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2023 NBA Draft Lottery Team Preview: Detroit Pistons
With the 2023 NBA Draft fast approaching, we're taking a look at what each lottery team needs to target with their draft selections, continuing today with the Detroit Pistons.
Nick: The Detroit Pistons enter the 2023 NBA Draft with a very different outlook than they had a few months ago. After letting go of Dwane Casey, Troy Weaver made the biggest splash on the free agent coaching market, inking Monty Williams to a six-year, $72 million deal to lead the Pistons in a new direction.
The Williams hiring comes after what, in many ways, amounted to a lost season, with Cade Cunningham playing just 12 games and with the team finishing with the worst record in the NBA at 17-65. There were certainly some positives, especially with Jalen Duren having a rock-solid rookie year and Jaden Ivey showing notable improvement over the course of the season, but the 2022-23 campaign was a season most Pistons fans would like to forget.
That rings especially true after the Pistons were the biggest losers of the draft lottery, dropping down to #5 despite their league-worst record. The evident disappointment on Ben Wallace’s face that night echoed the thoughts of many in the fanbase that night.
While the lottery didn’t exactly go Detroit’s way, the next few months definitely could. They picked up a coach who has recently been to the NBA Finals but also a coach who built his early reputation as a developmental coach, both as an assistant and as the head coach in New Orleans. They also should get a much larger contribution from Cunningham, as well as potential sophomore-year leaps from Ivey and Duren (which is particularly encouraging in Ivey’s case, given his second-year leap at Purdue).
Paige, this might not be your team, but the Pistons are in your neck of the woods. They have a ways to go before they can reach play-in or playoff contention, but picking up the right piece here with the fifth pick could be a huge swing factor in just how long that ramp-up to the next great Pistons team would be. What are your thoughts on this roster, and what types of players do you think they should be targeting in the 2023 NBA Draft?
Paige: Well, first things first—DEEEETRIOT BASKETBALL. Had to get that out of the way before diving into this roster and addressing all the needs this team should go after if they are looking to be in playoff contention in the future. I know that sentence sounded quite harsh, but I promise I’m not ill-willed about the Pistons. They’re my hometown team, after all, and I grew up watching them—but as you mentioned, they’re not “my” team; the Phoenix Suns are. However, I, like my fellow Michiganders, would love to see the Pistons get back to their winning ways sooner rather than later. It’s been too long.
With the addition of Monty Williams, the Detroit Pistons are in good hands. Williams brings a ton of credibility when it comes to developing young talent —with the forefront of that coming from helping Chris Paul evolve into one of the best point guards of this era in his time with New Orleans and recently with the Phoenix Suns. Williams also aided in the development of star Devin Booker, former #1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton, and rising star Mikal Bridges. Williams is also deemed as a “player’s coach,” but he can also quickly establish a team identity with his teams. Detroit had one of the most inefficient offenses in the entire NBA last season: 28th in offensive rating, 28th in passes per game, 27th in assists per game, 21st in rebounds per game, and 29th in points per game. Yeah, not the best, as the Pistons consistently finished in the last quarter of the league in almost every offensive category. But, with a Monty Williams offensive scheme in place—expect the Pistons to move the ball more and let the offense flow more catered to each player’s game.
Every young team has growing pains, and the Detroit Pistons are no exception. Cade Cunningham will finally be back to pair up with Jaden Ivey, and if the electric duo can both stay healthy for the whole year, that’s already a tally in the win column for Pistons fans. Plus, they now have a coach that has a track record to boast of when it comes to developing young talent with a hard emphasis on GUARDS. Another young, talented, and rim-protecting big man in James Wiseman was added to the roster this past season to add depth in the frontcourt with Jalen Duren. If I’m a Warriors fan, I’m watching Wiseman’s production closely this season, given that he has tons of upside and actually has room here in Detroit to show his skill set. I mean, he was the second pick in the 2020 NBA Draft for a reason, and now the Pistons have both the #1 overall (Cade) and the #2 overall pick in Detroit to help build the foundation of success here.
