Future stars lift Pistons past Raptors

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The future is not exactly here now, but there are signs it’s getting closer for the Detroit Pistons.

The last three first-round draft picks for the Pistons are forward Greg Monroe, point guard Brandon Knight and center Andre Drummond.

People have talked about how those three are going to lead the Pistons back to their winning ways, and with a few additions here and there, back to contending for a championship.

After a last-second 91-90 victory over the Toronto Raptors Friday night, the Pistons are 3-10, a long way away from championship expectations.

But the play of those three first-round draft picks Friday provided a glimpse of what the future might hold.

Monroe, 22, is the steady one, the guy who collected his seventh double-double with a team-high 19 points and 11 rebounds (plus five assists) against Toronto.

Knight, who turns 21 December 2, is the fearless one, the one who is willing to take the last shot, regardless of how good the look is.

It was Knight who found himself with the ball with under 10 seconds to play and his team trailing by one. With 7.8 seconds remaining, Knight found some space and drove to the basket for the game-winning layup.

“Brandon really did a good job on the last play of just being patient because I didn’t have any timeouts,” said Tayshaun Prince, who had 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists. “The play wasn’t set up to give him the ball, but nobody was open, so I had to give him the ball. He was patient enough and saw how much time we had and made a play out of it. Kudos to him.”

Knight finished with 16 points and three assists.

Drummond, 19, chosen in this past summer’s draft, is the exciting one, the player who gets above the rim to block shots, grab rebounds or finish an alley-oop dunk.

With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, coach Lawrence Frank left Drummond in with Monroe, Knight, Prince and fellow rookie Kyle Singler.

With 1:03 to go, Frank took Drummond out and put Rodney Stuckey in. Raptors guard Kyle Lowry took advantage by driving to the basket for a layup and a three-point Toronto lead.

Frank didn’t make that same mistake twice. After Prince’s basket cut the Raptors’ lead to one, Frank left Drummond in and took Monroe out. Lowry had to take an off-balance jump shot that he missed with 16.1 seconds to play.

“We said if they’re going to go back to that again, we’d rather have more size than length with Andre, so if it winds up being a late switch, he’s got to shoot over a little bit taller guy,” Frank said.

Drummond finished with his first career double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds, eight of which were offensive rebounds. He also had two steals. Of course, he did miss 5-of-6 free throws.

“I saw a lot from him,” Prince said. “The most important thing is when he made mistakes and he missed free throws, he just stayed the course, put his head down. Obviously it was tough for them to keep him off the offensive glass and he had key blocked shots and things like that, but I think his energy kept the crowd in the game. That’s what we need from him.”

Frank has said many times that there are some things that Drummond can do and must do — play hard, run the floor and get rebounds. He reinforces that with Drummond on a daily basis.

Drummond also realizes that before the draft, he had some critics to quiet.

“One of the knocks on me is that I don’t have a motor, that I don’t play hard every day,” Drummond said. “(Frank) just tells me every day, effort, that’s all you need to do. Give effort every single day, play hard and keep yourself going. So that’s what I do.”

Drummond is not going too be successful every game, especially when he goes up against talented, veteran centers, but his upside is tremendous.

“You don’t even understand how far away he is from being what he’s probably going to be in a few years if he just continues to work hard,” Will Bynum said.

If you combine that with the way that Monroe has progressed every season and with the way Knight drives himself to be better, the future looks pretty good.