Pistons search for next Big Ben

The Pistons have a simple goal for Thursday’s draft. They want to find the next Ben Wallace with the ninth pick.

The goal is simple. The execution is going to be much tougher. Wallace was a unique player in NBA history – a 6-8 forward who was the most dominant defensive player of his generation – but the Pistons dearly need to replace his post presence, his shot-blocking and his rebounding. Finding a player with those skills, even if he’s not at Wallace’s level, would take a great deal of pressure off Greg Monroe.

The player that best fits that mold is Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, but he will be wearing a New Orleans Hornets hat shortly after the draft begins. Thomas Robinson of Kansas will also be long gone before the Pistons get on the clock.

The first suitable big man who has any chance of being available for the Pistons is Andre Drummond. On paper, he is exactly what the Pistons want – a seven-footer with fantastic athletic skills and the rebounding, shot-blocking and defensive skills Detroit craves.

Based on talent alone, Drummond would be being considered alongside Davis and Robinson, but his desire is a huge red flag. He didn’t impress in his single season at Connecticut, and his less-than-impressive work ethic has brought comparisons to other draft busts like Kwame Brown, Haseem Thabeet and Darko Milicic.

Still, the raw talent is impossible to miss, and some team is going to take the chance that Drummond is going to become the next Dwight Howard. Joe Dumars took that shot with Milicic, and if Drummond falls to the Pistons, he’s probably going to take it again.

If Drummond doesn’t get there, though, the Pistons are probably going to decide between two post players: John Henson of North Carolina and Meyers Leonard of Illinois. When Henson and Leonard took part in the same pre-draft workout for the Pistons, reports were that Henson had a definite advantage, but that could be the same smoke blown by teams all over the NBA in these final days.

Henson is clearly the safer pick, having shown his defensive and shot-blocking talents in his three years at North Carolina. So why isn’t he going higher? Because of a problem very familiar to Pistons fans – he’s extremely thin. At just 222 pounds on a 6’11” frame, Henson has the build of Tayshaun Prince or Austin Daye rather than a traditional bulky center like Drummond.

So the question with Henson comes down to the ability of his NBA team to build his strength and weight without losing his quickness. While that would sound like something right up Pistons strength and conditioning coach Arnie Kander’s alley, the truth is that he’s never been able to accomplish that with Daye, leaving him trying to make his way as a very undersized shooting guard.

Leonard, on the other hand, is a poor man’s Drummond. He has the physical talent that the Pistons crave, but he’s going to need a lot of development and there are serious questions about his work ethic. It’s also unclear how good his offensive game will be, since he wasn’t exactly surrounded by NBA prospects at Illinois.

If Drummond is available, the Pistons will almost certainly grab him, but the odds are that Golden State will break Detroit’s heart with the seventh pick. That leaves the probable choice between Leonard and Henson, and while he doesn’t have Leonard’s upside, the Pistons can comfortably take Henson knowing that he will be a solid NBA player, and with time in the weight room, could be the perfect complement inside to Monroe.