With fewer than 20 games remaining, the Detroit Pistons are almost guaranteed a top-seven pick in the 2023 NBA draft. Entering Saturday, they have the second-worst record in the league, with 4½ games separating them from the fourth-from-the-bottom Charlotte Hornets. A bottom-three record would also secure the best odds for the number one pick — 14% — and a 52.1% shot at staying in the top-four.
So our first big board for this summer’s draft only goes seven prospects deep. There are clear tiers in this draft, with French phenom Victor Wembanyama and G League Ignite standout Scoot Henderson universally considered the best two prospects, in that order.
After that, the field becomes much murkier.
These are my top-seven prospects, not how I expect the top seven picks of the draft to play out. For each player, we’ll dive into their resume and break down how well they would fit in Detroit:
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1. Victor Wembanyama, 7-foot-5, Metropolitans 92
Stats: 22.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 3.1 blocks, 47.2% overall, 28.9% from 3 (5.4 attempts).
Wembanyama is viewed as one of the best of draft prospects ever. Perhaps only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Ralph Sampson have matched his combination of size, dexterity and hype. His shooting touch and ability to put the ball on the floor resembles that of a wing player a foot shorter. Defensively, his length and timing gives him All-NBA upside. His only question mark is whether or not his frame can survive an 82-game season.
Fit: If the Pistons win the lottery, drafting Wembanyama should be a no-brainer. They have already invested heavily into their frontcourt, drafting Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren and trading for Marvin Bagley III and James Wiseman. That shouldn’t matter. Wembanyama’s unique frame and skillset should enable him to play next to any big. And if there are significant fit concerns, then the Pistons can make trades to balance out their roster.
2. Scoot Henderson, 6-2, G League Ignite
Stats: 16.8 points, 6.4 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 43.8% overall, 29.3% from 3 (2.6 attempts).
Unlike Wembanyama, we’ve seen Henderson’s archetype before. He’s a hyper-athletic point guard in the mold of Ja Morant, John Wall and Russell Westbrook, and his elite playmaking and downhill scoring should allow him to be a capable point guard from Day 1. There are few question marks about how his game will translate.
Fit: After using top-seven picks on Killian Hayes, Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey in consecutive drafts, using the second overall pick on yet another lead ball-handler would pose obvious problems. All four players can’t share the floor together, and Cunningham and Ivey are clear starters, at minimum, for this team. Henderson is too good to pass up, though. If there isn’t a trade that makes sense, they should take Henderson and figure out any fit concerns later.
3. Brandon Miller, 6-9, Alabama
Stats: 19.6 points, 8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 46.2% overall, 41.7% from 3 (7.2 attempts).
Miller’s on-court production has been fantastic. He’s an elite shooter, knocking down 3-pointers with high accuracy and volume, and has shown that he can put the ball on the floor and finish inside as well. Defensively, he’s versatile and holds his own.
However, his role in the shooting death of Jamea Jonae Harris, which led to capital murder charges against former Alabama guard Darius Miles and Michael Davis, has garnered national attention. Miller wasn’t charged and hasn’t been disciplined by Alabama, but police testified that he brought the gun to the scene of the shooting that belonged to Miller and was eventually used to commit the murder. While Miller technically didn’t commit a crime, teams will certainly do their homework and evaluate his character and background.
Fit: Miller checks a lot of needed boxes for Detroit as a knockdown shooter and all-around scorer with defensive upside. If his background checks come back clean, the Pistons shouldn’t think twice about drafting him. But Troy Weaver often says that the organization drafts people, not players. If there are significant concerns about Miller’s character, I doubt the Pistons will draft him.
4. Amen Thompson, 6-7, Overtime Elite
Stats: 16.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.3 steals, 56.6% overall, 25% from 3 (6.5 attempts).
There’s plenty to like about the higher-ranked Thompson twin (his brother and teammate, Ausar, is also projected to go in the lottery). Amen is an elite athlete, possessing incredible open-floor speed, leaping ability and coordination. He’s also a great passer and true point guard with great bounce and vision.
But Amen also has significant red flags. He’s a poor shooter, both from outside and at the free-throw line, and lacks touch and consistent mechanics. He’s also 20 years old in a league that almost primarily features players between the ages of 16 and 19. Amen is unquestionably an NBA-caliber athlete, but he’s playing against weaker competition and is only reliable at the rim. It caps his upside and makes him a risky bet in the top half of the lottery.
Fit: Thompson’s fit in Detroit is poor. He needs the ball to be effective, and with Cunningham and Ivey already on the roster, the Pistons would need him to contribute something — anything — off-ball. He doesn’t space the floor and is an inconsistent defender despite having great tools on that end of the floor. And how much will the jump in competition impact his greatest strength, his playmaking?
5. Nick Smith Jr., 6-5, Arkansas
Stats: 12.8 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 38.7% overall, 33.3% from 3 (4.1 attempts).
Smith was the top-ranked recruit of the 2022 NBA draft, but a knee injury has limited him to just 11 games thus far. His efficiency has been poor, but his good moments have reminded us why he was so highly-touted. Smith is a crafty scorer who features deep pull-up 3-pointers, runners and floaters and space-generating dribble moves. He’s also an active off-ball cutter and smart passer, though he may not be a lead point guard and isn’t Arkansas’ primary creator. There’s a lot to like about his game, assuming he’s able to find his touch in March.
Fit: While Smith is a talented off-ball player, he would join a crowded backcourt in Detroit. Like Thompson, he has high upside but may struggle to find his footing on a team that already has Cunningham and Ivey.
6. Anthony Black, 6-7, Arkansas
Stats: 12.7 points, 5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2 steals, 46.9% overall, 32.1% from 3 (2.6 attempts).
Black’s game resembles that of some of the NBA’s high-IQ playmakers — such as Derrick White or Kyle Anderson. He’s a talented playmaker who can complete every pass in the book, savvy finisher and active, versatile defender. His floor is high, but his ceiling will be dictated by the extent he can improve his outside shooting.
Fit: Black fills several holes for the Pistons as a big defender who can handle a variety of assignments and keep the ball moving on offense. If they fall this low, he would fit well.
7. Jarace Walker, 6-8, Houston
Stats: 11.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 47.8% overall, 35.5% from 3 (2.6 attempts).
Arguably the most “Troy Weaver” player on the roster, Walker is a dog on defense with great size (7-2 wingspan) and developing skills on offense. He’s averaging more turnovers than assists and has flashed upside a shooter, though he needs to tighten his mechanics and prove he can knock down shots with consistency. He’s only made five of his last 24 3-pointers, slumping after an eight-game stretch that saw him knock down 14 of 30 attempts.
Fit: Walker has some similarities with Stewart, the Pistons’ most versatile defender who is developing his jumper, and Jerami Grant, who was traded to Portland last summer and is one of the league’s best two-way players. While Walker’s skillset likely makes him a natural power forward in the NBA, giving him overlap with Detroit’s glut of bigs. But he fits the locker room and would be a savvy pick this late in the lottery.
Contact Omari Sankofa II at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.