It only took one Tankathon spin for the Detroit Pistons’ disaster scenario to play out.
The Pistons fell to fifth, their lowest-possible outcome — and most likely outcome — in our new mock draft scenario, leading up to the NBA draft lottery May 16. The San Antonio Spurs jumped two spots to first, the Utah Jazz moved ahead seven spots to second, the Charlotte Hornets slid up one spot to third and the Indiana Pacers crept up three spots to draft fourth.
It may sound very unlikely, but it’s not. Pistons fans should brace themselves for a drop. They have a 14% chance of landing the first overall pick — tied with the second and third-worst teams, the Houston Rockets and Spurs. The Pistons have a 52.1% chance of picking top four (13.4% at No. 2, 12.7% at No. 3, 12% at No. 4) and a 47.9% chance of drafting fifth.
The Pistons, who finished with the NBA’s worst record at 17-65, have a great opportunity to win the honor of selecting 7-foot-5 French phenom Victor Wembanyama. But in an effort to discourage tanking at the bottom of the league, the NBA flattened the lottery odds in 2019 and made it tougher for bad teams to land the top pick and easier for teams throughout the rest of the lottery to move up.
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This draft has a clear top-three prospects, and then an open field. At fifth, the Pistons will have to flex their scouting savvy. There are still plenty of high-upside options, like in any other draft.
Here’s how the first six picks could play out June 22 in Brooklyn, New York.
1. San Antonio Spurs: Victor Wembanyama, 7-5 PF/C, Metropolitans 92
Stats: 21.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 3.1 blocks, 46.9% overall, 30.4% from 3 (5.1 attempts)
It doesn’t matter who wins the lottery — Wembanyama will be the top pick. But it would be a particularly meaningful outcome for a Spurs team accustomed to contending but stuck in the mud for four seasons. San Antonio, historically, has had great success with international prospects. Wembanyama has a chance to be their best.
2. Utah Jazz: Scoot Henderson, 6-2 PG, G League Ignite
Stats: 16.5 points, 6.5 assists, 5.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 42.9% overall, 27.5% from 3 (2.7 attempts)
Walker Kessler finished third in the Rookie of the Year race as a rim-protecting center. With part of their frontcourt solidified for the next five-plus years, it’s a good time for Utah to address their backcourt. Henderson is the best point guard in the draft — a bouncy athlete with a quick first step and good court vision. He’s a no-brainer selection for a team in need of a long-term solution at the position.
3. Charlotte Hornets: Brandon Miller, 6-9 F, Alabama
Stats: 18.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.9 blocks, 43% overall, 38.4% from 3 (7.5 attempts)
The Hornets have one stud in LaMelo Ball and a handful of solid veteran role players. Their recent draft record is spotty. Last year’s lottery pick, Mark Williams, is positioned to be their starting center next season. There’s not much else on their roster that points to a bright future.
Miller is the best pick here, both from a fit and upside standpoint. He’s one of the best shooters in the draft, has the size to defend both forward positions, and showed flashes as a passer and driver. Gordon Hayward is 33 years old, has a significant injury history and is entering the last year of his contract. Miller can be his replacement.
4. Indiana Pacers: Jarace Walker, 6-8 PF, Houston
Stats: 11.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.3 blocks, 1 steal, 46.5% overall, 34.7% from 3 (2.8 attempts)
The draft starts to get wild here. Indiana could go in a number of directions, but they’ve invested a lot of resources into their backcourt by trading for Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield, and drafting Andrew Nembhard, Bennedict Mathurin and Chris Duarte in recent years.
Walker makes sense as a toolsy, defense-minded forward who could potentially also thrive as a small-ball five. Indiana could use a lift there, as its 117.1 defense rating was 26th this season, one spot ahead of the Pistons. Walker will have to prove he can knock down 3s, but he’s a skilled interior scorer with the length, strength and want-to to be a very effective and versatile defender.
5. Detroit Pistons: Cam Whitmore, 6-7 G/F, Villanova
Stats: 12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 0.7 assists, 47.8% overall, 34.3% from 3 (4.2 attempts)
The Pistons shouldn’t draft for need after winning 17 games. A strong draft pick this year, alongside Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, could position the franchise for years of success. But the roster does have a glaring need for a sweet-shooting wing who can also defend. Why not check both boxes?
Whitmore’s highlight tape pops. He’s one of the best athletes in the draft — a bulldozer on a trampoline. If he’s not running right through defenders, it’s because he’s rising above them. His offensive game is well-rounded, but with a significant weakness, which we’ll get to. He showcased some shooting ability with both feet set and off the dribble, and he’s a very functional ball-handler who can attack open space and create his own shot. Combine that with his smart, timely cutting, defensive tools and age (he’s one of the youngest players in the draft) and there’s a lot to like.
Whitmore’s biggest red flag is his lack of playmaking. He tallied 19 assists and 42 turnovers last season. There’s belief by some draft pundits that Villanova didn’t give Whitmore the structure and direction he needed to consistently make good decisions. He often got stuck in the paint when teams denied him clear lanes, and was tunnel-vision prone. But he’s a good off-ball player and the Pistons can gamble on Cunningham and others making his life much easier in the NBA.
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6. Houston Rockets: Amen Thompson, 6-7 PG, Overtime Elite
Stats: 16.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.3 steals, 56.6% overall, 25% from 3 (2.7 attempts)
This would be a home run for a Houston team desperate for a real point guard. Thompson is the best athlete in the draft — imagine if Ja Morant were 6-7 — and could become one of its best players if everything clicks. But that’s a big “if.”
At 20 years old, he was one of the oldest players in an Overtime Elite program that mostly featured teenagers between 16 and 19. His outside shot is broken, and he shot a paltry 64.6% at the foul line. And he’ll have to commit to the defense side of the floor. But the Rockets can afford to let the rest of his game grow, as he could immediately stabilize their offense with his downhill ability and floor vision.
Next up: The lottery
What: 2023 NBA draft lottery; the NBA will draw for the top four spots in June’s draft, with the remaining positions determined by record.
When: 8:30 p.m. May 16.
The Pistons’ pick? The Pistons finished with the league’s worst record (17-65), giving them the best odds, along with two other teams, Houston and San Antonio, of securing the No. 1 overall pick. The Pistons have a 14% chance at No. 1 (projected to be French big man Victor Wembanyama), and can fall no farther than fifth