This was already a weird NBA Draft class, even before the league’s shutdown.
It was always called a bad draft class, but I don’t think that was ever really accurate. I think it’s more just a weird one.
There are some guys who can play. Some who, if they land in the right fit, could have some really nice upside. But there’s obviously a lack of clear high end, blue chip guys. So you don’t really want the top pick, who is going to be making $10 million in three years. More valuable is the fifth pick, where you can still get the right guy but is making a few million dollars less.
The way I see a big board in this year’s draft is that it should fluctuate dramatically depending on how your team is built.
And what’s cool is that there’s something for everyone. If you’re all set on the primary ballhandling side of things and really just need to add some reliable, knockdown shooting, you’re covered. If you need a point guard, you have your pick of the kind of shooter. If it’s perimeter defense or a talented/athletic big man, there’s someone for you.
But as for someone you’re going to build your team around? That’s not what you should be looking for in this draft. Unless you really believe in LaMelo Ball or James Wiseman. Which…is unadvisable.
When I look at the strengths of the Pistons roster, I see some quality on the wings, strong shooting, but limited defensive upside and lacking creators. Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown bring some reasonable ability as secondary ball handlers, but neither can be relied on too heavily as a team’s primary creator. Svi Mykhailiuk is an underrated passer, but more playing off the ball.
The other major challenge for the Pistons youth is a lack of potential star talent. There’s plenty of young guys who belong on an NBA court, but not really anyone who is has the talent to be The Guy for a franchise.
So in crafting my big board, it takes those factors into account. For the Pistons, I value guys who can create on offense or flash some ability for serious upside or otherwise can enhance what they’ve already got going. Less prized to me are wings, considering the roster is already full of young wings, unless there’s some star potential.
Without further ado.
1. Kira Lewis Jr.
I’ve already written at length about why Kira’s the best prospect for the Pistons here. More than any other player, I see Lewis as the guy who shows the best and most translatable ability for a game-changing offensive impact.
He doesn’t bring that level that you generally look for in a point guard going first in the draft - which again, you don’t want the top pick in this draft. He’s not a Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, or John Wall type of franchise player, but in the right fit he can absolutely be a plus starting point guard. And the Pistons would be a right fit.
2. Aleksej Pokusevski
In case you were wondering, Poku is a Hawaiian pizza that also has Sriracha on it.
This might be a very good idea or a very bad idea. Poku is a weird player. I’m not really sure what position he’s going to play in the NBA or whether his body would hold up or whether he could last an 82 game season.
But what he brings to the table is compelling. He really can do it all. He plays with a level of fluidity that you don’t expect from a guy with his size and frame. He can lead a fast break and is a terrific passer. He can use his length defensively, both in rim protection and passing lanes. He can rebound, shoot. And he’s only 18.
He’s a boom/bust player. If you believe in what he brings to the team, he could be one of those unicorn style players that can elevate a team. If you don’t buy it, well yeah, he might get broken in two on the first Zion Williamson dunk.
3. Cole Anthony
With the access to more around the NBA basketball in the bubble, I’ve been watching more Markelle Fultz. Anthony reminds me of Fultz.
There’s the injury concerns, the high rankings out of high school, but Cole’s star as a prospect certainly fell sooner.
But I don’t think Cole will be the same type of frustrating player as Fultz. You see so often Fultz attacking the rim, which is cool, but it’s a tunnel vision. He’s not great at the kickout.
I think at the next level you’ll see that from Cole. Sometimes he may get tunnel vision. Take some shots he shouldn’t. But I think he’ll have that kickout to his game. He’ll be better than expected getting to the rim, though probably still won’t be a great finisher.
What will set him apart will be his pullup game. Being able to shoot off the dribble is so important in the game today, whether it’s off a screen or a stepback, and Anthony will bring that pretty much immediately. Though admittedly, that was about the only thing that was plus for him at UNC.
There’s a similar boom/bust with Cole. Some teams have had him falling to the end of the first round, and it’s not without reason. His numbers at North Carolina were awful. There’s injury concern.
