Barring a miracle, this is likely (hopefully) the last time the Detroit Pistons are entering the NBA Draft with a top-5 selection. The last two drafts in particular have borne some fruit in the forms of Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. Now the Pistons have a crucial choice to make.
Do they add a player with a higher floor and lower ceiling who would be likely to represent a solid complementary piece? Players who seem to fit that mold include Jarace Walker, Cam Whitmore, Anthony Black or Cason Wallace.
Alternatively, the Pistons could take one more big swing at a high-end talent who also has a decent chance of busting. That is the realm of selecting the Thompson twins or Taylor Hendricks.
Ask Pistons fans and their heads might be in the Walker/Whitmore camp. Their hearts, though, their hearts are saying bring me Ausar Thompson.
It would be a bold, controversial pick from Troy Weaver, and it is the one I decided to make in the 2023 SB Nation Mock Draft.
Perhaps this is me overlearning the lessons of last year. That is when I wanted to make the safer play and had Bennedict Mathurin higher on my board than Jaden Ivey. In that mock, Ivey went fourth, but if he was still on the board, I would have selected Benn Math over him.
Fast forward one calendar year, and Ivey showed during his rookie season that he was the right selection. He didn’t burst out of the gate like Mathurin, who played very well as a rookie. But he delivered as promised and then some. He was an elite athlete, a relentless worker, took coaching well, took his job seriously, and got steadily better in all facets of his game from month to month.
After Cade Cunningham was lost to injury early in the year, the plan for Ivey was thrown out the window, and he was thrown to the wolves. All he did was become the team’s primary playmaker, electric scorer, mid-range weapon, and key building block of the Pistons’ future.
The Pistons are desperate for wings, and Ausar represents the most dangerous win in the draft. He could eventually deliver all-NBA defense in the style of Herb Jones, but with a little of Andre Iguodola’s passing game and high-level basketball IQ. He is a plus athlete and could turn into an elite connector on the floor. He could play off of either Cunningham or Ivey in the pick-and-roll and become a weapon as a cutter providing rim pressure, finish lobs, or become a facilitator, either running the pick-and-roll himself or receiving the pass on the roll and dishing it to an open teammate in the face of a collapsing defense.
It’s just too enticing to pass up.
The big question mark is his shooting, and it is a significant worry. He shot 48.1% from the field, 29.8% from three, and 66.2% from the free-throw line. His shooting mechanics are cleaner than his brother Amen, but that is likely setting the bar too low.
In a field of players with big questions marks and big abilities, I want to bet on Ausar is the potential to reach a level far beyond where anyone else left in the class can get to. It’ll take significant develoment time, attention from coaches, buy-in from Ausar, and a deft touch from Monty Williams. But the potential payoff is just too great.
The group of Cade, Jaden, Ausar, and Jalen would represent one of the top young cores in the league. It has multi-positional defensive potential, self-creation, pace, complementary playmaking, and the ball would never stop moving. That’s exactly what you’re looking for in today’s NBA. It’s exactly what the Pistons need. They should draft Ausar Thompson.
…. and if they could trade down and still make it happen, all the better.