How might Detroit Pistons’ Troy Weaver approach NBA draft? Here are some clues from OKC

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
| Detroit Free Press

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Troy Weaver’s ability to evaluate talent in the draft made him the perfect choice to lead the Detroit Pistons’ rebuild. He was with the Oklahoma City Thunder as an assistant general manager from 2008 until this past June, and helped guide the franchise toward drafting Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, James Harden and Steven Adams.

This draft isn’t considered to be as strong. But Weaver is excited for it anyway.

“I love the draft,” he said on Thursday. “I love it every year. I always look into the draft as glass half full. You may not have a Zion WIlliamson or a Ja (Morant), that’s what they say, but there’s guys in drafts that you really like. The draft is always great because you have a chance to bring these young men in your program and help shape your culture from day one. We really like the draft.”

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The Pistons have said that their goal is to draft the best player available regardless of position. But if Weaver’s draft philosophy is similar to his time with the Thunder, we can draw some broad conclusions about what to expect on Nov. 18

We looked at all of the first round picks during Weaver’s time with the Thunder, as well as the players the Thunder traded for in the first round on draft night, to look for patterns and clues for how he could draft in Detroit.

Bucking expectations

The Thunder and Seattle Supersonics only had four lottery picks during Weaver’s 12-year tenure. Of the four, two were used to select players that were considered slight reaches at their draft positions. 

In hindsight, getting multi-time All Star Russell Westbrook with the fourth overall pick in 2008 is a best-case scenario. At the time, it was a surprise. After declaring for the draft after his sophomore season at UCLA, Westbrook was considered an athletic defensive specialist with suspect ability to shoot and run an offense. Weaver was a believer in Westbrook’s potential and pushed the organization to draft him. Westbrook will likely be remembered as the best player in franchise history when he retires. 

Four years after picking Westbrook, Steven Adams surprised many analysts when he declared for the draft after his freshman year at Pitt. He posted good rebounding numbers, but the rest of his game was raw. After coming off an NBA Finals appearance, some expected the Thunder to draft a prospect who could contribute immediately. Adams, taken with the 12th overall pick, ended up being that, playing 81 games as a rookie (along with 20 starts) and becoming a full-time starter his second season. Once again, Weaver helped OKC go against the grain, which proved to be a great selection. 

Athletic players with long wingspans

You can see a pattern start to develop after the Westbrook with other first-round acquisitions: Serge Ibaka later that year; Reggie Jackson in 2011; Adams and Perry Jones in 2012; Andre Roberson in 2013 (in a trade with Minnesota); Josh Huestis in 2014; Terrance Ferguson in 2017 and Darius Bazley in a trade with Memphis last year.

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The shortest wingspan of all of the players drafted by the Thunder during the Weaver era above belongs to Westbrook, whose 6-foot-8 wingspan is still notable for his height (6-3). The longest belongs to Adams, who, at 7-0, has a 7-5 wingspan. All of the aforementioned players were considered to be good-to-great athletes. In total, this group accounts for all but two of the first-round picks to play their rookie seasons for the Thunder during Weaver’s tenure. 

Luguentz Dort, who went undrafted in 2019 before signing a two-way contract with the Thunder, also deserves a mention here. Dort was one of the most athletic players within that draft class and had a 6-9 wingspan, despite standing just 6-foot-3. Dort had a breakout performance in the Orlando bubble. 

Weaver clearly values players who already have the body and strength to handle the rigors of the NBA. While not every pick panned out — Jones and Huestis played fewer than 150 NBA games each and are no longer in the NBA, while the jury is still out on Ferguson, an effective defender but unimpactful offensive player — the Thunder have proven that they can develop young players and are more than willing to gamble on upside.  

Defense, athleticism over shooting

Of all of the players in the above section, only Jackson was considered to be an effective outside shooter before the draft. Jackson shot 42% from behind the arc during his final season at Boston College. 

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Westbrook and Roberson had both won their respective conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award, while Huestis was a two-time Pac-12 All-Defensive team winner. Jackson was an energetic defender at Boston College. Adams, Ibaka, Bazley, Ferguson and Jones all projected as plus-defenders in the NBA thanks to their size and athleticism. Adams and Ibaka have lived up to their potentials, while Ferguson is emerging. 

Athleticism can’t be taught, as the saying goes. The Thunder appear to believe that it’s preferable to teach an athletic defensive-minded player how to shoot, than an unathletic offense-oriented player to hold their own defensively. The strategy paid dividends for them with Westbrook and Ibaka, the latter of whom started jacking up 3-pointers during his sixth season. 

What’s the takeaway for the Pistons?

It’s tough to predict if Weaver’s draft strategy in Detroit will follow the Thunder’s strategy. Weaver has spoken of wanting to add talented, high-character players, but not of what specific attributes he’s looking for in his draft targets. But he athletic players with long arms and who buy in defensively. 

The two players who fit the Troy Weaver mold in the draft the most, James Wiseman and Anthony Edwards, are projected to be top-four picks. But Auburn forward Isaac Okoro could be the best wing defender in the draft and is in Detroit’s draft range, and guard RJ Hampton and Florida State forward Patrick Williams check many of the same boxes as well.

It’s tough to predict how the 2020 draft will shake out, but clear talent tiers are starting to emerge. In the past, Weaver has shown a willingness to draft players who are considered to be gambles at their draft position. It shouldn’t be a surprised if Weaver decides to draft a player who hasn’t been widely mocked to the Pistons at No. 7. 

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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