The Detroit Pistons exited Thursday’s draft with two of their top prospects in Overtime Elite’s Ausar Thompson and four-year Houston standout Marcus Sasser. We will soon learn how they fit into the grand scheme of their ongoing rebuild.
The next few weeks will be telling as the Pistons navigate utilizing $30 million in salary cap space. In the short term, the addition of Thompson and Sasser raise questions as far as what the front office envisions for next year’s team. Both players have a chance to make an immediate impact, but they’re joining a team that’s further along in their rebuild than last season’s 17-win record suggests.
Here are three questions I have for Pistons’ roster following the draft:
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How much will the Pistons have to lean on Thompson as a rookie?
Thompson may have the luxury of being Troy Weaver’s first top-seven pick that will carry a reasonable rookie workload. Killian Hayes, Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey were all thrown into the fire. As versatile as Thompson is as a player, the coaching staff won’t have to ask him to do more than he’s ready to.
With Cunningham and Ivey primarily drawing the attention of opposing defenses and the Pistons likely to add more depth at forward this summer via free agency or a trade, Monty Williams will be able to deploy Thompson however he sees fit. What that will look like remains to be seen, though the front office is very high on Thompson’s defense. Troy Weaver has been upfront about his long-term expectations for him on that end of the floor.
“We got a great person, tremendous worker, tremendous human being, great athlete on top of being, we think he has a chance to be an elite defender on the perimeter,” Weaver said on Thursday. “How he meshes with those guys is I think he’ll take a lot of pressure off of Cade and Jaden being able to defend the best perimeter player on the other team.”
That, of course, is a tall task for most players — let alone a rookie. Thompson will receive opportunities to prove himself next season, but the Pistons should be deep enough on the wing to keep Thompson from having to do too much on that end. He also brings a lot offensively as a passer, rebounder and play-finisher. Williams will be able to toy with different lineups to see which roles Thompson is most comfortable in.
How well will Sasser fit?
What skills would an ideal backcourt partner next to Cunningham, Ivey or Hayes have? Consistent outside shooting, strong defense and the ability to relieve playmaking responsibilities.
That, in a nutshell, is Sasser. The 6-foot-1 guard was one of the best two-way guards in college basketball. While he’s a bit short compared to modern perimeter players, his 6-7 wingspan helps him to play bigger than his height. And he’s tenacious on defense, with strong fundamentals and unrelenting effort. He forced turnovers at a high rate without committing many fouls, and wore his assignments down.
Sasser’s college tape suggests he could be one of Detroit’s best shooters, as well. He was elite, both off of the catch and on dribble pull-ups and stepbacks, and knocked down 38.4% of his 6.9 attempts per game as a senior and 43.7% of his 8.6 attempts during his junior season (which was limited to 12 games due to a toe injury). His range is deep. Defenses will always have to account for him. Sasser also has soft touch from midrange, and likes getting to his teardrop before the big meets him at the rim.
Detroit’s backcourt didn’t appear to be an area of need before the draft, but Sasser was a priority for both Weaver and Williams. They love his game and his attitude. Thompson, too, could conceivably play either guard spot even though he’s more likely to be used as more of a wing. Which brings us to our final question.
How will Detroit’s backcourt shake out?
The Pistons won’t be short on playmaking next season. Cunningham, Ivey, Hayes, Sasser, Thompson and Alec Burks are all either proven in that area, or project to be. Weaver wants Cunningham and Ivey to have as much help as they need.
“You want to have as many of those guys on your team as possible so you don’t get bogged down when they take the ball out of certain players’ hands,” Weaver said on Thursday. “You want to have multiple ballhandlers.”
Still, there’s a lot of role overlap among the six. It turns attention to the two players the Pistons have decisions to make on this offseason. Let’s start with Burks, who has a team option worth $10.5 million that the Pistons will make a decision on this week. All indications suggest that they will pick his option up, but they now have a flexibility that didn’t exist prior to Thursday.
The Pistons also have a decision to make with Hayes, who is eligible to sign a rookie extension this offseason. The fourth-year guard has struggled to score the ball, but he is a skilled passer and willing defender. If an extension doesn’t make sense, the Pistons can simply let him enter restricted free agency in 2024.
But Detroit just used first-round picks on players who duplicate Hayes’ strengths. As we’ve seen from the Boston Celtics, having multiple guards who pass and defend at a high level is a plus. And Hayes is still younger than some might assume — he Hayes will turn 22 in July and Sasser turns 23 in September. So there’s incentive for the Pistons to continue to allow Hayes to work on his shooting and increase his value around the league before he hits the market.
It just isn’t clear if the minutes will be there for him next season. Cunningham and Ivey will dominate touches. Burks is one of the best shooters on a team that doesn’t have enough of it, and Sasser has already made a big impression. Thompson, Bojan Bogdanovic and Isaiah Livers will absorb minutes at the 3, lowering the chances of Cunningham spending significant time there to open up more backcourt minutes. Plus, the Pistons could still add another wing in free agency.
There are multiple ways this could play out, and the Pistons will make their priorities known over the next few weeks.