
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The reason Scot Pollard isn't ranked higher on this list is because he was traded, along with a draft pick, after his rookie season to the Atlanta Hawks in order to acquire Christian Laettner.
Scot Pollard was drafted by the Pistons in 1997 and was better known for his unique personality and his controversial comment in 2007 about kids doing drugs.
During his only season in Detroit he played in 33 games for the Pistons, averaging 2.7 points per game before being traded.
Fans loved Pollard's quotes and rapidly-changing hair styles and facial hair, but unfortunately, that doesn't make someone a first-round draft pick.
4. Mateen Cleaves, Michigan State University: 2000 1st Round, 14th Pick
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When Mateen Cleaves was drafted by his hometown team in 2000, I thought it was a mistake for the Pistons.
After leading Michigan State to the title in 2000, I believe the Pistons overlooked some flaws in his game and decided to gamble on him.
Cleaves was so popular around the state at the time that he would never be able to live up to his college success and meet the fans' expectations. I also believe the Pistons thought he could step into the point guard role and be the leader of the team, but the problem was that the competition in the NBA is very different than it is in college and he didn't have the skills to be a difference-maker.
Cleaves' best season turned out to be his lone year in Detroit where he averaged 5.4 points per game to go along with 2.7 assists for a disappointing 32-50 team.
In the 2000 draft, the Pistons also passed on more productive players like Hedo Turkoglu, Quentin Richardson and Michael Redd.
3. Lance Blanks, Texas: 1990 1st Round, 26th Pick
Lance Blanks may not have made it in a Pistons' uniform but he became the Phoenix Suns' GM.
Lance Blanks was taken in the draft by the Pistons (then NBA champions) with the 26th pick in 1990. Blanks only played in Detroit two seasons and averaged 1.6 points per game for a veteran team.
Even though Blanks didn't produce in his two seasons in Detroit, he wasn't really given a chance since he wanted into a team that was successful and had veterans.
The problem with this pick was that the Pistons needed to plan for the future and didn't need help from a rookie, so they should have drafted a project-type player in Toni Kukoc and kept him in Europe to develop his game.
Other draft misses that year were Elden Campbell and Antonio Davis.
2. Rodney White, Charlotte: 2001 1st Round, 9th Pick
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When the Pistons selected Rodney White with the ninth overall pick, they took a gamble on him based on his potential. White had left Charlotte after his freshman year, and teams thought with his athleticism that he would dominate at small forward.
The Pistons front office thought highly of his natural scoring ability and thought he could be an All-Star. Unfortunately, like so many other athletes that declare early for the draft, he would have benefited from staying in school.
He didn't work hard enough, as he thought the game would come naturally to him. After one season, the Pistons had enough and traded him to Denver.
In his one season in Detroit he only played in 16 games and averaged 3.5 points per game. If he had only practiced harder and showed a willingness to work hard, I believe White would have had a successful career in Detroit.
When the Pistons selected White, they passed on many talented players—Joe Johnson, Zach Randolph, Tony Parker and Gilbert Arenas. It's a shame, because White had as much raw talent as any of them.
1. Darko Milicic, Serbia: 2003 1st Round, 2nd Pick
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No one would dispute that Darko Milicic is the biggest draft bust in the Pistons' history. He's arguably a top-three draft bust of all time.
Many fans will disagree with me, but I will never blame Dumars for drafting Darko with the second overall pick in the 2003 draft. Most people say that this was Dumars' biggest mistake, but it's unfair to judge him on this decision.
Darko had amazing raw skills that had GMs drooling. With his youth, Dumars thought Darko, at 17 years old, would be able to be a superstar in Detroit. Unfortunately, he didn't develop as planned.
David DuPree of USA Today, explained what scouts thought of Darko before the draft.
The problem here is that Dumars told anyone that would listen — and this was in May, mind you — that the Pistons would be using the top overall pick on Darko. Didn't look seriously into trading down, didn't run another month's worth of background checks. Didn't exactly go in unfamiliar about the guy, but could have done more.
The problem here is that so, so many other teams would have done the same. Even if Wade and Anthony were just a few months removed from shining in their trips to the Final Four.
Dwyer also discusses how Brown was to blame for Darko's development as well as Darko's attitude:
Which makes it come back to Darko. He was petulant. He never refined his play on either side of the ball. He gave up on games, clearly, be they in garbage time or in the first minute of the rare first-half appearance. You'd watch him on League Pass, in his Next Big Chance at Making it Great (if only per-minute), and he sulk around the court. Hardly the sort of thing you want to see from someone given an opportunity to work with the good silverware at the adult table.
A player with that attitude can never be trusted by his teammates or his coaches. Averaging 1.6 points per game for the Pistons, his numbers are only part of why he was a waste of a pick.
Of course, all Pistons know the great players that were taken after Darko—Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, to name a few.
I'm interested in hearing your thoughts—let me know if you agree or disagree with my list.