By Jason Berndt
The NBA draft will take place on Thursday night, June 22nd. The Detroit Pistons after an unfortunate bounce of the ping pong balls at the draft lottery will be picking fifth, despite finishing with the NBA’s worst record last season. With that pick, the Pistons will still have many options to help turn around a franchise that has been stuck in a horrendous position for the last decade.
Let’s first start with the selection itself. If they hold onto the pick, the most obvious need for this team is perimeter help in the form of a defensive forward or sharp-shooting guard. They are loaded with post-position players James Wiseman, Jalen Duran, Marvin Bagley III, Isaiah Stewart, and Isaiah Livers; presuming all are returning. Minutes will be hard to come by if they draft another big to help down low. The starting backcourt should be set, with Jaden Ivey heading into his second year at point guard and Cade Cunningham returning from a leg injury that kept him out for most of last season. That leaves a potential opening at the small forward spot that right now would be filled with Bojan Bogdanovic, a nice compliment wing who averaged over 21 points per game in Cunninham’s absence last season. However, he has been subject to trade talk throughout the offseason since he is heading into the final year of his contract, but we’ll get to that later on.
This draft has a limitation on projected stars at all positions, thus giving the Pistons a lot of room for error. At #5, they will likely have a choice between Amen Thompson or Ausar Thompson, both members of the Overtime Elite team from the G-League. Both can play the wing and move to guard allowing Cade Cunningham to move to small forward. Other options would be forward Anthony Black from Arkansas, forward Jarace Black from Houston, forward Taylor Hendricks from UCF or Cam Whitmore from Villanova. Not a lot of star power like I said, unless you get lucky, and one turns out to be a diamond in the rough. If they can’t find a trade partner to move down or trade the pick away entirely then they’ll be stuck selecting one of these players in this spot. If that happens, they would also be stuck looking at the weak free-agent market to help improve things. Detroit has cap space if they wish to make a splash that way, and some names that fans know are forward Draymond Green (Michigan State) who opted out of this contract in Golden State, guard Kyrie Irving, and former Pistons guard Khris Middleton.
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That’s a perfect segue to their next option: a trade of draft picks. If they covet a player or two that is underrated in their view in the middle of the first round, they could certainly entertain offers for the pick at five. However, if the Pistons don’t feel like there is a player worthy at that spot, it might be difficult to find a trade partner who thinks differently. That leads to another option, and maybe the best one for Detroit: a trade for a current NBA player. One name that has been floating around is New Orleans forward Zion Williamson, who is talented as we all remember from his days at Duke but comes with heavy injury risk (pun intended). Often criticized for being overweight, Williamson has missed over 60% of his games since entering the NBA in 2019 due to injury. It’s a giant risk but could come with tremendous rewards. If Detroit wants to include a package including the #5 pick, Bojan Bogdanovic, and other capital, they could potentially reach an agreement to acquire Williamson. If healthy and motivated to be away from New Orleans in the western conference, Zion paired with Cade Cunningham, Jalen Duran, and Jaden Ivey could be formidable next season in the East. If not for a trade for Williamson, the Pistons could find a trade partner elsewhere to bring in an established player.
Thursday night’s NBA draft or the days leading up to it will be interesting. No matter what happens, the Pistons will make some additions this offseason. Crossing our fingers that Cade Cunningham returns at 100%, and Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duran improve on solid rookie campaigns, it will hopefully bring them out of the cellar in the eastern conference that has been their home for quite some time.