NBA mock draft 2.0: Would Jonathan Kuminga make sense for Detroit Pistons at No. 5?

Detroit Free Press

The first round of 2021 NBA draft could be straightforward for the Detroit Pistons. It could also be complicated.

A top-four pick would simplify the decision-making process for the front office. There are four players clearly better than the rest of the field: Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs and Jalen Green. The Pistons, like the rest of the NBA, have a ranking for those four players. If they pick fifth, however, they’ll have more to consider.

That’s the scenario the Pistons are facing in our second mock draft, as a Tankathon.com spin dropped them three spots in the draft order. Does Kuminga, widely seen as the fifth-best prospect, make sense for Detroit? Or would it go in a different direction?

Kuminga deserves to be in the mix, but the Pistons will certainly do their homework before finalizing their draft board.

Forget superteams, the Pistons just need a dude. Like the Utah Jazz have ]

The lottery is June 22. Here’s a prediction of how the selections would fall July 29 if ordered this way:

1. Minnesota Timberwolves: Cade Cunningham, G/F, Oklahoma State

This is obviously an incredible outcome for Minnesota. It ended this season on a strong note, winning seven of its final 12 games, as 2020 No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards found his stride and emerged as its second-best player. The surge positioned them to lose their 2021 lottery pick, as it’ll go to the Golden State Warriors if it falls outside of the top three. In this mock draft, the T’wolves get the best result.

Cunningham is the best player in the draft and would likely be the No. 1 pick for any team, regardless of fit. Cunningham fits this Minnesota roster like a glove. He can immediately step in as a third offensive option and handle playmaking responsibilities alongside D’Angelo Russell. He has the talent to eventually become the best player on the roster, and he, Edwards and Karl Anthony-Towns would give Minnesota one of the most talented trios in the NBA.

THE REBUILD: How Timberwolves show Pistons that draft lottery luck isn’t everything

2. Chicago Bulls: Jalen Suggs, G, Gonzaga

Like Minnesota, the Bulls enter the lottery with a good chance of losing their pick. Chicago has the eighth-best odds, and the pick will convey to Orlando if it falls outside of the top four. They got lucky in this mock, at the Pistons’ expense.

Chicago made a big trade before this season’s deadline, acquiring Nikola Vucevic from the Magic. Adding Suggs, the best point guard in the draft, would be a major win for a Bulls team in need of a high-level table-setter. Suggs would be the best point guard on Chicago’s roster since Derrick Rose, and would form a formidable backcourt alongside Zach LaVine, who has become one of the best scorers in the Eastern Conference.

3. Houston Rockets: Evan Mobley, C, USC

The Rockets’ lottery pick carries protections and will convey to the Oklahoma City Thunder if it falls outside of the top four. While they moved down two spots in this mock from the No. 1 odds, they keep the pick.

Mobley is an excellent foundational piece for a Rockets team in need of a franchise player after trading James Harden. Mobley has Defensive Player of the Year potential, tallying a combined 3.7 blocks and steals per game as a freshman last season. He has good touch around the rim, can handle the ball in transition and possesses good vision for a center. The two knocks on his game — his lack of proven outside shooting and thin frame — are both fixable issues. He’s the best big man prospect in several seasons.

4. Orlando Magic: Jalen Green, G, G League Ignite

Another “rebuilding team gets franchise player” situation. Green is the best wing in the draft, possessing elite athleticism, strong ball-handling and shooting, and the upside to emerge as the draft’s best scorer. After moving on from Vucevic, Green gives Orlando a new franchise leader .

5. Detroit Pistons: Jonathan Kuminga, F, G League Ignite

This is the worst spot the Pistons can land in, other than sixth. It’s their most likely landing spot by a wide margin at 27.8%. And though Kuminga is almost universally considered to be the fifth-best prospect in this draft, the gap between Kuminga and the top four is bigger than the gap between Kuminga and the rest of the lottery. My sense is Kuminga is far from a surefire pick over the rest of the field, and multiple players could be in play if the Pistons draft here.

Though you could make an argument other players are better bets from a fit and upside standpoint, Kuminga has the athleticism and upside to become a premier wing. Given the players through the rest of the lottery are far from sure things, the Pistons should go with a player with superstar potential. Kuminga has it, even though it could take time for him to realize it.

He slightly underwhelmed with the G League Ignite, averaging 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds, shooting 38.7% overall and 24.6% on 3s. He’s 6 feet 8 with elite athleticism and strong ball-handling for his size. He must improve his feel for the game, and certainly needs to expand his shooting touch outside of the restricted area. But he’s very young — he turns 19 in October. It isn’t certain if Kuminga would be a Day 1 contributor, but the payoff down the road would be huge if the Pistons’ player development program — one they’re invested heavily in — can get him to reach his ceiling.

PISTONS MAILBAG: Would a top-3 pick make the Pistons a play-in tournament team in 2022?

THE ROSTER: Which Pistons stay, which players leave this summer

YEAR 2: How Pistons’ Saddiq Bey can improve after historic rookie season

6. Oklahoma City Thunder: Scottie Barnes, F, Florida State

Another player who could receive consideration from the Pistons, Barnes was a 6-8 point guard who averaged 4.2 assists per game for Florida State last season. He’s a multi-positional defender. His biggest weakness — and the biggest reason why he isn’t widely considered a top-five pick — is because of his lack of shooting. He hit 27.5% of his 3s last season, and took fewer than two per game. 

7. Cleveland Cavaliers: Franz Wagner, F, Michigan

A lot of Pistons fans are familiar with Wagner, who starred for the Wolverines the past few seasons. He’s a versatile two-way wing that knocked down 38.4% of his 3s last season. 

8. Toronto Raptors: Davion Mitchell, G, Baylor

The Raptors could lose Kyle Lowry, an unrestricted free agent, this summer. Mitchell’s star rose in March after leading Baylor to a national championship, and he could be a logical fit for a Raptors team that missed the playoffs. He’s one of the older players in the draft (he turns 23 in September), but it’s easy to see his outside shooting, playmaking and defense translating well. 

9. Sacramento Kings: Keon Johnson, G, Tennessee

Arguably the best athlete in the draft, Johnson made his mark last season as a high-energy, defensive-minded wing. He plays bigger than 6-5. The question is, can he develop an offensive game? He had more turnovers (69) than assists (65) and was a non-shooter who only made 26.1% of the 3s he did take. He makes sense for a Kings team in need of a defensive jolt, but he’ll need to flesh out his offensive game to become a starter. 

10. New Orleans Pelicans: James Bouknight, G, UConn

Bouknight’s draft range appears to be anywhere from the back half of the lottery to the mid-20s. If he slips past 14, he’ll have a chance to become a  steal. Bouknight was a go-to scorer last season, averaging 18.7 points per game with a true shooting percentage of 54.6. He’s one of the best ball-handlers in the draft and knows how to utilize angles and hesitations to get clean shots. He shot 29.3% from 3, but his good free-throw percentage (77.8%) indicates his outside shooting will come around.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa

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