DBB on 3: The Pistons and the No. 5 pick, like peanut butter and jelly

Detroit Bad Boys

The Detroit Pistons wrapped up the worst season in franchise history this year, and their reward for all that losing was a familiar sight. They dropped from the No. 1 slot in the lottery to the lowest possible spot they could — the No. 5 overall pick. It’s the second-straight year they’ve fallen from No. 1 to No. 5 and the third-straight year they’ve picked No. 5.

It sucks. Let’s unpack it.

1. One (safe for work) word to describe the 2024 NBA Draft Lottery, and why.

Sean Corp: Inevitable. Take that how you will. It was either a mathematical probability or a karmic certainty that the Pistons would not be rewarded for the past year of utter failure and mismanagement and be rewarded with anything but the faintest hope of staying put. Instead, it was likely, the would fall, and it was a coin flip on whether that fall would be to fifth or to somewhere slightly less depressing.

Lazarus Jackson: Unsurprising. This is the least surprised I have ever been at a draft result. Why would the Pistons get lucky this year? The NBA explicitly altered the lottery odds to discourage teams from losing 68 games, by design or by incompetence. The Pistons won 14 games, partially by design and partially because of incompetence, and got smacked by math for it.

Ben Gulker: Weavered. Like most things since he took over, this lottery went as poorly as possible.

Brady Fredericksen: Predictable. When I saw that the Hawks, Rockets and Spurs were in the top four, I knew they were picking fifth. It’s incredible, really, to do this three years in a row.

Wes Davenport: Bummer. But what other word could fit? Yes, they drafted 5th last year and the year before, but none of that matters. They have a 47% chance at picking 5th, and so they did. Bummer, bad luck, bites, earned, etc. Just don’t say it was unlikely.

Blake Silverman: Whatever. It happened, now go deal with it. No matter where the pick landed, you have to effectively evaluate talent or find a deal that makes the team better. Dropping as far as you could is unfortunate, and downright shocking it happened again, but the Pistons are still in a position to improve. They just have to the right decisions to do so.

Damon Allred: Unfortunate. I am not one to put on a tinfoil hat and draw connections where none are meant to be drawn. You won’t catch me saying the Pistons are cursed or anything similar. The Pistons landing at No. 5 had a 47.87% chance of happening, more or less heads or tails. It was an outcome that happened in a game of probabilities. It’s unfortunate for Detroit, but nothing more.

2. This draft seems like a complete crapshoot, but where do you want Detroit to go at #5?

Sean Corp: The Pistons have to grit their teeth and take the best player available, but they should have expansive thinking on who is in the running and what kind of skills equate to the best possible players. If you enter it with the idea that there are no stars and you are instead looking for the best complementary player, that opens up the aperture on what you are willing to evaluate. Don’t be fooled by athleticism that doesn’t equate to production or steady points in a weak league. This BPA approach also means the team must be willing to both evaluate trading the pick if another team sees real value at 5 and will pay for it or a willingness to trade a player on the current roster so that there is balance in skill and position among the young roster. If Donovan Clingan is the best player (and better than Duren), trade Duren. If Stephon Castle is the best player (and better than Ivey), trade Ivey.

Lazarus Jackson: The “nice” thing about getting the fifth pick is that now the path forward is clear — they gotta trade this pick. The return is gonna be ugly and no one’s gonna be happy about it, but it’s much easier to be clear-eyed about this pick not being to absolve the Pistons of their mistakes at 5 than it is at 1.

Ben Gulker: I honestly don’t know if it’s the temporary frustration of bad lottery luck or the years of futility and failure taking its toll, but I have been struggling to imagine a viable path out of the Pistons’ current mess that doesn’t involve a Cade Cunningham sign and trade. I want someone to convince me the fifth pick in this draft will make a lick of difference, because I don’t see it.

Brady Fredericksen: Trade it. There’s no one at No. 5 who is going to make this team any better in the immediacy. I’ve got a hunch the next POBO is not going to be able to walk in and slowly work through Troy Weaver’s mess. The next guy is here to win. He’s gotta make chicken bleep into chicken salad. Drafting Reed Sheppard, Dalton Knecht or Matas Buzelis — all of whom I like — is not going to do that anytime soon.

Wes Davenport: Depends on who’s there. Sarr is probably the only guarantee to be off the board so Risacher, Topic, Knecht, Sheppard, Buzelis, Castle, Clingan, and Salaun should all be in the discussion. In a perfect world, Risacher falls to 5. Realistically, Clingan or Knecht would be great fits.

Blake Silverman: The Pistons need to pick a player who can protect the rim or shoot the three. Ideally both, but that’s not easy to come by, especially now outside of Alex Sarr range.

