NBA mock draft 2.0: Detroit Pistons can go a number of directions at No. 5 pick and No. 31

Detroit Free Press

A week after the NBA draft lottery, the dust is starting to settle.

The Detroit Pistons were the big losers on lottery night, falling the maximum four spots to the fifth pick despite owning the NBA’s worst record last season. However, they can still be one of the biggest winners of the 2023 NBA draft, scheduled for June 22 in New York. Historically, there have frequently been franchise-changing talents available at five. The Pistons have to figure out who they are.

In our first post-lottery mock draft — call it mock draft 2.0 — we’ll map out the top five picks, plus the Pistons’ choice at No. 31 to open the second round.

1. San Antonio Spurs: C Victor Wembanyama, Metropolitans 92

Vitals: 7 feet 5, 220 pounds.

Averages: 21.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 3.0 blocks, 47% overall, 27.5% from 3 (5 attempts).

Besides the Pistons (of course), is there a better prospect-to-team fit than Victor Wembanyama and the Spurs? Countless words have been delivered on why Wembanyama is the best prospect in a generation — including his immense size and coordination, soft touch and strong defensive instincts. He’ll almost certainly join a franchise that has had repeated success with top-ranked big men, as the Spurs rode the Hall of Fame careers of David Robinson and Tim Duncan to five championships over a 16-season span.

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2. Charlotte Hornets: PG Scoot Henderson, G League Ignite

Vitals: 6-2, 195 pounds.

Averages: 16.5 points, 6.5 assists, 5.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 42.9% overall, 27.5% from 3 (2.7 attempts).

The draft’s intrigue starts with the second pick, and the Hornets could go for upside or fit in deciding between Henderson and Alabama wing Brandon Miller. Longterm, Henderson is the right choice, even though they already have a franchise point guard in LaMelo Ball. Charlotte needs star power, and Henderson may have the most of any player in the draft outside of Wembanyama.

Ball and Henderson should complement each other — Henderson will likely score most of his points in the paint and at the line, while Ball is a skilled outside shooter. They’re both great passers, though Henderson likes to drive-and-kick and Ball can make virtually every pass in the book (and many that aren’t). Since Ball is 6-7 and Henderson has a huge 6-foot-9 wingspan, there shouldn’t be any size concerns.

3. Portland Trail Blazers: F Brandon Miller, Alabama

Vitals: 6-9, 200 pounds.

Averages: 18.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.9 blocks, 43% overall, 38.4% from 3 (7.5 attempts).

There are reports that the Blazers will look to trade this pick for a player who can help them win now, as they continue trying to maximize Damian Lillard’s prime. But staying put at third should be an enticing option if Miller is available.

He’s a clear roster fit as a big wing who can shoot. He was solid defensively in college, as well. While he has a high floor, he’ll have to tighten his handle and prove he can consistently get to his shot inside the arc. Miller is widely viewed as a safe long-term starter who will need to round out his game to hit a higher ceiling, but he should be a plug-and-play small forward for a Blazers team that leaned heavily on Josh Hart (now with the New York Knicks) and rookie Shaedon Sharpe for wing minutes last season.

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4. Houston Rockets: G Amen Thompson, Overtime Elite

Vitals: 6-7, 214 pounds.

Averages: 16.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.3 steals, 56.6% overall, 25% from 3 (2.7 attempts).

The Rockets have been linked to former franchise great James Harden in free agency. The ex-Rocket has a player option, following a disappointing Round 2 exit with the Philadelphia 76ers, and would immediately address Houston’s biggest need at the point.

But Harden will turn 34 in August. Houston still needs a long-term answer. Thompson, a hyper-athletic Overtime Elite prospect, makes perfect sense here. There are significant questions about Thompson’s outside shooting, but he’s otherwise one of the highest-upside players in the draft, thanks to his incredible athleticism and body control, floor vision and size. His twin brother, Ausar Thompson, is also projected to be a lottery pick.

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5. Detroit Pistons: G/F Cam Whitmore, Villanova

Vitals: 6-7, 235 pounds.

Averages: 12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 0.7 assists, 47.8% overall, 34.3% from 3 (4.2 attempts).

Falling from No. 1 to No. 5 is a devastating result for the Pistons. It would be unfair to downplay the impact. Even at Nos. 2-3, they would have landed a Day 1 contributor with star trajectory. At No. 5, howevr, they will have to do their homework and organize their priorities — can they gamble for upside, or would it be better to find a player who can immediately fill a role?

But there will still be great prospects available at No. 5, even if it may take a couple of years for some of them to hit. There are no bad options between the litany of wings and forwards here — Whitmore, Arkansas’s Anthony Black, UCF’s Taylor Hendricks, Overtime Elite’s Ausar Thompson and Houston’s Jarace Walker. Black, Hendricks, Thompson and Walker are all great defensive prospects. Thompson and Whitmore are great athletes, while Hendricks and Whitmore are the best shooters of the group.

Walker would be a particularly compelling choice if the Pistons want to beef up their defense and add another fiery competitor. But here, we’re going with Whitmore. Many around the league see him as having one of the highest ceilings in the draft, and he’s a logical fit for a team that needs a wing and an eventual difference-maker alongside Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey.

Whitmore is a gifted athlete, possessing a 40.5-inch vertical against a 235-pound frame, and he applied those gifts in college. He bullied defenders when getting to the rim and was a coordinated finisher once he got there. Although he showed he can knock down 3-pointers off the dribble, he was a knockdown shooter when launching off the catch. Defensively, he forced a lot of steals and has the size to defend spots 2-4. And he’s young, not turning 19 until July.

Whitmore’s lack of playmaking — less than a assist and nearly two turnovers per game — is a significant red flag and the primary reason why some teams are lower on him than others. In Detroit, his cutting and shooting would slot in nicely alongside Cunningham and Ivey. The organization could afford to be patient as Whitmore develops his decision-making skills.

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It’s nearly impossible to project which players will be available when the Pistons kick off the second round of the draft, especially since the tiers of players appears to level out around the 15th pick — any player projected at 15 could also conceivably fall into the second round. It means this could be a valuable pick. Here’s our best guess:

31. Pistons: SF Jaime Jaquez Jr., UCLA

Vitals: 6-7, 226 pounds.

Averages: 17.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.5 steals, 31.7% from 3 (2.8 attempts).

In the past, the Pistons have favored experience in the second round. Jaquez, a four-year starter for the Bruins, makes a lot of sense here. He’s a skilled interior scorer with touch out to midrange, a heady defender and he moves the ball well. His poor 3-point percentage is why he could fall out of the first round entirely, but Detroit could get a steal here if he can extend his touch to behind the arc.

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