Detroit Pistons mailbag: What does the top of their 2022 NBA draft board look like?

Detroit Free Press

The trade deadline dust has settled, and the Detroit Pistons came out on the other side with one new face on the roster.

Marvin Bagley III, the second pick of the 2018 NBA draft, has a chance to rescue his career in Detroit after backsliding with the Sacramento Kings. Bagley, understandably, has dominated Pistons discussion since Thursday’s trade. A significant part of this month’s mailbag is dedicated to him, as he will have two months to prove he’s a player worth building with.

We’ll look at the 2022 draft, and which Pistons player has improved the most this season. Big thanks to everyone who sent a question.

We’re still a ways away from the draft June 23, but my guess is the Pistons’ top-six prospects list looks something like this:

  1. Chet Holmgren, C, Gonzaga
  2. Jabari Smith Jr., PF, Auburn
  3. Paolo Banchero, PF, Duke
  4. Jaden Ivey, G, Purdue
  5. Jalen Duren, C, Memphis
  6. Benedict Mathurin, G, Arizona

Holmgren is making a strong case as the best player in the draft, averaging 14.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.3 blocks while shooting 64.5% overall and 46.5% from 3 on 3.2 attempts per game. He plays for a stacked Gonzaga team that doesn’t need him to shoot as much as the other No. 1 pick contenders, Smith and Banchero. But his rim protection, soft shooting touch and willingness to move the ball have drawn comparisons to Evan Mobley, who has been a massive part of the Cavaliers’ resurgence this season. The Pistons passed on Mobley last season to take Cade Cunningham at No. 1. Adding a potential generational big man next to Cunningham would certainly be enticing.

There’s a drop-off after the top-four prospects in this draft, but there’s a lot to like about Duren and Mathurin. Duren is a bouncy big man with the tools to become a highly effective rim-runner and rim-protector. Mathurin is having a highly productive season as an athletic two-way wing who plays best off the ball.

If everything goes right for Bagley, he’ll establish himself as one of their more productive big men. He’s a great rebounder, good finisher with solid touch from short-midrange, and an above-the-rim athlete. His athleticism will certainly stand out, considering the Pistons’ current lack of it in their frontcourt. Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes and Cory Joseph previously lacked a consistent lob target. Now, they have one.

It’s probably unrealistic to expect Bagley to emerge as a starter this season — at least, early on. He’s a tweener big man. On defense, he lacks the instincts to protect the rim with consistency and mobility to defend smaller big men along the perimeter. On offense, he’s a poor floor spacer. It’s tough to envision him playing effectively next to Isaiah Stewart, unless one of the two are able to shoot better than they have thus far in their careers. Bagley, who turns 23 in one month, will have to show more than he did in Sacramento to seize a large role in Detroit, but the Pistons should have enough room in their rotation to give him a chance.

OMARI SANKOFA: Pistons’ trade for Marvin Bagley III is a high-upside, low-cost move

From the Pistons’ standpoint, the value of being able to incorporate Bagley into their system now and having valuable information on him going into the offseason is worth the two future second-round picks. As the question stated, this is a lost season. They own NBA’s worst record (12-44), and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team begin shutting its veterans down sometime after the All-Star break, as it did last year. They will be able to afford Bagley ample opportunity to prove he can become a franchise cornerstone.

The Pistons will eventually make a significant push for the playoffs. It could happen as soon as next season, after they potentially add another top-five pick and use their significant cap space to flesh out their roster depth. Their gamble is the second-round picks they gave up in the deal — the worse of Cleveland and Golden State’s picks in 2023, and Sacramento’s pick in 2024 — will be worth less than the player Bagley could become. The first of the two picks has a great chance to land in the 50s, assuming one of the Cavaliers or Warriors are a high playoff seed next season. The Kings pick, too, could be a mid-to-late second-rounder if the Kings are able to build a playoff roster around De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis before Sabonis’ current deal expires in 2024. Or it could be near the top of the round in the 30s, if the Kings remain terrible.

Second-round picks are easily moved, and easily acquired. Pistons general manager Troy Weaver has been willing to attach as many second-round picks as needed to acquire players he likes, knowing he can get them back in future deals. Bagley’s NBA career hasn’t panned out, but the fact remains he’s a former five-star recruit who played for Duke, a fluid athlete standing at 6 feet 11, and still only 22 years old. Weaver believes he can turn his career around.

Pistons hope fresh start can unlock Marvin Bagley III: ‘His game will take off’ ]

My vote goes to Hamidou Diallo. He has capitalized on injuries by carving out a role as an athletic, high-energy wing. Diallo entered the season with 15 career starts, but has since started 29 of 49 games.

He is shooting a career-high 67% at the rim and 46% from short-midrange, according to Cleaning The Glass. He has emerged as one of the best inside-the-arc scorers for players at his position, as both numbers are well-above average for wings. He’s also one of the few players on the roster capable of getting the bench, as well as most of the home crowd, to rise to their feet with his dunks.

Ranking Pistons GM Troy Weaver’s top trades so far ]

Diallo showed flashes after arriving at the deadline last season, but was only able to sign a two-year, $10.4 million deal with the Pistons in restricted free agency. The deal has been a great value for the Pistons, and can get even better if he can improve his defensive consistency and poor 3-point shooting (24.4%).

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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