The Detroit Pistons new general manager spoke highly of his bosses — Tom Gores, Ed Stefanski, and Arn Tellem — as well as his coach, Dwane Casey. He talked up Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin, and spoke about the future without really tipping us off to what he has in mind going forward.
However, when the draft, and the Pistons pick, came up, Weaver gave an interesting quote.
“My philosophy is, we don’t draft players, we draft people — get the person right,” he told reporters. “More times than not, high picks that don’t pan out, you miss on the person. Get the person right, the basketball takes care of itself. Someone that is committed to working, fierce competitor, and that the community can be proud of, on and off the floor.”
That certainly doesn’t tell us which way he’s leaning come October, when the 2020 NBA Draft is set to be held, but it does give us the opportunity to dream a little bit on what we might see.
Renowned for his ability to evaluate talent, the draft is what the Pistons need Weaver to nail.
We’ve heard plenty about how the Oklahoma City Thunder’s successful run over the past decade has come, in part, due to his knack for player evaluation. I’m sure Weaver had a hand in that, but I’m still giving most of that credit to his boss, Sam Presti.
Either way, this got me thinking: What can we take from the past decade of Thunder drafting to build a profile of what Weaver could try to do in Detroit? Were there any patterns in OKC that might carry over?
The Good Picks
*Bazely was drafted by Utah and acquired by OKC on draft night, while Bledsoe was traded to the Clippers on draft night.
That is, uh, quite the list. The Thunder probably had the single greatest, and totally unrepeatable, stretch of drafting in NBA history from 2007-09 when they landed Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden in a span of three years.
That is truly insane.
But still, that is quite the haul of players. Weaver is said to have been the voice that convinced Presti to take Westbrook, a surprise pick at the time. It’s similar to a story Zach Lowe told on the Book of Basketball 2.0 podcast back in April, where a young Presti, then with the San Antonio Spurs, stuck his neck out for a French point guard named Tony Parker.
That worked out pretty well for all parties.
But if we’re looking at this list, you definitely see the human side of things. Weaver talked about looking for good people off the court, and this list is filled with guys who aren’t getting in trouble and, by and large, are regarded as pretty solid guys.
Another consistent trait on this list: athleticism. There aren’t any stiffs out here. With the exception of post-injury Jackson, these are all superb athletes. There aren’t any of those undersized college tweener guards or hard-working but physically underwhelming big men. Nope, the Thunder draft players with the physical capabilities to thrive in the NBA.
Has it always work out? Well, not exactly.
The Bad Picks
I’ll preface this by saying it is hard to land great players when you’re constantly picking in the latter third of the draft. Even the Spurs have bombed late first round picks... but Oklahoma City has had some whiffs, for sure.
The biggest whiff here isn’t even a late pick — it’s Payne, just an all-around bad player who is already out of the NBA (Editor’s Note: Cam Payne; Back In The NBA!). The book is still out on Ferguson, an athletic freak who still doesn’t put it all together on a nightly basis, but the rest isn’t great.
The athletic dudes with NBA builds is still a common theme here. But as the picks got later and the Thunder got better, it seemed like the philosophy trended toward upside rather than who can help us now. That’s not a bad thing, landing a standout with the 25th pick is how a team stocked with high-priced stars keeps chugging.
But the Thunder, despite their successes, had needs throughout Weaver’s time in OKC. They never found a long-term solution at shooting guard after dealing Harden, and they probably could have played it safe and found somebody with these picks who could have better filled that void. These are the risky selections you can make when you’re a contender. McGary and Jones III had red flags everywhere, and there was probably a 15% chance either turned out to be a great player — but when you have Durant and Westbrook, you can roll the dice.
It seems like there are a few consistent traits among those draftees: length, athleticism, attitude, and upside. I mean, look at the wingspan on these guys — even the bad ones. They’re all long and athletic, that physical profile makes a ton of sense and isn’t something the Pistons have always walked out of the draft with in the past 4-5 years.
But the Thunder, whether it was Presti, Weaver, or whomever in that front office, went into the NBA Draft looking for players with the chance to not just be good in the NBA, but with the upside to be stars.
That’s the right approach... most of the time. The fatal flaw of those Thunder teams was they did not get enough value out of their picks when the team was at the precipice of winning it all. The 2016 team, you know, the one that blew a 3-1 lead against the Warriors, would have probably cruised to a title if the trio of McGary, Payne and Huestis had been even average. But, that’s the risk you take when you shoot for the stars.
For the Pistons to get back to the top, they’re going to need to take some risks. The Pistons drafted for need under Stan Van Gundy and drafted for, I don’t know, “guys who played mediocre basketball” under Joe Dumars. If Weaver’s time in OKC shows us anything, it’s that Detroit is probably going to shoot for the stars. And that’s good — it’s the quickest way for them to get back to the top.