Aside from the talented and exciting young core the Pistons already possess, let’s talk more about what they actually need moving forward and in this draft alone. The Pistons need wing/forward depth, size, shooting, shot creation, and all-around versatility. They shot 35.1 3PT% and 45.4% from the field this past season, coming in at 22nd and dead last (30th) in the league. So, shooting is a MAIN target in this draft for the Pistons. The Pistons should be looking for a prospect that is ideally a two or three-level scorer while providing off-the-dribble creation and the ability to play multiple positions. Due to the fact that they do have the #5 overall pick—I can think of multiple options here in terms of prospects that fit this mold for the Pistons.
Nick, what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with this specific “prospect mold” the Pistons should be after?
Nick: I’m totally with you—this team needs shooting and wing/forward depth desperately, and they need that depth more than anything else, in my mind.
Despite the struggles for the Pistons this past season, I’m actually quite comfortable with their depth at both point guard and center. Jalen Duren had a really promising season last year, I still believe in Isaiah Stewart despite his up-and-down season, and James Wiseman is an exceptionally talented wild card who could take this roster to another level if he puts it all together. As for the point guard spot, Cunningham and Jaden Ivey are one of the most fun young backcourts in the NBA; I was really disappointed that they didn’t get to play together more often last year, but their two-man game should be fascinating to watch develop. I’m more than confident that they can run the show between them; even though Ivey will start at the 2 next to Cunningham, the Pistons can easily get to 48 minutes of point guard play between the two of them, depending on how Monty Williams staggers the rotations. Whether you believe that Ivey is a long-term point guard, a combo guard, or purely an off-guard, the Pistons can (barring injury) put the ball in either Ivey’s hands or Cunningham’s for the vast majority of the game.
The real issues for the Pistons are…well, everywhere else. Bojan Bogdanovic had a career year for the Pistons, putting up 21.6 points per game on 49/41/88 shooting splits, but he’s also 34 years old and is probably not going to be the starting power forward for the next great Pistons team. Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Livers had flashes, and Alec Burks was rock-steady off the bench, but that’s simply nowhere near enough wing or forward depth to get them to where they want to go—especially since Bey was traded away in the deal that brought Wiseman into the fold.
With all of that in mind, I have three primary targets for the Pistons here. Since the order for the Top 3 of this draft is all but set in stone (Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, and Brandon Miller), Detroit is guaranteed to have a shot at one (or more) of these three players.
The first of those players doesn’t exactly fit the shooting part of the bill perfectly, but he more than makes up for it as a defender, playmaker, and on-ball threat. Let’s talk about Jarace Walker.
Walker was an absolute defensive monster this past season for the Houston Cougars, and he would instantly shore up the frontcourt defense for the Pistons. His ability to switch comfortably on the perimeter and guard most NBA players 2-4 would unlock Jalen Duren even more as a rim protector. On the offensive side, he’s not a knockdown shooter, but he shot a decent-enough 34.7% from deep on 2.8 3PA per game. The main draw for Walker offensively, though, is his playmaking. While he did get a few more opportunities with the ball in his hands late in the season for Houston, he did not get anywhere near as many chances to show what he can do as a playmaker this year in comparison to his senior year at IMG Academy. I think Walker will be an exceptional connecting piece offensively for the Pistons, and he also is not the kind of player who needs a ton of scoring opportunities to be effective. With Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey running the show, the Pistons don’t need players who are willing to throw up a ton of shot attempts as much as they need players who will help them get more efficient looks. Walker might not be the three-point sniper that the team needs, but his off-the-dribble creativity and good decision-making will help keep the offense moving while his ability to wreak havoc defensively will make things easier for the Pistons on the other end of the floor.
