| The Detroit News
This is the second in a two-part series looking at potential picks for the Detroit Pistons in next week’s NBA Draft. Tuesday: Backcourt. Today: Frontcourt.
After a disappointing season in which they finished 20-46 when the season was stopped because of the pandemic, the Pistons have a lot of room for improvement.
The frontcourt saw the majority of the roster attrition, with two of the pillars of the franchise being lost and two others making their marks. Blake Griffin was lost for the season because of a knee injury and Andre Drummond was shipped out at the trade deadline. Christian Wood and rookie Sekou Doumbouya, though, made meaningful strides.
General manager Troy Weaver said Griffin is expected to be back at 100 percent when training camp opens in a few weeks and the regular season begins on Dec. 22, but the other pieces around him are the big question. Wood is an unrestricted free agent and though the Pistons can go above the salary cap to re-sign him, there is the possibility that a higher bidder could be more attractive.
Doumbouya had an eye-opening chunk of games, but his production and consistency tailed off after the All-Star break. Tony Snell was solid as the starting small forward but he’s also entering the final year of his contract. The only center on the roster is Justin Patton, who is on a non-guaranteed deal.
That’s the starting point for breaking down this draft: The Pistons could look at selecting and developing a center, but the league is turning away from traditional centers and more into the versatile big men who can anchor a smaller lineup, in the mold of the Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo.
There are plenty of interesting prospects in the draft and with the No. 7 pick, the Pistons could take a swipe at a point guard, their most pressing need, or bolster their backcourt.
Here’s a look at the top 10 frontcourt targets the Pistons could consider:
1. James Wiseman, Memphis: The Pistons have a void at center and Wiseman is the best traditional center in the draft. At 7-foot, 250 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to fit in the NBA immediately. The league seems to be moving toward playing more with smaller lineups, using power forwards as centers, but Wiseman has good range and could extend defenses to protect against his perimeter shot. It’s unlikely that Wiseman slips out of the top three, so the Pistons can window-shop but likely won’t be in a spot to get him.
2. Onyeka Okongwu, USC: Besides Wiseman, Okongwu is the best post player in the draft, with his rim-running ability and athleticism. He can become a better offensive player and his ability to protect the rim and defend the perimeter are two of his biggest strengths. At 6-9, 245 pounds, he has good size to stay with bigger centers and be a presence in the paint on both ends of the court. He’s projected to go in the top 10, but if he’s available for the Pistons, it could be very tempting.
3. Obi Toppin, Dayton: He’s regarded as the best pure prospect from college last season and there’s plenty to like about his game. He’s fluid in the pick-and-roll and has outstanding leaping ability at 6-9 and talent to score around the rim. His weaker side can be on the defensive end; he said he’s worked on switching on guards in space. Toppin said he worked out for teams in the top five, but if he somehow drops to seven, the Pistons could be moved to pick him.
4. Deni Avdija, Israel: He’s the top-ranked small forward in the draft and at 6-9 he can play either forward spot. There are questions about his shooting consistency (32 percent on 3-pointers) and about his shooting motion. He’s played professionally, so moving to the NBA won’t be as big a jump in talent for him as some others. Avdija is projected as a top-five talent and it’s unlikely that he’ll drop down for the Pistons to pick him in their spot.
5. Patrick Williams, Florida State: There’s been a significant increase in the chatter about Williams and the Pistons in the past week or two, with some suggestions that he’s been given a commitment to be drafted if he’s still available at No. 7. There aren’t any confirmations on that, but it’s clear to see why, with his 6-8 frame and 7-foot wingspan. He’s one of the youngest players in the draft (turned 19 in August) and he could take a bit longer to reach his potential.
6. Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt: He’s regarded as one of the best pure shooters in the draft, but his season was cut short by a fractured foot. Teams like his shooting ability, but he’ll have to balance that with some additional work on the defensive end if he’s going to log heavy minutes at the next level. He said he got a lot of good training on toughness from former Piston Jerry Stackhouse, his coach at Vanderbilt. Nesmith said he worked out for the Pistons in the predraft process.
7. Isaac Okoro, Auburn: Some experts had Okoro projected to go in the top five, but the final weeks before the draft have been tumultuous. He’s regarded as a defensive force, with some stellar games in college that showcased his skill set. He does several things on the floor, but the big question is about how he can be a better scorer, which isn’t a good knock to have for a potential lottery pick. Okoro isn’t a knock-down shooter, but as a wing, he’ll have to develop more in that area.
8. Precious Achiuwa, Memphis: He’s not quite like Wiseman, his college teammate, or Okongwu or Toppin, but Achiuwa projects to be a solid prospect. At 6-9, 230, he can handle his own in the paint, equipped with a 7-2 wingspan to take up more space. He’s working on his outside range and being a capable 3-point shooter. He’s not a completed product, but he can help a team that has some time to dedicate to his development.
9. Saddiq Bey, Villanova: At 6-8, 220, Bey is a bit undersized to play power forward, but what he lacks in height, he makes up for with a 6-11 wingspan. He comes from a winning program that’s given him a little swagger, and his 45-percent shooting from beyond the arc legitimizes his status as a versatile forward. Defensively, he has been solid, but whether that translates to the NBA remains to be seen.
10. Jalen Smith, Maryland: He’s another of the in-between players who could be a big power forward or a smallish center. Unlike some of the others, though, he has a consistent 3-point shot (37 percent) and he can attack the rim with his 7-2 wingspan. He has some mechanical issues defensively that will need to be addressed, but he has the raw tools to succeed in the NBA.