“With their pick in 2021 NBA Draft the Detroit Pistons select…”. Ok, as the NCAA Tournament enters the games that will cut the title challengers to Elite Eight, we’re reminded that the time is coming when Motor City will make a move that could speed up its “restoration” enormously. The coming draft looks to be carrying a couple of young players that can change the fate of a franchise very quickly. You just need to grab one. Easy, peasy. Or, maybe not.
Well, it seems to be easy when you’d select in the 1-2 range, but then it becomes a little complicated. We don’t know where exactly Pistons will chose with their precious first round pick. As of today, it might be anywhere between 1 and 6. There are a few more teams close to, or even on par with them in their efforts to gain the pole position for lottery odds. This would mean that it might be anywhere between 1 and 8. And we stick to this for now, only noting that we also need to monitor the situation with Orlando Magic which, although being three victories behind in the race (that is, having three more wins), has practically depleted itself at the deadline from the possibility of winning any more games the rest of the season.
So, for now, we need eight prospects (hopefully, later, we need fewer). At the moment, my Elite Eight prospects list and estimation of their ability to alter the fate of Motown basketball team would look as follows:
1. Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State University, point forward
He seems to be an immediate game changer. I won’t dwell into whether he’s more Grant Hill, Paul George or Luka Doncic, because it seems that he’s gonna be… Cade Cunningham – a player in his own kind. But if you really need to compare him to someone else, how about this more abstract description of fellow DBBer, Brian Tucker-Hill: Cade shows Larry Bird’s ability to control the game by dictating it his own pace. I’d add that there is a new Bad Boy in Detroit able to disrupt him in this by winning “the mental battle,” so it’d be good for Cunningham (and the rest of basketball world) if he become a teammate of Beef Stew.
Cunningham seems to be a pure answer without question marks. Yes, I could whine that he’s too turnover prone and could show up better defender, and actually, I did. But all this should be very easily fixable.
Taking it all into consideration, I’d give him a 90% chance to be a franchise changing player for the Pistons.
2. Evan Mobley, University of Southern California, big
A Jaren Jackson Jr. with Nikola Jokic’s playmaking or Nikola Jokic with JJJ’s athleticism, whatever. The man would be a perfect big for the Pistons under Dwane Casey. His ability to play inside and outside on both ends would make him a great rotation companion for Jerami Grant and Isaiah Stewart. His reportedly 7-4 wingspan is very Troy Weaver-like. There’s not much to not like about that kid. So why not putting him first? Ehhh, he’s not Cade Cunningham…
85% chance to be a franchise changing player.
3. Jalen Green, G League Ignite, wing
He carried some question marks into the season, but he answered them quite well in the G League bubble. He can score on all three levels, and has already proved it in an NBA-like game. He doesn’t need to have the ball in his hands all the time to make his mark on the game. He does it without stopping the flow of the offense – something the Pistons motion offense would welcomed with open arms.
But the kid has some more serious flaws. As we see a guard with similar height, length, and athleticism (Bradley Beal) struggling with guiding a NBA team to any kind of relevance, we wonder if Green’s physical parameters doesn’t put a cap on his potential. Also his shooting mechanics doesn’t look smooth enough that you can be sure that his efficiency won’t collapse.
70% chance of being franchise changing player.
4. Jonathan Kuminga, G League Ignite, wing
Contrary to his teammate from the minor league, Kuminga carried a lot of hype into the season and undermined it there. He had a promising start, showing some Kawhi Leonard vibes but then started to look like last year R.J. Barrett. His iso-prone style of play is frequently disruptive for the flow of team offense. He’s stronger, younger and longer than Green (allegedly a 6-11 wingspan to Green’s 6-7.5, though listed at the same height as the other T-Leaguer), so his ceiling might be higher, especially on the defensive end. But his floor seems so far away from what it takes to carry a NBA team to relevance that I can’t put him any higher on the list.
60% chance of being franchise changing player.
5. Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga University, guard
A Russell Westbrook with a long gun, the ability to not only slash but penetrate the arc and better defense – that’s what I thought about him at the beginning of the season. I was still looking for those traits in my Draft Watch piece about him (and some of his teammates) from a few weeks ago, though felt bounded to express some doubts in this regard. Since then his long ball questions prevailed; his ball-handling issues prevent me from seeing him as much more than a slasher; and his defense, other than playing the passing lanes, still needs a lot of work.
55% chance of being franchise changing player.
6. Jalen Johnson, Duke University, forward
A potential tweener, but more in the Jerami Grant mold than the Tobias Harris mold. He’ll probably become stronger then Jerami, so maybe a tweener in the mold of Jerami-Aaron Gordon blend. This means he has a future in the NBA. But he has a long way to go, and at the moment it’s hard to tell if he’ll end up as Gordon with Jerami’s actualized All-Star potential (at least in the first half of current season), or Gordon all alone with his never fulfilled promise. It also remains to be seen if his decision to start preparing for draft on his own in the middle of the college season will move the needle in desired direction. For now, it raised some questions about his attitude.
40% chance of being franchise changing player.
7. Ziaire Williams, Stanford University, wing
He started the season shooting like a taller Reggie Miller with a much, much more natural and prettier stroke, plus very promising playmaking and defensive potential. He ended the season with numbers characteristic of a brickfest regular rather than a pure scorer. The mitigating factor – injuries. So the main question is whether those injury issues can be fixed. Another one: will he stay Reggie Miller-thin or can he fill his frame some (not necessarily Oliver Miller-like, but at least Quincy Miller-like)?
25% chance of being franchise changing player.
8. Moses Moody, University of Arkansas, wing
In the first part of the season, I thought that I’ll have lots of names fighting for this last spot. But the skillful tall playmakers like Scottie Barnes and Brandon Boston scared me off as the potential second coming of Jarred Vanderbilt (though I’m sure DBB’s Duke, as regards Barnes and Boston, can provide some arguments to neutralize at least part of the fear). Bucket getters like Josh Christopher and James Bouknight (though Prava cited weighty reasons to consider the latter with the 8th pick) had too disappointing a second part of the season to consider them so high (no matter how much I liked both of them earlier, although still for some additional, lower pick). As such, there are not many more names left for me. I have some other players I like, but they’re for Detroit’s second round picks. So it’s Moody by default.
The freshman is led his team all the way to the Elite Eight. He has great physical tools and can shoot. But his modest production at the rim and unassuming defensive metrics significantly put into question the possibility of him being a franchise player at the next level.
20% chance of being franchise changing player.
And that would be my Elite Eight – DBB, what would be yours?