Niyo: Troy Weaver, Pistons ready for anything at No. 5 in NBA Draft

Detroit News

Detroit — Troy Weaver’s not begging for mercy.

He insists he’s far from helpless.

But with less than 72 hours remaining before the NBA Draft, the Pistons’ general manager will admit this much: Some things are out of his control.

That’s why he can’t tell you which player he’ll be selecting in the top half of the lottery Thursday night. Not that he would if he could, anyway. Or that he did a year ago, when everyone assumed — correctly, as it turned out — the Pistons would take Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 overall pick.

But this time, things are considerably murkier. And Monday afternoon, shortly after he’d finished up with another pre-draft workout session at the Pistons Performance Center, Weaver explained rather matter-of-factly just why that is.

“It’s not like at one, where you get to make the first choice,” he said. “At five, you’re at the mercy of the board. So you have to have all the scenarios ready.”

And given all the uncertainty with this draft, with all the moving parts and potential trades afoot, and all the usual smoke and mirrors that accompany the NBA’s annual swap meet, it’s really no shock to hear Weaver say the Pistons’ draft board isn’t set just yet. Because a lot can — and likely will — change between now and Thursday night when the Pistons are on the clock.

The consensus around the league seems to be that a trio of power forwards — Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paulo Banchero — will go 1-2-3 in some order to start Thursday night.

But Weaver doesn’t even sound like he’s buying that, necessarily. Not after nearly 20 years as an NBA scout and personnel executive, that is. On Tuesday, he brought up the 2015 draft, when the Los Angeles Lakers took guard D’Angelo Russell over center Jahlil Okafor with the No. 2 overall pick, surprising everyone including Russell himself.

“Nobody saw that coming,” Weaver said, nodding. “So that’s why I’m a little agitated with so much reporting trying to find out everybody’s pick right now. That’s ridiculous to me.”

So take it all with a grain of salt at this point, whether it’s the consensus about the top three or the speculation about the draft “starting” with Sacramento’s pick at No. 4.

“I don’t see a top three or top four and a dropoff,” Weaver said. “I never saw that. … I like seven, eight, nine guys in the draft.”

That said, though, the Knicks, Hawks and Thunder are among the teams that reportedly covet Purdue’s Jaden Ivey, who doesn’t sound too keen on playing for the Kings.

“It wouldn’t be the worst option,” was Ivey’s lukewarm assessment Monday, adding that he hasn’t even spoken to Sacramento in the pre-draft process.

It stands to reason, then, that the Kings are fielding offers for that pick right in front of Detroit, another team — along with Indiana at No. 6 — that should have a strong interest in Ivey. (For what it’s worth, Ivey says he only worked out for two teams — Detroit and Orlando — prior to the draft.)

Reports also suggest the Kings may prefer Iowa forward Keegan Murray with the fourth pick — can you smell the smoke yet? — and there’s still a chance of a trade somewhere in that top three, too. Particularly when you consider how many teams already own multiple first-round picks in this draft. (San Antonio holds three at the moment.)

“Absolutely, you gotta be prepared for that,” Weaver said. “I mean, you can never predict the board. … You’ve got to be prepared for anything to happen. Because if you don’t, and somebody drops that you haven’t done your work on, then you’re stuck. So, no, we anticipate anything happening above us.”

So should we, I suppose. Maybe Ivey falls to the Pistons at No. 5 and they jump at the chance to add an explosive, shot-creating backcourt mate for Cunningham. Or maybe the Kings or the Knicks take Ivey off the board at No. 4 and Weaver happily adds a player like Murray, the 6-8 forward who might’ve been the most complete offensive player in college basketball last year, or Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin, an athletic shooting guard who’d fill a serious need.

One of the knocks on Murray, coming off a breakout sophomore season in the Big Ten, is his age: He’ll be 22 in August, but as he told reporters at the NBA draft combine, “I’d say I’m a 21-year-old in an 18-year-old’s body.” And Weaver, by the way, didn’t sound like he’ll be checking IDs at the door.

“I mean, to me, upside is growth mindset,” he shrugged. “I don’t prescribe to (the idea) that (if) a guy is 23 years old, he can’t grow and doesn’t have upside. There are some guys that are 18 or 19 that limit themselves. I’ve seen a couple young players that it’s like, ‘It’s gonna be a while, because he just doesn’t get it.’ So it’s the mental aspect of it and how a player approaches things and where he’s been, how he’s been coached and what’s untapped. It’s a whole process. … But age, to me, has nothing to do with it.”

Neither does the prospect’s position, for that matter. Not at this stage of the Pistons’ “restoration” process under Weaver, who said what happens Thursday won’t really influence the decisions that’ll follow this summer in free agency. (A possible trade involving Jerami Grant — Atlanta? Cleveland? Portland? — notwithstanding.) Weaver also says he’s more concerned about “trying to draft the right person,” above all else.

And as for the fit on that court? Well, last year’s No. 1 pick makes that mostly a formality.

“The great thing about Cade is his versatility,” Weaver said. “So, yeah, there’s not a player that we’d look at that we don’t see that fit with Cade.”

Which player that ends up being, we’ll just have to wait and see. And at this point, so will the Pistons, it seems.

Twitter: @JohnNiyo

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