The second player I’m going to mention is someone who I also brought up on the Thunder preview that we wrote together. When I mentioned him in that preview, I was worried that he would almost certainly be off the board before the Thunder could get a chance to take him, barring a trade up. Now, I’m worried that I’m deviating a bit too far from the best player available on my board. Given that he’s almost a picture-perfect fit, though, and also given that Rucker stunned me by taking him for the Pistons in the recent lottery mock draft we did and I’ve been thinking about it ever since, I think I’d be willing to take that chance at diving a bit further down the board to get a potentially perfect piece for the Pistons. Taylor Hendricks checks nearly every single box that you mentioned. He shot 39.4% from three-point range last season on a healthy 4.6 3PA per game, he’s a shot-blocking presence as a 6’9” forward, and he’s also an excellent finisher around the basket. He doesn’t quite provide the off-the-bounce juice or connective passing element, but he does make a ton of sense as a pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop partner for Cunningham or Ivey while also being able to fill a position of need defensively.
Lastly, there’s one other forward that kind of splits the difference between Walker and Hendricks for me—Cam Whitmore is currently fifth on my board, and he would provide an instant jolt to their forward depth. He boasts a shot that seemed to be a lot further along than many (admittedly including myself) thought it would be to start the season.
The fit with Whitmore is not actually as clean as it might seem; while his passing is further along than the raw numbers suggest, as our own Stephen Gillaspie noted earlier this year, Whitmore’s passing is far from being the same kind of positive as Walker’s already is, and Whitmore is more prone to tunnel vision than Hendricks. That being said, adding Whitmore’s immense rim pressure to the squad would open up tons of lanes for Cunningham to exploit—especially if Whitmore can develop a bit of lob chemistry with Jalen Duren for those times when Whitmore can’t get all the way to the rim himself.
Those would be the three primary targets in my mind, but Troy Weaver has never been shy about getting his guy before—from the draft night trade shenanigans last year to get Jalen Duren to the maneuvering he did to get James Wiseman into the fold. I would not be stunned at all if the Pistons decided to trade back in the draft to get a couple of shooters, like our shared “guy” Jordan Hawkins or recent Michigan resident Jett Howard.
What about you, Paige? Do you think those three are reasonable targets at #5? Who would you want to add to the list?
Paige: Jarace Walker, Cam Whitmore, and Taylor Hendricks are all incredible fits for the Pistons, and not just because they are back-to-back-to-back on my board (4,5,6), lol. But in all seriousness, all three provide what the Pistons need in different ways. Walker, AKA “The Hulk,” is a two-way monster and along with his passing ability as you mentioned would be the perfect connective piece in the frontcourt with either Wiseman or Duren. The thing with Walker that I really love about his game is how adaptable he is. At IMG Academy, he was one of “the guys” whose role was to be an offensive engine and be a huge factor when it came to putting up numbers on the basketball court. Our own Tyler Metcalf broke down Walker’s passing upside in his recent article, and when comparing his high school film to his college film, it’s like comparing apples to oranges—but in a way, it’s a good thing. This is due to the fact it shows how truly versatile Walker is and that he has so many layers to his game on the offensive end that I believe could take this Pistons team to new heights. When factoring Jarace Walker’s passes at IMG Academy, Walker generated 1.308 PPP in isolation, ranked in the 93rd percentile on post-ups, and ranked in the 73rd percentile as the pick-and-roll ball-handler per Synergy. A connective piece with high star upside with the #5 pick is a blessing in disguise for the Pistons; with Walker in the mix, fans should be looking at blue skies ahead despite the sadness that came with the initial outcome of the NBA Draft Lottery.
Taylor Hendricks is another prospect we both have talked about quite a lot in recent podcasts and NBA Draft Lottery Previews—and it’s because his skill set can truly be valued as a fifth overall pick in this draft class. He has shooting touch, size, rim protection, and athleticism; he is extremely versatile on both ends of the floor. He can fit in mostly anywhere when looking at teams 4-10, in my opinion, and you’re right—I don’t see him going past 10 in the 2023 NBA Draft. I also want to bring up the fact that Hendricks can be a huge transition threat with the Pistons as well. At UCF, he ranked in the 95th percentile (1.458 PPP) in transition. Pair that with the playmaking vision of Cade Cunningham and how hard Hendricks can run in the open floor and can finish at the rim—things could start to get really spooky in Detroit. The more I think about it, the more I love the idea of Hendricks in Detroit—but there’s a prospect fit I love just a little bit more here.
