Former Detroit Pistons shooting guard Luke Kennard scored 18 points Tuesday night against the Utah Jazz. The current Los Angeles Clipper hit four 3-pointers. He was on the floor down the stretch of a tight playoff game.
He made a difference.
He is not a difference-maker.
You could say the same of two other former Pistons on the Clippers’ roster — Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris. Both important role players. Capable of swinging part of a game. Not capable of carrying a team for a series.
Blake Griffin used to be that kind of player. And while the former Pistons — and Clippers — star is enjoying a resurgence for the Brooklyn Nets, he, too, is a role player. A very good one, but a role player, nonetheless.
Former Pistons forward Tobias Harris, meanwhile, is the second-best scorer on a team with eyes on the Finals this season in Philadelphia. He is somewhere between a star and a very good role player.
Toss in Derrick Rose and Reggie Bullock with the Knicks and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Andre Drummond with the Lakers and, well, the playoffs have become a former Pistons convention.
Are you enjoying it? No? Don’t care? Sure, you do.
At the least, it’s a reminder that the 2016 Pistons team was entertaining and full of good NBA players. You remember that team; they fought the eventual champs — the Cleveland Cavaliers — to a respectable sweep.
It’s also a reminder that no matter how many good players you collect in this league, you still need a dude … or two.
Or three if you’re Brooklyn.
But forget about the Nets if you can. They may well win the title and not lose more than four games along the way. Besides, Detroit isn’t going to be the place where three of the most skilled players in league history decide they want to congregate.
No, consider the team the Nets might meet in the NBA Finals — the Utah Jazz. The team that opened its second-round series against the Clippers Tuesday night without its starting point guard and still won.
They are deep. Can shoot. Can defend, especially as a team. Are connected. And … are led by a dude who shall remain nameless. Why torture yourself? When I can do it for you?
It’s not that I’m suggesting the Pistons had the chance to be the Jazz but whiffed in the 2017 draft by taking Kennard over Donovan Mitchell. OK, maybe I am.
But eleven other teams passed on Mitchell, too. Well, 10 if you give Boston a pass — and you should, considering the Celtics drafted Jayson Tatum.
A player, you may recall, who was passed over for Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball.
In other words, it happens. The best basketball scouts in the world miss every year. And that’s just fine. No franchise wins without luck. Even Brooklyn.
But back to the Pistons and the Jazz, and the team that holds a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals, a team that also plays in a region that hasn’t traditionally attracted high-end free agents.
Not to disparage Salt Lake City because, like Detroit, there are thousands of reasons to spend a life there, including mole, a Mexican sauce, but that’s a topic for another column, another career, another life.
The Jazz are legitimate Finals contenders because of drafting and trades and smart free agent signings. The blueprint is doable in Detroit: get lucky in the draft finding a guy who can carry a team. Surround him with perfect fits on both ends through trades and savvy signings and get a little more luck in the draft.
As the Jazz did in securing center Rudy Gobert, when they traded for him during the draft in 2013 — Gobert was a late, first-round pick of the Denver Nuggets. Utah also traded to with the Nuggets to get Mitchell.
The rest of its essential rotation came through trades and free agency — Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic, Conley, Royce O’Neale, a defensive-minded forward who came to Salt Lake by way of Germany and the NBA summer league.
Troy Weaver is making similar moves for the Pistons, though he’s found more depth in the draft. If the players he brought in last season keep developing, it’s easy to imagine a group not unlike Utah, with one exception.
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Or, rather, the exception.
Someone as transcendent as Mitchell.
Not even the Jazz knew he’d be dropping 45 points in the conference semis against two of the best defensive wings in the game in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, as Mitchell did Tuesday night. But thought enough of him to trade for him.
They took a chance. They got lucky.
Weaver will get a chance to get lucky during next month’s NBA draft. Yes, a little lottery luck would help. But the more important luck is needed during draft night. The playoffs bear this out.
Nail the selection this summer and Weaver has a chance to throw rocket fuel on this rebuild. Already he’s found a bunch of promising players. Now he needs a dude. Just one will do.
Utah is showing the rest of the league how.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.