In five days, the Detroit Pistons will know their 2021 NBA draft fate.
The draft lottery is set for Tuesday, and it could define Detroit’s trajectory through next season and beyond. They finished with the second-worst record in 2020-21 and a 14% chance at the top spot. Will they move up in the draft lottery for the first time in franchise history and end up with the No. 1 pick? Or will they slide to fifth or sixth — which they have a 47.9% chance of doing — diminishing their chances of landing a star?
Here are my top eight draft prospects, taking into account what makes sense for the Pistons’ needs.
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1. G/F Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
The buzz: Cunningham is the presumptive top player on most draft boards, and for good reason — what can’t he do? He’s a big lead ball-handler who can make just about every pass, a strong outside shooter, a capable defender with a high basketball IQ. Cunningham has all of the tools to become a top-10 player.
The fit: Cunningham is best with the ball in his hands. There’s overlap between his game and the Pistons’ 2020 lottery pick, Killian Hayes. Hayes’ lack of an outside shot could make it tougher to pair the two. But Hayes has good defensive chops and showed some upside playing off-ball alongside Cory Joseph late last season. If Hayes can consistently knock down catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, there’s not much downside. Regardless, Cunningham is too good to pass on because of potential fit issues.
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2. Evan Mobley, C, USC
The buzz: Center as a whole might be devalued in the modern NBA, but elite centers who protect the rim, move the ball and space the floor are incredibly valuable. Mobley potentially can do all three, making him the best center prospect since DeAndre Ayton, at least. He blocked nearly three shots per game and moved extremely well during his lone season at USC, showcasing Defensive Player of the Year upside. He also averaged 2.4 assists per game and demonstrated the ability to handle the ball and make shots from midrange and occasionally from behind-the-arc. He excels as a rim-runner. He has two knocks on his game — he’s skinny, and he only hit 12 of his 30 3-point attempts. Both issues are correctable.
The fit: Troy Weaver loves centers, and centers as versatile as Mobley are hard to find. A Mobley-Isaiah Stewart frontcourt could work, particularly since Stewart, at 6 feet 8, is undersized for the center position. The Pistons see Stewart playing more power forward down the road as his outside shot develops. Similar to Cunningham, you would take Mobley and figure the rest out later.
3. Jalen Green, G, G League Ignite
The buzz: During his lone season with the G League Ignite, Green showcased massive upside. He’s an elite athlete with great body control that can also knock down outside shots (36.5% from 3). He has the tools to become one of the NBA’s better scorers, but he’ll have to make strides as a playmaker and defender to become a true alpha dog.
The fit: Green could help the Pistons immediately as an outside shooter with go-to scoring potential. Detroit needs help at the wing positions, with Wayne Ellington entering unrestricted free agency and Hamidou Diallo and Frank Jackson hitting restricted free agency.
4. Jalen Suggs, G, Gonzaga
The buzz: The best non-Cunningham point guard in this year’s draft, Suggs ascended to the top-four of the lottery after powering Gonzaga to a national championship appearance. He’s a strong athlete who plays with poise, thrives as a playmaker and enjoys getting downhill. Suggs is also an active defender. He can play shooting guard as well, though his jump shot (33.7% from 3) needs to improve.
The fit: A Suggs-Hayes backcourt would have upside, but neither player is a strong shooter at this stage in their respective careers. It would be tough for the Pistons to justify passing on Suggs if he were available at No. 4, but it would certainly challenge one or both players to improve their shooting. There are worse problems to have than playing two bigger guards with strong defensive and playmaking instincts. But among the top-four players, Suggs would certainly be the most awkward fit.
5. Jonathan Kuminga, F, G League Ignite
The buzz: Standing 6-8 with a 7-foot wingspan and impressive athleticism, Kuminga, 18, has the size and build that every team covets. He showed some chops as an off-the-dribble shooter and has the speed and strength to maneuver around and through defenders. He has the size and mobility to defend multiple positions. Kuminga has a longer developmental curve than the four ahead of him on this draft board, though. He averaged 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds with the Ignite, but shot just 38.7% overall and 24.6% on 3s. Whatever team drafts him will need to be patient.
The fit: The Pistons already have several forwards at his size, including Jerami Grant, Josh Jackson, Saddiq Bey and Sekou Doumbouya. If needed, Kuminga could spend time with the Motor City Cruise until he’s ready. His high ceiling could make the investment worthwhile.
6. James Bouknight, G, UConn
The buzz: Bouknight’s draft range appears to be anywhere from the back half of the lottery to the back of the first round, but there’s a lot to like about his game. He’s a skilled, crafty ball-handler and above-average athlete that averaged 18.7 points per game as a sophomore last season. If he shot better than 29.3% from 3 last season, he’d probably be higher on draft boards. But his career 80.2% clip from the free-throw line suggests his outside shot will come around. In a draft that has a lot of uncertainty outside of the top-five, you don’t have to squint as much to see Bouknight emerging as an above-average NBA starter.
The fit: Like Green, Bouknight could fill a void as a go-to scorer behind Grant. He would also pair nicely with Hayes as an athletic score-first guard who can also hold his own defensively.
7. Scottie Barnes, F, Florida State
The buzz: Barnes has a relatively high floor as a prospect. Standing 6-9 with a 7-2 wingspan, he was a good, multi-positional defender in college and has the size and length to handle nearly any assignment. He’s also a good playmaker who’s comfortable with the ball in his hands and can set the table for his teammates. The big question mark is if he can develop an outside shot. He only took 40 3-pointers last season, and made just 11. His development as a shooter will define his ceiling.
The fit: The Pistons are building a foundation based on defense, and Barnes would certainly fit the team from a culture standpoint. Weaver has shown he’s willing to bet on players developing their shooting, but Barnes would need to show his upside in that area during pre-draft workouts.
8. Moses Moody, G, Arkansas
The buzz: The Pistons need shooting, and Moody’s proven ability to do that, along with his youth and defensive tool set, should make him an intriguing prospect. He knocked down close to 36% of his 3-pointers last season, got to the line at a solid rate (6.2 free throw attempts per 36 minutes) and is 6-6 with a 7-foot wingspan. He’s also young, as he recently turned 19 on May 31. He isn’t a great athlete, and it’s unclear if he’ll develop more than being a reliable 3-and-D player. There may be better upside plays if the Pistons were to trade down, but Moody’s fit is pretty straightforward.
The fit: As I said before, the Pistons need shooting. Moody projects well as a 3-point shooter, and his length alongside Hayes would give them a very strong defensive backcourt. He’s young enough to add more to his game, too, and could improve as a ball-handler and finisher.
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