Throughout the course of any league’s draft evaluation process, “upside” is generally a large part of the conversation.
It’s a loaded term, typically carrying myriad applications — most of which Detroit Pistons general manager Troy Weaver doesn’t agree with.
“To me, upside is a growth mindset,” Weaver said Monday while talking to reporters ahead of Thursday’s NBA Draft in Brooklyn.
When used as a knock against a prospect, it usually means that the player has completely shown himself and what his potential is. The idea is that they’re held back by athleticism or age and don’t have much room to develop, such as the conversation surrounding Keegan Murray, who will be a 22-year-old rookie when the NBA season begins in October.
“I don’t prescribe to the (idea) that a guy’s a 23-year-old, that he can’t grow and doesn’t have upside,” Weaver said. “It’s a whole process of trying to uncover and untap guys being able to grow, but age to me has nothing to do with that.”
When used to describe a plus-quality for a prospect, that usually means the player possesses raw ability or tools to occasionally flash greatness, but lacks proven consistency. The idea is that refinement of those skills will build something far greater than the sum of its current parts.
A recent example in Pistons-land is Sekou Doumbouya, who in 2019 was the Pistons’ first-round pick and was described by special adviser Ed Stefanski as “a kid with big upside.”
While speaking in a general sense, Weaver said he’s seen players with huge potential that don’t have the mental ability to reach it.
“There’s some guys that are 19, 18, that limit themselves,” Weaver said. “I’ve seen a couple players, young players, (that I think), it’s going to be awhile, because he just doesn’t get it. It’s just a mental aspect of it, how a player approaches things. Where he’s been, how he’s been coached, and what’s been untapped.”
Work to do
With just three days before turning in the Pistons’ selection, Weaver said there’s still a lot of work to be done — especially regarding Detroit’s draft board.
“We’re still working through that. There’s still a lot left to be done; meetings, setting up the board, and going over different parts of the process that we formulate to come up with the best scenarios,” Weaver said. “At five, you’re at the mercy of the board, so we have to have all those scenarios ready to go.”
That, of course, includes trade scenarios. Through his first two drafts with the Pistons, Weaver has become known as a bit of a draft wheeler and dealer.
Ahead of the 2021 draft, Weaver sent Mason Plumlee and the No. 37 pick to Charlotte in a cap-clearing move for the No. 57 pick. The year before, Weaver sent Bruce Brown to the Nets for a second-round pick days before the draft began, then used trades to scoop up additional picks that would eventually become Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey.
“I mean, drafts, usually it’s a lot of trade talk, things happen, so yeah, we anticipate it and we’re getting prepared for it,” Weaver said. “I like to make trades any time that improve the team. It can be draft day — if it improves the Pistons, it helps us restore the program, yeah.”
In a scouting age that leans more on analytics than ever before, Weaver said that his favorite part of the draft process is “getting to know the prospects.”
“Everyone has a story, and I like getting to know all the prospect’s stories,” Weaver said. “That’s very interesting and it usually is a good barometer for who that player, person will be.”
Summer League schedule
The NBA Summer League announced its 75-game schedule Monday.
The Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers square off in part two of an opening-night doubleheader on July 7 at midnight, EST. The remaining 26 teams in the league will begin its Summer League slate on July 8 and 9.
The Pistons will play five games between July 7-15. All teams will be seeded 1-30 once the de-facto regular season finishes, with the top two teams playing in a July 17 championship game and the rest of the league playing its final game on either July 16 or 17.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.