Detroit Pistons NBA mock draft 4.0: A new name at No. 5 emerges

Detroit Free Press

The 2023 NBA draft, at last, is finally here.

The Detroit Pistons will have the fifth and 31st picks and are deciding between six lottery prospects they’ve worked out in recent weeks, per sources — Overtime Elite twins Amen and Ausar Thompson, Villanova wing Cam Whitmore, Houston forward Jarace Walker, UCF forward Taylor Hendricks and Arkansas guard/wing Anthony Black.

Even this close to the draft, it’s tough to peg down the order. Mock drafts, in general, are more guideline than gospel. And this one is no different. The only promise that can be made is that Victor Wembanyama will go first overall.

My fourth and final mock draft features a new prospect for the Pistons at five.

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

Vitals: 7 feet 5, 220 pounds; will turn 20 in January.

Averages: 20.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 3.0 blocks, 46,8% overall, 27.2% from 3 (4,7 attempts).

It would be the most shocking upset in NBA draft history if a player other than Wembanyama goes first overall.

2. Charlotte Hornets: F Brandon Miller, Alabama

Vitals: 6-9, 200; will turn 21 in November.

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)

Charlotte has a tough decision to make here. G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson’s fit next to Hornets star LaMelo Ball is questionable. Miller, on the other hand, reportedly had a strong workout with the team earlier this week and is gaining steam to go second over Henderson. Miller is a significantly better fit, being a big wing and elite shooter who can also defend and keep the ball moving.

Of course, it’s smokescreen season and the Hornets could still take Henderson here. Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak recently said that outgoing Hornets owner Michael Jordan will have the final say on the pick. I feel as though he’ll lean toward Miller, who was a standout college basketball player on one of the best teams in the country.

3. Portland Trail Blazers: PG Scoot Henderson, G League Ignite

Vitals: 6-2, 195; will turn 20 in February.

Averages: 17.6 points, 6.6 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 44.4% overall, 32.4% from 3 (2.7 attempts).

Even with Damian Lillard on the roster (for now?), the Blazers should be thrilled to take Henderson here. Lillard, while still in his prime, also turns 33 in July and is perpetually involved in trade rumors. Henderson is an ideal successor — an explosive guard with vision, a tight handle and big wingspan that could give him great defensive versatility. Many pundits believe he’d be a candidate to go first overall in many drafts.

Henderson isn’t a perfect prospect, as he shot just 42.9% overall 27.5% from 3 through 19 regular season games. Though he bumped those percentages up to 48% and 47.1%, respectively, in six Showcase Cup games, his overall efficiency on the season was closer to average. He settled for inefficient midrange jumpers too often. If he can hone his shot selection and improve his shooting touch, he can be special.

4. Houston Rockets: PG Amen Thompson, Overtime Elite

Vitals: 6-7, 214; will turn 21 in January.

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

Thompson checks “best fit” and “best talent” boxes for the Rockets as an unnaturally athletic point guard who addresses their aching need for one. Regardless of if James Harden returns to Houston this season, they need a long-term solution at point guard and Thompson has one of the highest ceilings in the draft.

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5: Detroit Pistons: G/F Ausar Thompson, Overtime Elite

Vitals: 6-7, 218; will turn 21 in January

Averages: 16.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 2.7 steals, 1.3 blocks, 48.3% overall, 30% from 3 (3.8 attempts)

Troy Weaver gave a pretty significant tell during his news conference on Tuesday, when he acknowledged he’d like to take a “big swing” Thursday night. Three prospects  — Cam Whitmore, Amen and Ausar Thompson — would fit that description, though it’s possible that one of Jarace Walker, Taylor Hendricks or Anthony Black could qualify as a big swing as well. Taking one of the latter two at five would jump most draft prognosticators’ expectations. I can promise you Weaver wouldn’t be concerned about the backlash.

Truthfully, the Pistons could go a number of directions on Thursday. For the purpose of this exercise, I’m pivoting from Whitmore to Ausar Thompson. He is coming off of a strong season at Overtime Elite and does everything you’d want from a modern wing, except shoot.

Ausar embraces his off-ball responsibilities. He’s a willing cutter, energetic defender and gifted athlete who could pop even more in the NBA. He’s also a willing shooter, but will have to improve his 30% clip to earn respect. A late surge suggests he has upside there, as he shot 15-for-39 (38.5%) from 3 during the OTE playoffs.

Since the lottery dropped, I’ve believed Whitmore is among their likeliest options at five. He tested well at the combine and showcased great potential during his lone season at Villanova at just 18. It’s easy to see how a player with his shooting and athleticism would fit in nicely alongside Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey. He’s remains high on their list of prospects, and I still think it’s realistic that he puts on a Pistons hat on Thursday. Due to him still being 18-years-old and among the draft’s most physically-dominant players, he would certainly be a big swing for Detroit.

Bleacher Report draft expert Jonathan Wasserman reported on Wednesday that some teams in the middle of the lottery are concerned about Whitmore’s medicals. And my sense is that Whitmore hasn’t wowed the Pistons during the predraft process compared to other prospects they’re considering.

Wasserman’s report didn’t go in-depth on what Whitmore’s medical concerns entail, and I was not able to confirm that the Pistons are among the teams who are concerned. Regardless, his stock is falling. His freshman season at Villanova showcased his potential, but also his flaws. He turned the ball over twice as much as he assisted it, and only averaged 0.7 assist per game. It could take time for him to learn how to see more of the floor. Ausar Thompson, by comparison, is a more well-rounded player with fewer red flags. If he figures out the shooting, he’ll be one of the NBA’s most complete wings.

31. Detroit Pistons: F Maxwell Lewis, Pepperdine

Vitals: 6-7, 195; will turn 21 in July.

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Averages: 17.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 46.8% overall, 34.8% from 3 (4.3 attempts).

Sticking with my Lewis pick here for Detroit. He’s a three-level scorer with the tools to be a difference-maker defensively. He’s widely projected to be available in the 20-35 range.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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