Detroit Pistons will tell us a lot about how they’re approaching rebuild in 2022 NBA draft

Detroit Free Press

Troy Weaver, predictably, didn’t tip his hand during his pre-draft media availability on Monday.

The Detroit Pistons will value upside, but they don’t see age and upside being correlated, he said. If they believe an older, more experienced prospect has more long-term potential, they will go that route.

Roster fit matters, but roster fit is also Dwane Casey’s job to figure out. As the person in charge of building the culture, Weaver’s primary concern is making sure the player’s character fits the organization.

The Pistons have  a draft board, but with the fifth overall pick, there’s no way for the front office to know which player will be available when it’s their turn to make a selection. So they’re prepared for any and all scenarios, and like any offseason, have met with and worked out a variety of players slated to go throughout the entire draft.

SHAWN WINDSOR: Troy Weaver has pretty good NBA draft record. Can he keep it up Thursday?

Weaver used a similar strategy a year ago, with the first overall pick in-hand and Cade Cunningham the obvious choice. But why lock the selection in before you have to? Until the day of the draft, Weaver kept the Pistons’ options open.

“When you have the number one pick, like any other pick, you have to do your work,” he said at the time. “I stated from the beginning that there are (multiple) guys in the draft that I thought were worthy of the number one pick, and that’s remained true. We’ll continue to do our work and be ready to go on Thursday.”

Unlike last year, there’s no obvious choice at No. 5.  This potentially makes this draft more informative than Weaver’s first two. He made multiple trades to establish Detroit’s young core in 2020, and added a franchise player in 2021. With Cunningham and a talented core already in tow, which boxes will the Pistons now look to check?

[ NBA mock drafts: Who Pistons pick at No. 5; where U-M, MSU standouts land ]

They will take the best player available on Thursday, but who that player is will be entirely subjective. Who they select will say a lot about how they view the current talent level of the roster, and the extent that on-court fit matters.

Purdue guard Jaden Ivey is widely viewed as a potential superstar talent, and the best player in the class outside of the top three of Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero and Jabari Smith Jr. He has an elite first step and leaping ability, and draws fouls at a high rate. There’s upside to playing him alongside Cunningham, who should be an improved shooter next season and can take pressure off of Ivey to run the offense.

But of Detroit’s most likely options, Ivey is the worst on-court fit next to Cunningham. Both players need the ball to maximize their skillsets, and the Pistons won’t take the ball out of Cunningham’s hands. It would put pressure on Ivey to find other ways to impact the game. Going downhill with the ball is Ivey’s best skill. He isn’t quite as good at shooting, doesn’t pass quite well enough to be a full-time point guard and is an inconsistent defender.

Ivey will be an enticing option if he falls to five, but there are valid reasons for the Pistons to go in a different direction.

WHAT HE SAID: Troy Weaver prioritizing upside in NBA draft, not scared off by age

Iowa forward Keegan Murray, in many ways, is the opposite of Ivey. He’s 6 feet 8 and does a lot of little things as a rebounder and floor-spacer that would immediately raise Detroit’s floor. Murray knocked down nearly 40% of his 3-pointers, runs hard in transition, is efficient at the rim and can outmuscle smaller defenders and competes on defense.

He’ll be 22 when next season starts, isn’t an explosive athlete and his ceiling isn’t as high as Ivey’s. But he’s a high-character, reliable player and a great fit for Detroit roster, especially if they trade Jerami Grant.

Ivey vs/ Murray has been a hot debate for Pistons fans on social media; both players will likely be drafted fourth and fifth, in some order. But Arizona wing Bennedict Mathurin lurks as a possibility as well. He worked out for the organization last week, and is believed to be high on Detroit’s draft board. And his athleticism, outside shooting and established production could make him the safest option of the three and a perfect blend of the extremes represented by the two aforementioned prospects.

MORE FROM SANKOFA: Why Keegan Murray is the likely pick for Pistons in NBA draft

Like Ivey, Mathurin is an above-average athlete. He doesn’t have Ivey’s quick first step or speed with the ball in his hands, but he’s an above-the-rim finisher who can finish lobs and punish defenses in transition. Mathurin isn’t a slasher, but he’s a significantly better shooter than Ivey, knocking down 38.3% of his 316 3-pointers attempted during his two seasons of college. He has the tools to be a plus defender, and is a solid playmaker capable of attacking close-outs and making correct pick-and-roll reads.

Mathurin would fit in seamlessly next to Cunningham. Mathurin is also a young sophomore — he’s nearly two years younger than Murray, four months younger than Ivey and six weeks younger than Holmgren. It’s too intriguing to overlook with the fifth pick, and the Pistons have reason to believe he checks the most boxes out of all of their options.

Detroit’s draft outlook will continue to evolve. It still feels premature to rule out Kentucky wing Shaedon Sharpe, who is the biggest unknown in the class but might have the highest upside of any prospect available to the Pistons.

Whether the Pistons swing on upside or bring in a player who seems more certain to mesh with the current group, Thursday will inform where their priorities lie.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

Feeling a draft?

What: 2022 NBA draft

First pick: 7:30 p.m. Thursday; Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York

TV: ABC, ESPN.

On the clock: The Orlando Magic pick No. 1 overall, followed by (in order) the Thunder, Rockets and Kings.

Pistons’ picks (overall pick in parentheses): Round 1 — No. 5 (5); Round 2 — No. 16 (46).

Report: Joseph picks up contract option

Cory Joseph has picked up his $5.1 million player option, according to a report from Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes. 

Joseph started 39 games for the Detroit Pistons last season and averaged 8.0 points and 3.6 assists while knocking down 41.4% of his 3-pointers. He has provided a veteran presence on the floor and mentorship in the locker room, and is comfortable playing under his former coach with the Toronto Raptors, Dwane Casey.

He arrived in Detroit at the 2021 trade deadline in a deal that also brought two second-round picks in exchange for Delon Wright. Joseph signed a two-year, $10 million contract last summer. 

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