Enter Cam Whitmore. Whitmore, to me, brings that fierce and electric play style back to Detroit that they had in the Bad Boys days. Yes, Whitmore is that powerful and is just a driving force attacking the rim that could help bring the Pistons to a “full-circle” kind of moment with the kind of rim pressure he brings. At the rim, Whitmore shot 59.7 FG%, which ranked in the 66th percentile (1.19 PPP). I would like that number to be higher, but given the Villanova team Whitmore played with this season and with him missing some time due to a thumb injury, it’s not as shocking as a number. One thing is for sure, though—when Whitmore gets an open lane, there are very very few players that can stop him from getting downhill. Whitmore and Amen Thompson have the best first steps in this draft class. Mix that with Whitmore’s off-the-dribble juice that he has and can continue to build upon, and now you’re cooking. Now, I know there are some big questions surrounding Whitmore’s play when it comes to playing team basketball, and I totally get it. But my thought process in response to that question is: would we be asking ourselves that if Jay Wright was still Villanova’s head coach? I’m not so sure. Monty Williams is also the new head coach of the Detroit Pistons and one of his main points of emphasis in young and talented teams is building a team culture right away. So, my take is that Whitmore will not shy away from that ask, or challenge if you will, and he’ll buy in. Even though Williams is a “player’s coach,” I wouldn’t expect Monty to bend his own mantra at the slightest for a rookie—even if he does have potential All-Star upside in him like Cam Whitmore.
Whether you’re looking at Walker, Hendricks, or Whitmore here—you can’t go wrong if you’re the Detroit Pistons. All three prospects have very real star upside to them and high ceilings when looking at the bigger picture. Regardless, rebuilds take time, so don’t expect the Pistons to be a playoff team by next season by any means. But, given the options that you and I think are the best available here at #5, they could certainly be on their way to playing in the postseason for the first time since 2019.
Nick: I’m with you on the playoff upside for the Pistons in the longer-term rather than the short-term—as a fan of a team that just made the playoffs for the first time in 16 years, it’s very easy to buy into the “this is the year” hype with every new season.
That being said, this is a Pistons team that is far better than they showed last season; next season would be too early in my mind to hope for a playoff berth, but a solid developmental season next year could definitely prepare the Pistons for a play-in race in the 2024-25 season.
Cade Cunningham only played twelve games last year, and Bojan Bogdanovic missed all of April and all but the first game in March. Jaden Ivey made serious strides as the year went along, and Jalen Duren was solid all season long. That’s a really intriguing core for the future, but they need at least one more piece to either shore up the defense, connect and space out the offense, or both. Walker, Whitmore, and Hendricks all do that in different ways, but they all would provide the Pistons with some much-needed weaponry for their arsenal.
The Pistons also have the 31st pick in this draft; since we’ve projected three forwards for them here, they could look to shore up their wing and shooting depth with their second round selection. Julian Strawther would be a great pickup for them if he falls out of the first round; if not, they could also take a chance on either Ben Sheppard or Seth Lundy, both of whom have shot up draft boards in recent weeks due to their torrid shooting in combine and workout settings.
While the Pistons did not have luck fall their way on draft lottery night, they still have some great options. They are all but guaranteed to have a chance at two of Walker, Whitmore, or Hendricks—and the world in which they don’t could be even better for the Pistons, since it would mean that either Scoot Henderson or Brandon Miller would have fallen into their laps.
The Detroit Pistons have been mired at or near the bottom of the Eastern Conference since their brief playoff appearance in 2018-19 as an eighth seed, and in many ways, the franchise has been in the wilderness since the end of the title-winning squad of the early 2000s. However, this team also has the potential to turn things around quickly. If they can get their guy at #5, get a rotation contributor at #31, and make good moves on the margins of the roster, this team could morph into a playoff threat sooner rather than later.