Unlike last year’s draft, the Detroit Pistons aren’t in control of their destiny. There weren’t any barriers preventing from selecting Cade Cunningham first overall.
It’s easy when you win the lottery.
It’s harder to draft when you don’t have a top-three pick, and it’s impossible to say who will be available when the Pistons select fifth overall during Thursday’s draft.
Any movement ahead of the Pistons in the draft order will influence their decision tree. They’ll spend the next two days wrapping up the last of their pre-draft preparation. On Thursday, they’ll be prepared for whatever happens.
“Still a lot left to be done — meetings and setting the board and going over different parts of the process that we formulate to come up with the best scenarios,” Troy Weaver said during his pre-draft availability at the Pistons Performance Center on Monday. “At five, you’re at the mercy of the board. It’s not like we get to make the first choice. At five, we’re at the mercy of the board. We have to have multiple scenarios ready to go.”
Weaver said he has between seven and nine players he would be happy with the Pistons selecting. That list likely includes Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, who confirmed that he worked out for the Pistons and Orlando Magic during his pre-draft availability on Monday, or Keegan Murray, who met with the Pistons in Detroit last week. It also remains a possibility that Jerami Grant could be moved on or before draft night and land the Pistons an additional first-round pick.
Here are the key takeaways from Weaver’s news conference:
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Pistons prioritizing long-term upside
The Pistons’ rebuild is far from complete. Drafting Cunningham last year gave the franchise a potential superstar to build around, but they will need at least one more high-level player next to him, as well as improved roster depth, to comfortably make the playoffs in the future.
Weaver confirmed that the Pistons want to draft whichever player has the most long-term upside on Thursday.
“We’re going to get the best player we see has the most potential long-term, but absolutely in that you would hope that they could contribute,” he said. “We want the best player for the long haul.”
One could assume the Pistons are all-the-way in on Ivey, one of the most explosive guards in the draft and is believed to have a superstar ceiling. It could also imply that Kentucky wing Shaedon Sharpe, who the Pistons recently worked out and is in the mix for the fifth pick, has a leg up.
But Weaver also noted that he doesn’t buy into the idea that age can limit a player’s ceiling. That’s good news for Murray, who will be 22 when his rookie season starts.
“To me, upside is a growth mindset,” Weaver said. “I don’t subscribe to, ‘The guy is a 23-year-old and he can’t grow, doesn’t have upside.’ Or, there’s some guys that are 19, 18 that limit themselves. I’ve seen a couple of young players and I said ‘it’s going to be a while because he just doesn’t get it.’ It’s just the mental aspect of it and how the player approaches things and where he’s been, how he approaches and what’s been untapped.”
Weaver preparing for potentially chaotic draft
The 2021 draft had several surprises in the lottery. The Toronto Raptors picked Scottie Barnes fourth overall instead of Jalen Suggs, widely considered to be the fourth-best prospect in the draft. And the San Antonio Spurs took Joshua Primo, projected as a late first-round pick at best, with the 12th pick.
The 2022 draft could also have surprises. The Oklahoma City Thunder are rumored to have interest in Ivey with the second pick, and the Sacramento Kings are a wild card. Will they take Ivey or Murray, or trade the fourth overall pick for immediate help?
Weaver said anything can happen, and the Pistons won’t be caught off guard by any curve balls.
“You have to be prepared for that,” Weaver said. “I remember how many years ago, D’Angelo Russell jumped up and went two. That’s why I’m a little agitated on so much reporting trying to find out everybody’s pick right now, it’s ridiculous. No, you’ve got to be prepared for anything to happen. Because if you don’t and you haven’t done your work, then someone drops that you haven’t done your work on, then you’re stuck. So no, we anticipate anything happening above us.”
Cunningham’s presence should ease any fit concerns
The Pistons won the lottery at the right time. Cunningham was one of the most versatile players in recent draft history, and that versatility was on display last season. He established himself as their best all-around playmaker and was equally comfortable scoring or dishing it to his teammates. He defends, rebounds and embraced a leadership role as well.
With Cunningham already in tow, the Pistons aren’t concerned about drafting a player who fits him. Cunningham can fit alongside most players.
“There’s not a player that we’re looking at that we don’t see that can fit with Cade,” Weavers said. “Absolutely. His versatility lends to whoever we draft being able to fit in with him. Drafting him made it easier in not having to worry so much about fit.”
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