Detroit Pistons should target these 5 prospects in 2020 NBA draft

Detroit Free Press

Historically, the seventh overall pick of the NBA draft has consistently produced high-level talent. 

Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry might be the best seventh pick ever. Chris Mullin, Bernard King, John Havlicek and former Fort Wayne/Detroit Piston George Yardley are Hall of Famers. Vinnie Johnson and Rip Hamilton played key roles in the Pistons’ three championships, and have had their jerseys retired by the franchise. The list includes numerous other players who enjoyed long careers. 

So even though the Lottery Gods didn’t favor the Pistons on Thursday night, a difference-maker can be had in the 2020 NBA draft — scheduled for Oct. 16 as of now. And the front office is working diligently to figure out who that player is. 

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Head coach Dwane Casey, general manager Troy Weaver and others within the front office have been vocal the plan is to draft the best player available, regardless of position. With that in mind, this is a point guard-heavy draft. Weaver estimates up to six point guards could be drafted within the top 20 picks. And point guard happens to be Detroit’s biggest need. 

If I were calling the shots, I’d take a point guard. This list is influenced by that bias. Here are my five favorite players in the lottery who might be available for the Pistons to select at No. 7.

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Tyrese Haliburton, G, Iowa State

2019-20 stats: 15.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2.5 steals

Haliburton appears to be popular among Pistons’ beat writers, and for good reason. Compared to the rest of the lottery, he doesn’t have many holes in his game. He shot 50% from the floor and 42% from 3 while shouldering the offensive load for an Iowa State team that finished 12-20 overall. That’s not easy to do. 

He also has great size for a point guard, standing 6-foot-5 with a 6-8 wingspan, and is a strong playmaker. Draft evaluators rave about his basketball IQ. There’s concern he may be better off-the-ball, as he isn’t great at creating his own shot at this stage in his development. If the Pistons carry Derrick Rose into the season, it would help them ease Haliburton in and play to his strengths next season. 

I don’t see any downside to drafting him. At best, he’s your point guard of the future. At worse, he’s a versatile guard who can also moonlight as a wing. He’s a strong spot-up shooter, defends well and doesn’t turn 21 years old until next February. Weaver values smart, hardworking players and Haliburton checks all of the boxes. 

Killian Hayes, G, ulm (Germany)

2019-20 stats: 11.6 points, 5.4 assists, 2.8 rebounds

Like Haliburton, Hayes is a strong passer with size. He’s 6–5 with a 6-8 wingspan and has proven himself as a high-level playmaker while playing for German basketball club ratiopharm Ulm. The son of an American-born basketball player, he was raised in France and has been playing professional basketball since 2017.

Unlike Haliburton, Hayes appears to have more upside as a shot creator. He has shown some Manu Ginobili-esque juice as a ball-handler and scorer. His 3-point percentage wasn’t good last season (29.4%), but he’s efficient at the free throw line and within the arc, and has the desire to extend his range. 

Hayes has been training with former Pistons point guard Will Bynum, who raved about his work ethic and potential. He turned 19 in July. I’m not sure if he’ll be a difference-maker next season, but there’s a lot to like about his game. 

Cole Anthony, G, North Carolina 

2019-20 stats: 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, four assists

One of the more polarizing players in the draft, Anthony’s shooting percentages from last season don’t inspire much confidence. He shot 38% verall and hit 35% of his 3s. It doesn’t help that he played for the worst North Carolina team in recent memory. 

His offensive game is much better than his numbers suggest. He’s one of the best ball-handlers in the draft, is fast and thrives in the open court. He’s a confident finisher with both hands and has a quick trigger when shooting 3s. He looks like a player who’ll thrive in the NBA. At UNC, he took tough shots due to lack of spacing and the load he had to carry. 

He isn’t a great passer, like Haliburton or Hayes. But at his best, he’s a scorer who can get the job done himself.

[ Pistons all-time draft: Both rosters stacked with studs, but which team wins? ]

Devin Vassell, F, Florida State 

2019-20 stats: 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.4 steals, one block

Vassell is the type of two-way wing the Pistons have struggled to find during the last decade. He’s a good scorer, knocking down 42% of his 3’s and 49% of all of his shots last season. He was one of the best wing defenders in college basketball. 

Evaluators don’t project him as a player who’ll develop into a primary scorer in the NBA, but he has the tools to be a good role player. 

Onyeka Okongwu, F/C, USC

2019-20 stats: 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, 61.6% shooting.

Possibly the best big man prospect in the draft, he would give the Pistons their Andre Drummond replacement. He’s versaille on both ends of the floor, capable of stopping a pick-and-roll action defensively, and taking a defender off the dribble for a bucket within a matter of seconds. He’s a good athlete. 

Okongwu is undersized for a big man, standing 6-9. But he’s highly skilled and doesn’t turn 20 until December. He can play alongside Blake Griffin or Christian Wood. Similar to Haliburton, he’s a safe pick who would fill a need, though the Pistons can probably find a capable center for less money in free agency than a point guard. 

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our free Pistons newsletter.

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