In many ways, the NBA Draft is similar to a college-entrance exam. The more preparation that is done, the more poised a team is to be successful in picking the right players.
Pistons general manager Troy Weaver has shown himself to have the right tools to succeed in the draft year after year. Weaver shined in last year’s draft, his first with the Pistons, getting two correct answers in the middle of the first round with Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, and another in the second round with Saben Lee.
For this year’s draft, the Pistons have the second-worst record and are guaranteed no worse than the sixth overall pick. The exact order will be determined in the draft lottery on June 22. They have a 14% chance of landing the No. 1 pick and the way the odds work out, they have a 47.9% chance of getting either the fifth or sixth pick.
That’s where the line seems to be drawn, as the experts project that the top four choices are on an elite tier, then the talent level drops off. Given that, here are the top six options for the Pistons in the draft, July 29:
► 1. Cade Cunningham, 6-7 guard, Oklahoma State: By almost all accounts, Cunningham is the top prize in this draft. He can play either of the guard spots, which would be an ideal fit for the Pistons, because it would mesh well with last year’s first-round pick, Killian Hayes. Cunningham is just 19 years old, but in his one season in college, he averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists and shot 40% on 3-pointers. There may not be a scenario where a team could get the No. 1 pick and trade down, because Cunningham is considered that much of a sure thing to be a future All-Star. The Pistons’ biggest need is an impact scorer and shooter, and Cunningham checks both of those boxes. If the Pistons are fortunate enough to get Cunningham, they could be a playoff team next year, expediting the rebuild.
► 2. Evan Mobley, 7-0 center, Southern California: There are many different schools of thought on what the Pistons would do if they stayed put with the second pick. There’s a definite need for a scoring wing, but Mobley gives a reason to do a double take. He has the skill set of a small forward in a center’s frame. Some have compared him to Anthony Davis at this stage of his career, a lofty comparison. There were times when USC seemed to completely forget that Mobley was on the court, and he didn’t get to show his complete skill set. Mobley would be a defensive stalwart who could improve their frontcourt immediately and make them a fearsome defensive team. Offensively, he could develop and not have to score as much in the short term, but the dimension he adds as a ball-handler and facilitator would be intriguing with the roster they could put around him.
3. Jalen Suggs, 6-4 guard, Gonzaga: Suggs is the best pure point guard in the draft and made a bigger name for himself in the run to the title game in the NCAA Tournament. He has a complete blend with 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He’s an excellent defender and he would pair with Hayes in the backcourt. Coach Dwane Casey likes having multiple ball-handlers in the game to help reduce turnovers, and Suggs would help in that effort. It would be possible for the Pistons to take Suggs at No. 2 and Suggs could even fall as low as fourth, depending on the final draft order. The Pistons’ depth in the backcourt could be a strength if this is the pick.
► 4. Jalen Green, 6-6 guard, G League Ignite: In his one season in the G League, Green showed his skills could translate to a pro level. He averaged 17.9 points and 4.1 rebounds and shot a respectable 37% from beyond the arc. For his size (180 pounds), he gets to the rim often and doesn’t shy away from contact. He’s a volume scorer and that’s what the Pistons need. So even if they fall to No. 4, they still could fill a needed roster spot at this position. Green can be a bit turnover-prone, but most 19-year-olds will be. After fourth, things could get a little shaky, so the Pistons would be happy with any of the top four.
► 5. Jonathan Kuminga, 6-8 wing, G League Ignite: It’s not a slight to say that Kuminga isn’t on the same tier with the rest of the top prospects, especially since he played on the same team with Green. The problem is that he plays small forward, which duplicates the position Bey occupies. They’re different players, but Bey is having an all-rookie season and there’s no reason to go for another young wing. Kuminga posted 15.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists, so he’s no pushover. But he’s only 18 and still has some developing to do. He doesn’t have one strong skill and he could be a development player similar to Sekou Doumbouya, who already isn’t getting enough playing time.
► 6. Jalen Johnson, 6-9 forward, Duke: Johnson isn’t a bad player, but the same thing applies to the roster composition: the Pistons have some good prospects at the forward spots, and that’s also where Jerami Grant, their best player, plays. It would be interesting to see whether the Pistons might be interested in trading down (or trading up) if they get the fifth or sixth pick in the lottery. Johnson is solid on the defensive end and shot 44% on 3-pointers (on just 1.4 per game) so there are some pieces there to build on. He only played 13 games at Duke, including 24 points and 16 rebounds against Pittsburgh, so there there’s enough there to judge how he could develop.