If you had to choose when the Pistons would win the NBA Draft lottery in any of the first three years of Troy Weaver’s restoration, 2021 was the year. And they did. By winning last year’s lottery and offloading Cade Cunningham, the Pistons have taken the most critical step in a rebuilding process – securing not just a star, but a star who, as the primary playmaker of his team, has the greatest chance of having maximum impact.
Nearly a year after making the decision to sign Cunningham first out of a talented group of potential future All-NBA players, everything the Pistons hoped Cunningham would be is still at stake. That in itself is a huge win. .
You always hope for unlimited possibilities when you choose first. But as the warts are exposed, the reality is usually below potential. A year later, there are no more limits to what Cunningham can become than there were in last July’s draft. Nothing is beyond his reach – future MVP contender, centerpiece of a title contender, multiple-time All-NBA. There’s no guarantee that’s his outcome, necessarily, but one rookie season is enough to rule out the top-end of possibilities in the vast majority of cases. Not Cunningham’s.
You can do any other good move during the rebuild and have it go bad if you can’t find that guy. The Pistons need to make more good decisions, of course, but Cunningham’s landing gives them a bigger leg up as they go about their business this offseason and beyond.
If it’s a stretch to say that the May 17 lottery results two weeks from now don’t matter to the Pistons, it’s in the ballpark. There may not be a transcendent player in this draft class, but there are a number of talented prospects — and because the Pistons already have their alpha dog, they’d all be easy next to Cunningham. Having Cunningham in place frees Weaver to expand the definition of best fit for this year’s lottery pick.
The worst possible outcome for the Pistons in this year’s lottery is picking seventh. There’s a 93% chance they’ll be in the top six and a 52% chance they’ll be in the top four. The best possible outcome for the Pistons would be to have a player who establishes himself – not immediately, but in a fairly short time – as a worthy co-star just below Cunningham’s name on the marquee.
Weaver put a lot of young talent into the pipeline during his two years on the job. We don’t appreciate enough the work Weaver did to acquire two additional first-round picks – remarkable given the lack of assets at his disposal – in his first draft and turn them into Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, players who in two years have turned into pieces. that help win games. Killian Hayes took steps towards that end in the final two months of his sophomore season. Isaiah Livers, in less than 20 games after recovering from his foot injury, is moving in the same direction.
We’ll have a better idea of which prospects are most likely to be on their radar once their draft position is known in two weeks, but the names of the top six or seven are already pretty familiar and it’s not hard to see. one of them. (a) find a niche and contribute and (b) benefit from the play of a 6-foot-7 creative scorer and playmaker.
That’s the thing with Cunningham. Kevin Durant’s unsolicited comments after Cunningham’s revealing outing at Barclays Center late in the season continue to ring in my head.
“When you have a 6-7 point guard, that’s a good start,” Durant said as Kyrie Irving, seated next to him, nodded in agreement. “Someone who can destroy an entire defensive game plan with his size, his talent, his skill.”
It’s a good start. It’s the best possible start. You can put all shapes and varieties of players next to someone like that and make it work. So if the Pistons get the No. 1 pick again, Weaver doesn’t have to worry about which of Jabari Smith or Chet Holmgren or Paolo Banchero has the best chance of being the offensive pivot on a playoff team because that the Pistons already have this guy.
He can frame the debate by which of these players has the best chance of both complementing Cunningham and having Cunningham draw his potential. If the Pistons get the fourth pick and those three guys are all gone, he may look at Jaden Ivy differently than another team worried about Ivy’s decision-making might. Ivy’s athleticism would go well with Cunningham and he could use her more wisely as a secondary playmaker without the burden of leading the attack full-time.
If it’s Keegan Murray or Bennedict Mathurin or Shaedon Sharpe or AJ Griffin, same thing – their strengths are going to be enhanced by playing alongside Cunningham and their weaknesses are going to be more easily masked until they’re ready for responsibility wider.
So, yes, definitely rub your lucky bunny’s paw or do whatever it takes to reach the lottery gods when Adam Silver hosts ceremonies in two weeks. But soak it all up knowing that the stakes for the Pistons’ future aren’t at all the same as they were a year ago.