AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — As the NBA draft approached, it became clear to Stan Van Gundy that he might end up taking Arizona’s Stanley Johnson with the eighth pick.
So he was blunt with Sean Miller, Johnson’s college coach.
“I talked to him three times about him, the last time, yesterday, to just say, ‘Hey look, we’re going to take your guy. Now, I can’t get screwed on this,'” Van Gundy said. “He just went through it again, same thing. He said, ‘Look, he’s the kind of guy, you’re going to practice for two and a half hours, and you’re going to end up having to throw him out of the gym at the end. He wants it badly. He’s going to be in there all the time.'”
The Pistons did end up drafting Johnson on Thursday night, adding a player who will have a chance to fill their hole at small forward. Johnson played one season at Arizona, averaging 13.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in 2014-15. Detroit had its choice of wing prospects. Duke’s Justise Winslow was also available when the Pistons picked, but they went with Johnson.
The Arizona star was asked why he was the right choice.
“Because I’m the best player in the draft,” Johnson said.
Van Gundy, Detroit’s coach and team president, said this week he wasn’t approaching the draft with the idea that the Pistons’ pick would necessarily have to start right away. But Johnson is eager to compete, and he’s eager to represent the Motor City.
“It’s Detroit vs. everybody,” he said. “I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder since I started playing basketball, where I thought it was me vs. the world.”
In the second round, the Pistons took guard Darrun Hilliard of Villanova. The 6-foot-6 Hilliard played four seasons for the Wildcats, averaging 14.3 points in each of the last two years and shooting 39 percent from 3-point range last season.
The 6-foot-7, 245-pound Johnson was the Pac-12 freshman of the year in 2015. That was after an impressive high school career at Mater Dei in Santa Ana, California.
“He’s won everywhere,” Van Gundy said. “California, I’m from there, it’s a rather large state, and he won four straight state championships in high school. He didn’t do that in some tiny, out-of-the-way state.”
It was another mid-level lottery pick for the Pistons, who were also at No. 8 in 2011 and 2013. They picked seventh in 2010 and ninth in 2012. Detroit didn’t have a first-round selection last year because of a previous trade.
Owner Tom Gores said the Pistons were well prepared for this draft. The player they ended up with was certainly no surprise.
“There wasn’t a lot of gambling for us,” Gores said. “We knew exactly what was there, what was possible.”
The Pistons have been able to land solid contributors like Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in recent drafts, but they haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, and Van Gundy was hired last offseason. Detroit seems likely to lose Monroe via free agency, and the Pistons made a trade earlier this month for a potential replacement, acquiring power forward Ersan Ilyasova from Milwaukee.
That left small forward as the most glaring hole. Winslow ended up going to Miami at No. 10 after the Pistons passed on him, but the comparisons between those two could linger for a while.
“Justise is a very good player and a great kid and competes very hard,” Van Gundy said. “The main reason people ask that question is because he’s from Duke, and they won the national championship. I’m just being honest. It’s not like people sat down and analyzed their games. But when the last game was played this year, Duke was playing, and Justise Winslow was in there.”
NOTES: Gores was asked about the possibility of the team moving to a new arena. Detroit’s other three pro teams play downtown. “We have a great home. Nothing’s fallen down here,” Gores said. “But at the same time I understand. I understand what a city brings. That’s why we’re trying to stay open minded. … Van Gundy said Dave Hopla will be the team’s new shooting coach.
This story has been corrected to show that Johnson averaged 13.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in 2014-15, not 13.9 points and 6.6 rebounds.
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