Detroit Pistons gifted Jaden Ivey in NBA draft; they love him for more than just athleticism

Detroit Free Press

Jaden Ivey really wanted to become a Piston.

The Detroit Pistons appear to be equally enthused.

Ivey, who emerged as a star with Purdue last season, wasn’t supposed to be available with the fifth overall pick. He was widely considered the fourth-best prospect in the NBA draft, and some evaluators believed he was a top-three talent. Fast, explosive guards like Ivey typically have sky-high NBA ceilings. If everything breaks right for Ivey, he’ll become one of the league’s most exciting and impactful players.

The Sacramento Kings, who owned the fourth pick, instead selected Iowa forward Keegan Murray — a talented scorer who fits their roster better and should have a high floor. They were reportedly big fans of Murray, yet many around the league expected them to go with Ivey anyway.

When Ivey fell to five, the Pistons were surprised. Then they pounced.

“I had no idea,” Troy Weaver said Thursday night. “We were at the mercy of the board. I don’t think Paolo (Banchero) knew he was going number one. Definitely we didn’t know who Sacramento was taking. We were ready for whatever happened. Once it happened, it was very sped up.”

SHAWN WINDSOR: Jaden Ivey and Pistons: A match made in heaven where both sides wanted the other

Ivey is a Piston, and the Pistons couldn’t be happier. Thursday night, following up their Ivey selection by trading for Memphis center Jalen Duren, who the Charlotte Hornets selected 13th overall. After drafting Cade Cunningham first overall last year, Detroit now boasts arguably the most promising young backcourt in the NBA.

Per sources, multiple teams called the Pistons before and after the pick was made to attempt to trade for Ivey. Detroit would’ve needed a particularly strong offer to move Ivey, who has physical gifts that are hard to find. It illustrates just how coveted he was leading up to the draft.

There’s little to question about Ivey’s athleticism. From Day 1, he should be one of the NBA’s fastest players and most vicious dunkers. He’s an open-floor and halfcourt menace — defenders simply can’t stay in front of him. He has quick, long strides and jumps as fast as he runs, which makes him a threat to dunk seemingly every time he drives to the rim.

“What he brings to the table is he’s got electric speed, and he’ll create opportunities offensively for us because of his speed,” Weaver said. “And he has the measurables to become a big time defender. His athletic gifts along with the tenacity he brings to the floor, the competitive spirit are things that attracted us to Jaden.”

‘DYNAMIC AND EXPLOSIVE’: What experts say about Pistons draft pick Jaden Ivey

To draft a player who not only has obvious star potential, but also strong ties to the city of Detroit, makes the moment even sweeter for both parties. Ivey’s grandfather, James Hunter, was a cornerback for the Detroit Lions from 1976-82 and died in Allen Park in 2010. Ivey’s grandmother still lives in Detroit. Ivey’s father, Javin Hunter, was born in Detroit, attended Birmingham Detroit Country Day and was a wide receiver for the Baltimore Ravens from 2002-05. Ivey’s mom, Niele, now the head coach for Notre Dame women’s basketball, played for the Shock in 2005.

Ivey sobbed and hugged his mom after Detroit selected him. He only worked out for two teams, the Orlando Magic and the Pistons. If he couldn’t be the No. 1 pick, he wanted to end up in the city that felt most like home.

“This is everything, man,” Ivey said on stage. “I worked day in and day out just to get to this level. I know I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her and I’m just so happy.

“He sent me a text that he would be excited to be here, and his grandpa would be smiling,” Weaver added. “I’m sure they really embraced that moment. It’s exciting for him and his family.”

AFTER THE DRAFT: Pistons reportedly sign Syracuse’s Buddy Boeheim to 2-way contract after NBA draft

Cunningham’s shooting and versatility should compliment Ivey’s ability to beat defenders with his elite first step. The extent the pairing works out largely depends on how well Ivey can round out the other aspects of his game.

Ivey averaged 17.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists at Purdue last season while knocking down 35.8% of his 3-pointers. He showed flashes of the high-level shot creation needed for him to become a genuine leading offensive option, knocking down 3-pointers off of the dribble and finishing layups and drawing fouls at high rates. During his best games, he looked like a no-brainer top-three pick.

But Ivey’s inconsistent shooting, defensive lapses and missed passing reads factored into him being available at No. 5. He shot just 30.9% from 3 during Big Ten play, and that slumped even further to 26.2% during Purdue’s final 16 games.

Weaver is confident Ivey will figure out how to shoot the ball more consistently, and hone the other aspects of his game. He called him a “hard worker” on Thursday and came away impressed with his disposition during his pre-draft interviews.

“He’s a very thoughtful young man, and he really plans his success,” Weaver said. Not only does he want to be great, but he puts the work in behind it. That’s a great recipe for success.

“No moment is going to be too big for him,” Weaver added. “He’s been around. That’s always an added plus when you get a player who has been around the family business. His family business is basketball. That definitely bodes well for his level of sophistication in this arena.”

The Pistons, once again, are putting faith in their player development program to help Ivey become the player they need him to be. In the meantime, Detroit can be happy with the fact that it got the best guard prospect in back-to-back drafts. Cunningham and Ivey, in some ways, have opposite approaches to the game of basketball.

Cunningham’s game is predicated on patience and finesse. Ivey’s game is violent. Detroit’s backcourt just got a substantial jolt of energy, and both the front office and fans are eager to see how it meshes together.

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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