2011 NBA Mock Draft: Is Jonas Valanciunas Key to Pistons Trading Down?

Jonas Valanciunas of Lithuania speaks to reporters at a media availability session ahead of the 2011 NBA Draft in New York, June 22, 2011. The 2011 NBA Draft will be held June 23 in Newark, New Jersey. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Just hours away from the 2011 NBA Draft, no one’s quite sure what Jonas Valanciunas’ status is. Will the talented center be able to wiggle out of his European contract to play in the NBA next season? Or is he going to be stuck overseas until 2012?

The answer may determine what the do with the No. 8 pick.

As is the case with most teams in the draft, the number of players linked to the Pistons seems to be growing exponentially the closer we get to Detroit’s selection. Tristan Thompson reportedly canceled workouts he had scheduled after meeting with Detroit, leading to the notion that the Pistons had given him a first-round guarantee. The exact same scenario played out for Kawhi Leonard.

, Bismack Biyombo, Marcus Morris … the list of names on Detroit’s draft board is large. But here’s the rub: What if those five guys above — Biyombo, Leonard, Thompson, Walker and Morris — are available at No. 8? That could be the scenario that leads Detroit to pull the trigger on a draft-pick swap with Houston, dropping down to take the Rockets’ Nos. 14 and 23 selections. And the key to it all may be Valanciunas.

In DraftExpress.com’s updated Mock Draft, which went live just after midnight ET Thursday, Valanciunas still grabs a top-five spot — Cleveland picks him at No. 4, after the expected opening three picks of Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams and Enes Kanter.

But Valanciunas going No. 4 ensures that Brandon Knight’s there at No. 5 for the Raptors, and also, more importantly here, that Jan Vesely can go No. 6 to Washington. Draft Express then sends Jimmer Fredette to Sacramento at No. 7.

Suddenly, the Pistons are left with their pick of those five guys we touched on, not to mention Chris Singleton, Markieff Morris and others. It could be enough to make Detroit feel confident that at least one of those players would be available at No. 14.

In the Draft Express mock’s case, it’s Leonard out of San Diego State to Detroit, with Morris, Walker and Thompson going 11-12-13, in that order.

Take Valanciunas out of the picture at No. 4, and Cleveland’s got to find another wing/big to pair with Irving, if he’s the first-overall pick. That puts Vesely, Thompson, Biyombo or even Leonard in play for the Cavs. The domino effect would alter what options Detroit has at No. 8 and thin out the big-man class (that’s assuming the Pistons don’t want Valanciunas if he’s headed back to Europe — and they shouldn’t, quite honestly).

By: TwitterButtons.com

All told, this may not be a huge change — on paper, swapping out Valanciunas for another big at No. 4 doesn’t necessarily change the Knight pick at No. 5 or the Fredette pick at No. 7. But it definitely changes what happens at No. 4, No. 6 and No. 8.

Instead of being pretty sure someone they want will be available at No. 14, the Pistons could be writing their own obituary by trading the No. 8 pick to Houston. Say, in a scenario where Valanciunas falls, Vesely goes No. 4 to Cleveland, then Leonard jumps up to No. 6 at Washington. If Houston trades up and takes Walker or Thompson at No. 8, the Pistons are down to just two of their potential five — Morris and Walker/Thompson. Can they be confident one would be there at No. 14? If not, can they be satisfied with a lesser option?

Valanciunas at No. 4 helps keep the status quo. And, at least in the case of that DraftExpress mock, helps push several of Detroit’s likely options down the board, making it easier for the Pistons to slide to a later pick.

All that means that the best thing for the Pistons prior to 7 p.m. ET Thursday might be for Valanciunas to discover he can play in the NBA immediately.

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