To have Cole this high, it takes a lot of overlooking his numbers at UNC, writing them off as being in a bad situation with his supporting cast. And he was. There was no opportunity for him to do anything inside the arc, since defenses would just collapse. That meant too many tough shots, too many turnovers, and an overall bad look. I also think injury played a role in those poor numbers too though.
But with a roster like Detroit’s, that pullup jumper would be much more dangerous and being surrounded by shooters would open up much more space in close.
Still though, that’s not enough to continue to hold on the Cole Anthony stock, I know. And it’s his mentality that keeps me thinking that Cole is a guy worth taking before other guys. He plays with an edge and an element of “fuck you” that I think will ultimately work for him.
4/5. Patrick Williams, Paul Reed
I go back and forth on which of these two players I like more. Right now, Williams is up thanks to his age.
Williams has the type of game that is just always useful in the league today. He has the athleticism, some shooting, he’s productive and can make plays but doesn’t need to be the focal point. But he’s a player who it’d be nice to see the combine measurements on. Does he have the size to be more of a big than a wing?
Paul Reed is my favorite player in the draft. He’s the best, most productive defensive player in the class. It’s everything you want on that end. The dude’s shot blocking is a blast to watch, he can rebound, he brings a shut-down mentality. With the way the league is evolving, you can get by with your big man spots played by guys like Sekou Doumbouya and Reed, and have the better end of the bargain against most teams.
He shows the ability to be the Brandon Clarke of this year’s draft, so long as the amount of the offensive load he carried last year was the product of playing for DePaul rather than an over-fondness of getting shots. If he’s happy to fill the dirty work guy, he’s going to be awesome. If he thinks he needs to score 15 points per game to feel satisfied with his performance, it’d take away from his virtues. I’d like to hear some more interviews from him to get a better sense on that front. But as far as what he brings to the court, he’s awesome.
6. Anthony Edwards
Edwards is talented. But I’m doubtful that he’s a more effective player than Luke Kennard. The guy didn’t crack 30% from three and only had a 52% true shooting percentage. If you think he’s more of a point guard and they could play together though, I’d be willing to bump him up. But as a scoring SG, nah, I’ll take Kennard.
7. Killian Hayes
There’s a lot to love about Hayes. His size, age, efficiency. But I don’t know that his style is enough to move the needle for the Pistons. With their supporting cast, he strikes me as just a guy on a team of other players who are just guys. If they could find a way to get The Guy, it might still be able to amount to a successful rebuild.
8/9. Saddiq Bey and Aaron Nesmith
The two most valuable wings in the draft. If we’re going for a wing, it ought to be one of them. They’re the type that fly under the radar, since they do their damage off the ball.
Bey has this late career aspect to his game that I find really impressive. His movement without the ball, getting the shot off movement, plus I just trust Villanova guys.
You can find plenty of profiles about Aaron Nesmith. None are better than this one, from Frank Mansfeld of Moultrie News, East Cooper’s Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1964.
It’s very good writing throughout, but the part that popped for me about Nesmith as a prospect:
Nesmith has this rare resolve about him. It’s obsessive behavior, borderline manic the way he’s consumed by conquering challenges — whether it’s the first major injury of his career or just shooting around with a friend. It’s aggressive, probably intimidating to the uninitiated. Characteristics that seem to share nothing in common with the calm, measured gentleman you’d otherwise meet. He’s more often composed and well kept, polite and articulate. Someone you would want your daughter to date. His professors call him an intellectual. And he is. His coaches call him junkyard dog. He’s that too.
“He just gets in that mode,” Smith said. “He’d be in the locker room breathing hard, screaming before games. I mean, just letting all the air out his lungs like ‘Braveheart.’ The dude is actually nuts.
“That’s what makes him so special. He’s also super intelligent. It’s crazy the way he figures things out. It’s crazy how he can turn it off again, on again.”
One of the Troy Weaver things is the personal aspect. He said, “My philosophy is, we don’t draft players, we draft people. Get the person right. More times than not, high picks that don’t pan out, you miss on the person.”
I love that Nesmith takes it to the spot where it gets weird. I respect that. And I think it’ll serve him well in his NBA career.