3 potential Detroit Pistons draft picks to watch in 2021 NCAA tournament

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Pistons fans have likely become accustomed to following the top college basketball prospects over the past decade. But given the Pistons are on pace to finish with a bottom-three record, the 2021 NCAA tournament should be of particular interest.

March Madness tipped off Thursday with four play-in games, and the first round begins Friday. With an 11-29 record through 40 games, it appears likely Detroit will be in the mix for the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA draft.

While two players in Detroit’s draft range, Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga, were with the G League Ignite, there are three players Pistons fans should be following through the next few weeks.

Here’s a look at Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs.

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Cade Cunningham, 4-seed Oklahoma State

Stats: 20.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals

The consensus top pick in this year’s draft, Cunningham is a 6-foot-8, 220-pound freshman point guard who can do just about everything on the court. He’s a much better playmaker than his assist average suggests, capable of making almost any pass. He’s a skilled scorer at all three levels, boasting a post game and hitting 41.2% of his 3-pointers (56-for-136). With a 7-foot-1 wingspan, he has the size to defend all five positions in the NBA.

Cunningham has clear franchise player potential and is one of the best players to come out of any draft in the past decade. If the Pistons were to win the lottery, he would instantly become Detroit’s most talented draft pick since Grant Hill. The early signs are good on Pistons general manager Troy Weaver’s first group of draft picks, but Cunningham would immediately raise the floor for the Pistons next season.

Oklahoma State will play No. 13-seed Liberty at 6:25 p.m. on Friday (TBS).

Evan Mobley, 6-seed USC

Stats: 16.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, three blocks

Weaver has said frequently since he was hired last summer — he loves centers. Mobley is, by far, the best center of the draft. He’s a skinny 7-footer at 215 pounds, with a huge wingspan and the skill and mobility to emerge as one of the NBA’s best scorers. More of a face-up big at this stage in his career, he’s a good ball-handler for his size and thrives when attacking the rim. He has potential to become a good outside shooter, though he only hit 31.4% of his 3s this season (11-for-35). Offensively, he has drawn comparisons to Anthony Davis.

Mobley earned the Pac-12’s Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors this season. His offensive potential and impact as a rim protector gives him an extremely high floor, and he’s the only player in the draft challenging Cunningham as the best overall prospect. Given the Pistons have signaled that Isaiah Stewart could play power forward down the road, Mobley would give them a talented, versatile frontcourt on both ends of the floor.

USC will play No. 11-seed Drake on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. (TNT).

Jalen Suggs, 1-seed Gonzaga

Stats: 14.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists

Suggs, a freshman point guard, has shades of Kyle Lowry in his game, and has been compared to one of the greatest Pistons ever — Chauncey Billups. Suggs is strong on both ends of the floor. He’s a strong, steady playmaker who can get to the rim and doesn’t shy away from contact. He’s also a reliable 3-point shooter (28-for-79, 35.4%), though it’s an area of his game he can continue to improve. He’s respected as a leader.

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The Pistons just drafted a lead guard in Killian Hayes, but there could be upside in a Hayes-Suggs backcourt. Both players are better with the ball in their hands, but the Pistons want Hayes to improve as an off-ball shooter. Both players — Suggs has good size for a point guard standing 6 feet 4 and 205 pounds — are good defenders with the size to handle most backcourt assignments. It wouldn’t be a perfect pairing, but Suggs may be too good to pass on depending on where the Pistons draft.

Gonzaga will play either No. 16-seed Norfolk State or No. 16-seed Appalachian State at 9:20 p.m. on Saturday (TBS).

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

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