Matas Buzelis is a good rim protector, although likely not a big, with shooting upside. Dalton Knecht spaces the floor. Donovan Clingan can answer some problems if he falls. Plus, Zaccharie Risacher can shoot and defend if he falls. For the sake of throwing in some additional names, I’ll give a couple sleepers at No. 5: Duke freshman Jared McCain and G League Ignite stretch big Tyler Smith. McCain is a small guard, but may be the best shooter in this class and can play both on or off the ball. He’s also a good rebounder for his size. Smith gives the Pistons a floor spacing big I think they’d really need. He can shoot it, but needs time to come along as a defender.

Both McCain and Smith may be a bit too rich at No. 5, but I like the fits.

Damon Allred: I said early on in the process in the DBB Slack channel that Zaccharie Risacher would likely be my pick if I was Detroit, whether the pick landed at No. 1 or No. 5. I think that’s still the case for me, mainly because of the play finishing he offers offensively, while being a long and mobile body defensively. Plus, he’s proven to be a winning player that makes good, connective choices at a high level of competition.

3. Has the Pistons’ failed rebuild and lottery misfortune shown that tanking is not a tenable strategy for NBA cellar dwellers these days?

Sean Corp: Tanking is only as good as the player evaluators you have on staff and the development personnel tasked with building up their skills. Color me moderately unimpressed with the former and majorly unimpressed with the latter among the Detroit Pistons brass. I don’t mind the selections of Ivey, Duren, and Thompson, but I’m not sure they have actually gotten any better in any meaningful way during their time in Detroit. Some of that is on them, but most of that is on the organization.

Lazarus Jackson: I would say yes. Or, at least, it shows that the level of bad / incompetent you can be as an organization has to be higher than it did before. You could get rescued from your own incompetence previously, and that option can’t be relied upon as hard, and so you have to forge your own way forward. Strategic roster badness can still be part of that, but you have to have a solid plan for ascending.

Ben Gulker: Acquiring foundational talent through the draft and supplementing through trades first and free agency second works. Orlando and Houston are doing it successfully right now. Sacramento, Indiana, OKC, Minnesota, Philly, Milwaukee, and even more playoff teams acquired stars and/or other key players through the draft (or traded drafted/swapped players). Not all those teams were tanking per se, but for the sake of brevity, where the Pistons have clearly, obviously failed is adding complementary talent to form a coherent roster after acquiring Cade Cunningham. Bottoming out and resetting made sense. Bottoming out for four consecutive years didn’t.

Brady Fredericksen: I’m probably in the minority here, but I kind of think the idea of tanking on tanking on tanking is dead. If you look at the top contenders in the playoffs right now, you’ll be hard pressed to find one who tanked their way to the bottom only to emerge at the top. The Wolves tanked at times, but they also just were run into the ground akin to the Pistons for years. The Knicks are built through free agency and trades. The Pacers are built through A-level scouting despite a lack of elite draft capital. The Nuggets are built around a generational late round pick and smart, win-now trades. Even Boston’s core was born from trades and Nets’ draft picks.

I think the NBA has effecitly made it impossible to crap your way to the top, unless you just nail pick after pick after pick. Only the Mavericks with Luka Doncic and the Cavaliers — with Darius Garland and Evan Mobley — are still alive with a core born out of (light) tanking.

I dunno, maybe actually trying to build a team and win games once you acquire a bunch of young guys matters? Shrug.

Wes Davenport: I guess don’t call it a failure yet for the Pistons, they do still have Cade and maybe some newfound competence leads them to the promised land. But in general, no. The Spurs just pulled it off last year to get Wemby. Next year there are 2 guys who could cause some tanking too — better odds. I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon as a strategy, but the hit rate will definitely fall. The better hope for killing tanking would be teams like the Nuggets and Pacers continuing to have big time success without ever having tanked.

Blake Silverman: It’s definitely shown that losing isn’t rewarded. Moreover, I think it’s shown how important it is to draft right and put together a complementary roster that fits the modern NBA. Sounds obvious, but it’s true.

Damon Allred: No, because all along the way, Troy Weaver has made tumultuous decisions and stunted prospect development through other choices, such as hiring Monty Williams, who bears little-to-no track record of developing high-level talent in recent memory.

Let us know your answers in the comments.

1. One (safe for work) word to describe the 2024 NBA Draft Lottery, and why.

2. This draft seems like a complete crapshoot but where do you want Detroit to go at #5?

3. Has the Pistons’ failed rebuild and lottery misfortune shown tanking is not a tenable strategy for NBA cellar dwellers?

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