NBA draft observations: Detroit Pistons will have their pick of solid wing options

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Pistons will be in an interesting position on draft night. With the fifth overall pick, they’ll likely be out of contention for the three most highly regarded prospects — Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith Jr. and Chet Holmgren.

But this year’s draft isn’t as certain as the 2021 draft, which had Cade Cunningham go No. 1 and had several players considered to be surefire stars. After surveying the league at the NBA draft combine last week, there’s little consensus on which players have the best chance to make the superstardom leap.

While the aforementioned three players may inspire the most confidence, it wouldn’t be surprising if a player outside of the top-four ends up becoming the best player in the draft.

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It explains why the Pistons still feel good despite falling two spots in last Tuesday’s lottery. They’ll be able to pick between one of the best wing prospects in the draft in Shaedon Sharpe and Jaden Ivey. Keegan Murray and Benedict Mathurin are high-floor prospects with more upside than they have been given credit for. And there’s always a chance one of the top-three prospects slips a few spots.

Here are some nuggets and observations from the NBA combine:

Shaedon Sharpe, Jaden Ivey provide two different, high-upside options

Of the Pistons’ most likely targets, Ivey might be the one most familiar to the fan base. The Purdue guard averaged 17.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and shot 35.8% from 3 last season. He’s an electric athlete with a lightning-quick first step, and his leaping ability has drawn comparisons to Ja Morant and Derrick Rose.

But opinion is split on just how good Ivey will be in the NBA. He made strides as a shooter during his sophomore season last year, knocking down 3-pointers off of the catch and off the dribble. Some evaluators have bought into his progress as a shooter, while others are more skeptical. Ivey also isn’t a natural point guard. He’s capable of making good passing reads but he isn’t a pass-first player. That caps his upside and puts more pressure on him to become a reliable shooter.

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Sharpe, on the other hand, is the biggest unknown in the draft. His athleticism and shot-making helped him ascend to the top of the 2022 recruiting class, and the NBA’s rules enable him to enter the 2022 draft despite not playing a game at Kentucky. He measured 6-foot-5¼ with a 6-foot-11½ wingspan at the combine, great size and length to play on the wing. But he didn’t participate in scrimmages and only held a single private workout in front of multiple teams, which sources say the Pistons attended.

Like Ivey, Sharpe is on Detroit’s radar and a strong option at No. 5. It was tough to get a feel for Sharpe’s draft range at the combine, but he appears to be a near-lock for the top 10 barring any developments through the next few weeks. If he reaches his potential, he’d be a great fit next to Cade Cunningham as an off-ball shooter, cutter, lob threat and capable defender. But that’s a big “if,” and some evaluators are spooked by the lack of game film.

Keegan Murray is a safe choice, but don’t count out his potential

Outside of the top three, there may not be a safer prospect than Murray. The Iowa big man averaged 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and shot 55.4% overall and 39.8% from 3. He’s a prototypical power forward, feasting on post-ups, cuts and lobs and knocking down catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Most NBA evaluators are certain that he’ll at least be an average starter, and some see All-Star upside.

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Murray will be a 22-year-old rookie , and his age is the key reason why some believe he has a low ceiling. He’s aware of the criticism, and understands that to maximize his NBA potential, he’ll have to prove he can also be a plus defender and be more creative in his offense. Murray interviewed with the Pistons in Chicago.

“For me, it’s just creating more diversity on offense, becoming more creative in the NBA,” Murray said. “It’s more of an open-floor game, the court’s bigger, 3-point line bigger, there’s more spacing, there’s not many sets ran. For me it’s just being creative off the bounce and doing stuff I really didn’t do in college and during games. Just getting out of my comfort zone. I feel like my offense has overshadowed my defense.

“Right now, the top-four teams in the NBA playoffs are all the best defensive teams. For me it’s locking in on defense, using my length to my advantage and know that I’m a great defender.”

Ben Mathurin has clear 3-and-D potential

Arizona’s Mathurin is the third wing with a good chance to be selected by the Pistons. He has fans in Detroit’s front office, and it’s easy to see his game meshing with Cunningham since Mathurin can play off  He averaged 17.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 36.9% from 3 on high-volume. He’s a great athlete with bounce and doesn’t need much space to shoot  3-pointers.

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But Mathurin’s progress as an on-ball creator could push his upside higher. He averaged 3.2 assists during his final 15 games at Arizona and has the ability to make secondary reads. Mathurin said he believes his passing will be valuable in the NBA.

“Teams have been asking me what are things I wanted to showcase a little bit more,” Mathurin said. “That was definitely one thing. After the USC game, I think a lot of people started noticing I was able to pass the ball. We played in a different system where we had guards already and one of my biggest strengths was to score the ball. I just did what the team needed me to do in order for us to win.”

Johnny Davis brings intrigue as two-way wing

He’s projected to be drafted in the 8-14 range, but Davis has a claim as one of the best wing prospects available. Although many evaluators aren’t sold on his upside, he was extremely productive during his sophomore season at Wisconsin, averaging 19.7 points and 8.2 rebounds.

Davis is an elite rebounder for a guard and is one of the best perimeter defenders in the draft. He also has good touch from midrange, gets to the line at a high rate and knocked down 79.1% of his free throws. Davis also measured well and has prototypical wing size, standing 6-5¾ in shoes with a 6-8½ wingspan.

Davis would widely be considered a reach for the Pistons with the fifth pick, but he interviewed with the team in Chicago. The biggest knock on Davis is his 30.6% clip from 3, but his percentages at the line and from midrange suggest he can be a good shooter in the NBA. Davis believes his 3-point percentage doesn’t represent how well he can shoot. If he can be more efficent from 3, he’d have all the tools necessary to be an impactful two-way wing.

“No, that definitely doesn’t represent me. I could’ve shot better from the free-throw line, and from 3 especially,” he said. “I thought later in the season I took a lot of contested shots.”

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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