Detroit Pistons’ ability to find talent will be tested after falling to 5th in NBA draft

Detroit Free Press

It’s too early to deliver a verdict on the Detroit Pistons’ rebuild. But nearly three years in, this much is clear — they’ve done a good job at drafting.

They’ve produced three All-Rookie players in the last two drafts, which Troy Weaver dutifully reminded reporters and fans after Tuesday’s unsatisfying lottery outcome in which the Pistons fell to fifth in the draft order. Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, the 16th and 19th overall picks in 2020, earned second- and first-team All-Rookie, respectively. Cade Cunningham, the first overall pick last year, was third in the Rookie of the Year race and was also a first-team selection.

The Pistons got Cunningham thanks to lottery luck. That wasn’t the case for Stewart or Bey. The Pistons swung draft-day trades to land the latter two. Two years later, they’ve exceeded expectations relative to their draft positions. Weaver credits Detroit’s culture and player development resources for their success.

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“The culture here is working hard, being selfless,” Weaver said on Tuesday after the draft lottery. “Coach (Dwane) Casey and the coaching staff have done that. We’re confident because the last two drafts, we’ve had three players make All-Rookie. We’re very comfortable with our culture here and what the coaches have been able to do with these young players. We stand on that and we’re confident that whoever we add to our mix will be able to assimilate and be able to follow the rest of the group.”

This year’s draft will be another test for the Pistons’ ability to identify and develop talent. Detroit fell two spots for the fifth spot in the first round, which will take place in Brooklyn on June 23. It’s the second time in three years the Pistons slid two spots.

This draft is widely considered to have three potential franchise-changing talents in Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. and Duke’s Paolo Banchero. Barring anything unexpected, all three will be off of the board when Detroit is on the clock.

Like usual, pre-draft evaluations are unlikely to hold true once players actually take the court. This season’s  Rookie of the Year,  Scottie Barnes, wasn’t considered a top-four talent by many front offices and draft pundits when the Toronto Raptors selected him fourth overall.

While falling to fifth may feel like a blow for Detroit’s rebuild, draft history suggests a star-level player will be available there. In the last five years, the pick has produced two All-Stars, Darius Garland and Trae Young, and an above-average starter in De-Aaron Fox. Weaver seemed confident expressed confidence Tuesday night, denying that there’s a talent drop-off after the top three.

“You guys know we don’t cry over spilled milk,” Weaver said. “We’re going to pick five, be ready for five. We’re going to do our homework, vet it all out. There’s no disappointment where we’re picking. We’re excited to draft number five and we’ll be excited to make that pick. We’ll be ready to go on draft night.”

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In the grand scheme, the Pistons won the lottery that mattered most. Cunningham was considered the top prospect in a draft widely considered to be one of the most talented in NBA history, and he gives Detroit a potential superstar to build around. Cunningham’s scoring prowess and overall versatility makes it easy for the front office to draft a player who complements Cunningham’s game.

They may not end up with Holmgren, Smith or Banchero, but Weaver said he doesn’t see a talent gap between the 2021 and 2022 class. It bodes well for Detroit if that holds true, considering the depth of last year’s class.

“I’m on record saying I like this draft as much as last year’s draft,” Weaver said. “That can be debated, but I’m comfortable with the players that are slated in the top half of the lottery. Looking forward to that process. I think this draft stacks up well versus last year’s picks.”

The Pistons have five weeks to finalize their decision, and several prospects figure to be in play. Iowa forward Keegan Murray, who averaged 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and shot 55.4% overall and 39.8% from 3, could lead the pack. Murray was highly versatile and productive as a sophomore and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and was named the Big Ten tournament MVP. He turns 22 in August and will likely be the oldest player selected in the lottery, but Detroit doesn’t appear to be overly concerned about his age.

Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, Arizona wing Bennedict Mathurin, Kentucky wing Shaedon Sharpe, Memphis center Jalen Duren and others are in the mix. The NBA draft combine will take place this week Wednesday through Friday, and the Pistons will also bring players in for individual workouts.

But the bulk of Detroit’s homework is done. And while it’s not the outcome the team would’ve liked, but it’s an outcome they can live with and will try to maximize.

“We could draft right now,” Weaver said. “We want to continue the process. But if we had to pick today, yes, I feel comfortable that we could pick someone that we were happy with, for sure.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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