‘A crazy thing’: Pistons eyeing Wembanyama if No. 1 pick comes in lottery

Detroit News

Chicago — Victor Wembanyama, the 19-year-old French phenom, will have a more proper introduction to American basketball fans once his name is called on draft night by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, but his unicorn-like skill set and reputation as the most-hyped prospect since LeBron James circulated into the country long before this season.

For the past five years, the 7-foot-5 highlight sensation has used a rare combination of perimeter shooting, elite rim protection, post play and ball-handling to develop into a unique talent that has basketball scouts and front-office personnel salivating, about his potential in the NBA.

However, that time will come to an end, as the day Wembanyama has been waiting for is almost here. On Tuesday, he — along with the rest of the basketball world — will find out which of the 14 lottery teams will get the No. 1 pick for the June 22 draft.

“Ten days before knowing my future team,” Wembanyama wrote in French on Twitter on May 6. “It’s really a crazy thing.”

The Detroit Pistons are one of those 14 teams that did not qualify for the postseason and because they finished with the worst record in the NBA, they share the highest odds (14%) of winning the NBA Draft Lottery, with the prize being the opportunity to draft Wembanyama, who most experts are heralding as a generational prospect.

Landing a player such as Wembanyama instantly changes the trajectory of a franchise. On the court, his talents could help a lottery regular develop into a playoff contender, as long as he’s surrounded by the right pieces. Off the court, Wembanyama’s name value is expected to become a revenue generator and economic boost for the lucky city he’ll soon be able to call home.

Wembanyama’s talents were on full display during a two-game showcase in October between his Metropolitans 92 club and the G League Ignite, which featured Scoot Henderson — an explosive guard who is expected to be selected with the second overall pick right after Wembanyama.

Executives, scouts and personnel from all 30 teams in the NBA were reportedly in attendance, including representatives from the Pistons. And with the entire league evaluating the two future lottery picks, Wembanyama produced two performances that lived up to the lofty praise.

Wembanyama totaled 37 points and five blocks, along with seven 3-pointers. However, his team lost to the Ignite, led by Henderson’s 28 points and nine assists. When asked about his volume of 3-pointers, he said it was about taking over.

“At some point, it was just about taking over, because my team definitely needed players to step up,” Wembanyama said after the game. “Three is more than two, so this time you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

Those comments show Wembanyama’s willingness to lead despite being one of the youngest players on his team, and that leadership could carry into the NBA. The main concerns with Wembanyama currently center around his thin frame and ability to be physical once he does make the leap. Most players fill out and develop their bodies over time as they get older, most notably Giannis Antetokounmpo’s transformation from 190 pounds as a rookie to 242 pounds in his 10th season.

Wembanyama won’t be in attendance for this week’s lottery or draft combine since he’s still wrapping up his season in France, but he’s expected to have a lottery party with select friends and family to celebrate his future destination, he and his agent, Jeremy Medjana, discussed in a mini-documentary produced by ESPN.

As for Detroit, adding Wembanyama to a young roster that includes former No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham and lottery pick Jaden Ivey would be substantial for a franchise looking to return to the postseason for the first time in four years.

Pistons general manager Troy Weaver was asked about developing his offseason agenda around the lottery because of Wembanyama, but he quickly dismissed the idea, noting it’s a system based on uncertainty.

“I’m not planning around the lottery,” Weaver said in his final media availability of the season. “I know people look at me crazy all the time. From day one, I was never depending on the lottery. It’s exactly what it is. It’s a lottery. I think we have enough in this building to continue to move forward and compete.”

“Wherever we land, we land, but I’m not planning around what pick we get. That’s not who I am. I was raised to make a dollar out of 15 cents and I’m going to continue to do that. I’m not really worried about where the ball drops. Will I celebrate with everybody? Absolutely, but I don’t walk around like that. My grandparents would turn over, hearing me talk about luck. I’ve got too much faith for that.”

If the Pistons land Wembanyama, he would become the fifth player in a log-jammed group of power forwards and centers. Marvin Bagley III, Isaiah Stewart, James Wiseman and Jalen Duren, who earned All-Rookie honors this season, currently make up the Pistons’ plethora of big men.

“He would bring a lot. He’s a special player,” Stewart said during his exit interview. “A lot of people rave about him. I’ve watched some of his highlights and he’s a special player. When you have a special talent like that, it would bring a lot to a team like this.”

While Stewart didn’t shy away from the topic of Wembanyama, the thought of adding the future lottery pick wasn’t something Bagley was interested in discussing during his final media availability of the season.

“That’s stuff in the future. I really try not to look ahead,” Bagley said. “If that happens, then that’s something we can talk about then, but right now, it’s about this team and figuring out how to work with what we have and get better with these guys. If it happens, that’s great. That’s something we can come back to down the line, but I try not to think about things that haven’t happened yet or look forward to things that haven’t happened yet.”

Nothing is solidified and Wembanyama could certainly find himself headed elsewhere, but until the winner of the No. 1 pick is revealed, it’s all up in the air.

Detroit’s future could change pretty soon.


Twitter: @MikeACurtis2

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