Detroit Pistons’ best pick at No. 5? Why one NBA draft expert likes Iowa’s Keegan Murray

Detroit Free Press

On Thursday, the Detroit Pistons will add another highly touted player to their young roster.

The Pistons got the easy part out of the way last season by drafting Cade Cunningham at No. 1 overall. Cunningham finished third in Rookie of the Year voting, was a consensus All-Rookie first-team selection and looks the part of a franchise player. They have the No. 5 pick in this year’s NBA draft, and the players with the most star potential will likely be off the board. What should Detroit prioritize?

CBS Sports college basketball columnist and NBA draft analyst Gary Parrish talked to the Free Press about Detroit’s options. In his latest mock draft, he has the Pistons selecting Iowa standout Keegan Murray. 

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The top three in this draft appears to be set, barring any surprises — Jabari Smith Jr., Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero. At No. 5, the Pistons probably won’t draft a Day 1 star. Do you think they’re in a bad spot, or is there still a lot of upside to having the fifth pick?

“We have a pretty good idea of which three guys are coming off of the board for second and third. What order, I think reasonable people disagree. I’ll be surprised on the night of the draft if the first three names called, in some order, aren’t Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith and Paolo Banchero. It comes down to what happens next with Sacramento that will change what’s going to be available to Detroit. I think you can reasonably assume none of those guys are going to be available at the top. And there are, as is the case every year, reports about what Sacramento might do, might not do. I think most mock drafts, including my own, would have the Kings just taking the best prospect available, and in my opinion and most others, that guy is Jaden Ivey out of Purdue. I read a report earlier today that said the owner was enamored — my word, not theirs — but the owner is interested in Keegan Murray, which I understand. He’s ready to play in the NBA from Day 1, and Sacramento does seem like they’re trying to win right now. I think there’s an argument to be made that Keegan Murray can maybe help you next year more than anybody else available at four can help you next year.

“From my perspective, if you’re lucky enough to have Jaden Ivey drop to you at five, you don’t take five seconds to turn in that card. You feel like you’re getting somebody with superstar potential with the fifth pick in the draft, take him, you do that. You feel good about it. If the draft doesn’t fall the way a lot of people still think with the first four players off the board — Chet, Jabari, Paolo and Jaden — then I think if you’re Detroit, you’re looking at Keegan Murray, Shaedon Sharpe, Bennedict Mathurin and I’m a little higher on this guy than others, but I would take a hard look at Ochai Agbaji as well.”

There’s been different reporting as far as where Jaden Ivey can fall. He’s in the 2-5 range. Do you see him in the same tier as Holmgren, Smith and Banchero, or is he a tier below?

Parrish: I would not take him before I would take any of those other three guys. But I can certainly envision him being better than one of those three guys, if not all three of those guys. This is what makes projecting projects difficult, because you try to use your imagination. What’s the best version of this guy look like in five years? That version of Jaden Ivey is really good. That version is an All-Star-level guard who can reliably make shots from the perimeter and also attack the rim, both in the halfcourt and in transition. Now, I think the best version of Chet Holmgren is probably a better player than Jaden Ivey, which is why I would take Chet Holmgren No. 1. My point is, not everyone becomes the best version of themselves. When you’re strictly talking about upside, you have to recognize that not everybody, in fact, most probably don’t reach their full potential. Would I take Chet, Jabari and Paolo ahead of Jaden Ivey? Yes. But could I see Jaden Ivey being better than two for those guys, or even all three? Yes, depending on the way these players develop and the situations they find themselves in. It’s not very difficult for me to envision Jaden Ivey becoming the best player from this draft, even if he’s not the guy I think should be taken first, second or even third.”

The Pistons are still in a rebuild. There’s an argument they should be taking swings in the draft to find that second star next to Cade. Keegan Murray will be 22 when his rookie season starts, but has a very high floor. You’re in Memphis, you’re familiar with Desmond Bane and how he has exceeded expectations despite being an older rookie two years ago. Is there merit to the idea of using the fifth pick on a high-floor prospect you know will be able to contribute?

“I’ll be shocked if Keegan Murray isn’t in the NBA for a long time, because some of the things he does are just obviously translatable. He’s a 6-8 switchable forward who can reliably knock down 3s. I don’t know that his ceiling is as high as some of these other guys in the draft. But there’s nothing wrong with taking a 22-year-old that can play. Desmond Bane is a great example of that. Why does Desmond Bane slip all the way to the bottom of the first round? Because he was a four-year college player, considered an average athlete, at best, with short arms. OK, well the Grizzlies say, ‘We know he can do this one thing that will translate. And that’s shoot 3s.’ So they took him. What they found out is that he can do a lot more than even what they thought. He has developed into a borderline All-Star-level guy. Incredible shooter, but can also play some backup point guard if they need him. He can bounce the ball and create a shot. A lot of the stuff he’s doing now is stuff teams need a player to do, but I think too many executives focus on what they think a 19-year-old might be able to do someday as opposed to focusing on what a 22-year-old can already obviously do.

“Keegan Murray is a guy who, sure, he’s older, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have room to grow. I don’t know of a great basketball player who didn’t improve past the age of 22. The idea that he already is what he is, that’s nonsensical to me. Players improve after the age of 22, and this is a guy who was one of the best scorers in college basketball, a switchable defender and is really perfect for the modern NBA. I understand Detroit fans who might want to take what they think is a bigger swing on a possible star. But I’m not certain Keegan Murray is not going to be the fifth-best player from the draft, and if I were Detroit and he’s the first guy on the board, I would certainly take a hard look at Keegan Murray. I would also take a look at the other guys I mentioned — Ben Mathurin, Ochai Agbaji, Shaedon Sharpe, might even take a hard look at Dyson Daniels or Johnny Davis. But I think there is a potential star at five available in this draft. You guarantee nothing, but there’s still star potential with that pick.”

Shaedon Sharpe is the wildcard in this draft. He’s had an atypical route to the NBA by bypassing playing in college. Is he a guy you think can be a home run swing, or is he too risky to take in the top five?

“I don’t think he’s too risky. I would consider it. He was, at one point, considered the No. 1 prospect in his high school class. I have not seen him play basketball in a long time in any sort of organized, actual competition. But there are NBA people I’ve talked to that went to Kentucky practices, and you didn’t see a lot from him often. But there were times where he looked like the best player, or at least the best prospect, in the gym. There’s some thought that if he would’ve enrolled at Kentucky last summer, had a full summer, preseason, that he would’ve been Kentucky’s — while recognizing Oscar Tshiebwe was then national player of the year — he would’ve been Kentucky’s most dynamic player and best guard and one of the best guards in the country.

“He’s a little harder to evaluate, just because there’s less film on him. We didn’t see him in high-stakes college basketball games, and you can learn a lot from those. Who’s built for it, who’s not, who wants to take over a game, who doesn’t, who can, who can’t. Those aren’t things you can learn in workouts. Those are things you need to be able to see on the court, in a game, against other comparable talents. We just haven’t had that with Shaedon Sharpe. He’s obviously a bouncy athlete who can make perimeter shots, and he’s explosive in transition. That’s a good place to start. He would be riskier than drafting some of the other guys who will be available in that five range, but that doesn’t mean it would be wrong, or it doesn’t mean it would be too risky if you believe if he would’ve played college basketball, he would’ve been in the conversation with Chet, Jabari, Paolo. It’s not crazy to take a swing on him at five.”

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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