On Detroit Bad Boys, we’re gonna be talking draft for the foreseeable future, so I figured I might as well start doing Big Boards. This board is going to be a blend of the guys I think have proven they can produce, the guys I think have upside, and areas of need for the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons, fortunately, need a little bit of everything; this will de-emphasize “Need” but not totally remove it from the mental rubric I’m using.
Initially, I am going 15-deep initially because of Trader Troy - Can you tell me with a straight face the Pistons won’t pick up another pick in the first round? You can’t. So 15 names is my compromise between 6 (what they can fall to in the lottery) and 30 (I won’t do 30 names; You can’t make me).
In 2020, I only did two Big Boards - I hope to do more this year, depending on how the lottery falls. If you want to get a sense of how seriously you want to take me, here are the links to last year’s big boards:
I am aware the Pistons are also in possession of three second-round picks at the time of writing. In the works are some pieces about guys the Pistons could take with those picks, but again, you will not get a 60-name big board out of of me; you can’t make me.
If you’re a big TL;DR person, here’s a TradeNBA.com link to the big board.
Alright! With no further ado:
1) Cade Cunningham
Remember the Baylor team that won the national championship? Here’s Cade making those dudes look like middle schoolers:
We haven't gotten to see Cade in a while, so if anyone needs a reminder of why he's a lock (and should be) to go #1, here's 25 seconds of him looking like an NBA all-star against the best team in college basketball. pic.twitter.com/DA6jlWhd0Z— Draft Dummies (@DraftDummies) May 10, 2021
Cade’s the top choice. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
2) Evan Mobley
Positional value (All else equal, Wings > Guards > Bigs) is a thing, but Evan Mobley can do everything you want a center to do in today’s NBA.
That is not an exaggeration. Mobley can block shots (2.9 blocks per game), switch and slide with guards, deter drives, jump (63 dunks), pass (2.4 assists per game, 14.1 assist rate), shoot (45% on non-rim twos, 30% from three), dribble, and score (16 points a night on only 10 shots). EVERYTHING you want a center to do in 2021, Mobley can do.
“Laz, what about Isaiah Stewart? Laz, the Pistons need a dude who gets POINTZ and BUCKETZ! Laz, Mobley is too skinny to be any good!”
Stop it. Mobley would be the number one choice in any draft that didn’t feature a Cade-level talent. He is the second best player in the draft, and don’t let people tell you otherwise.
3) Jalen Green
Jalen Green is gonna give you 25 a night, every night, for seven years, minimum. That is difficult, that is awesome, and the Pistons absolutely need someone who can do that. The question with Green is: Can he do more than that?
Can he leverage his insane athleticism to defend at a high level on and off the ball? Can he be the same type of playmaker in the halfcourt that he is in transition? Can he rein in the shot selection a touch and get to 40% as a three-point shooter?
Those are questions that need answering. However ... 25 points a night and some insane #Engagement from his dunks blowing up on Twitter? Yeah, I’d be down for that.
4) Jalen Suggs
Jalen Suggs is a legitimately great guard prospect. Athleticism? Yes. Competitive defensively? Yes. Finishing ability? Yes. Passing ability? Yup. Intangibles? Heck Yes. Shooting touch? Uhhhhhhhh......
So there are strides Suggs needs to make as a shooter. And it’s definitely possible that he makes those strides in the NBA. But shooting is so important, and his shooting remains a projection, so he remains below some of the other outstanding prospects of this class on this board.
5) Jonathan Kuminga
Now begins the tricky part of this year’s draft. I loved Kuminga coming into the Ignite season. The athleticism and scoring potential at his size would make him one of the greats if he hits his highest outcome. Then, he started playing basketball against grown men and struggled to get to his spots, struggled to make shots, and struggled processing on defense.
Kuminga is still insanely young (he will still be 18 at the time of the draft), built like a tank, and has the intoxicating combination of positional value and athletic upside. As a GM, four years down the line you could get fired for taking him, and you could get fired for passing on him. That risk — and that reward — lands him here.
6) Kai Jones
Ok, I admit, this is, like, 15% shock value, but Jones is legitimately exciting. This would be the upside pick for the Detroit Pistons; 20-year-olds who block shots, dunk on people, and stroke threes are rare. The problem is, he only does those things ... some of the time.
Watching his game, the flashes of creation remind me of Christian Wood - the strong right-handed attacks from beyond the arc, the desire and ability to dunk everything in sight, the skinny-strong frame. If you could convince 20-year-old Christian Wood to care about defense in addition to offense, when he turned 24 you’d have a 20-and-10 guy who isn’t a sieve on defense, which is an All-Star-caliber player.
Can Jones build consistency on these offensive flashes? If you think the answer is yes (and I do) then he should be in the mix this high.
7) Ziaire Williams
Williams is a pull-up maestro whose length and shooting motion make it easy to buy the shot, but who has one glaring weakness: He real, real skinny. The lack of strength means he gets bumped out of position easily, prevents him from putting pressure on the rim with any consistency, and makes him a nightmare to cover for at the point of attack on defense.
Everything that’s wrong with his game can be fixed by him getting stronger. Fortunately, it is 2021, and we can do that. Once he gets stronger, he’ll be a 6-foot-8 pull-up threat who can handle, get to the rim, sees the floor well, and isn’t a zero defensively. That is the type of dude I would like to bet on.
And it is “once” he gets stronger, not “if.” Stanford doesn’t have the world’s best strength and conditioning program, he was living in hotels half the year because of Covid, he missed some time after a bicycle accident. It was just a weird year for him. Two years to grow into his frame under an NBA strength program and Williams will be looking like a PROBLEM.
(Please hold your KZ Okpala jokes until the comments. Ziaire is a much, MUCH more fluid and comfortable shooter than KZ, for what it’s worth.)
8) Franz Wagner
Franz Wagner was a swiss army knife for Michigan, doing a little bit of everything on offense. He provided rim pressure off of NBA-esque DHO sets, shot 35% from three, and tripled his assist rate as a sophomore. He needs to get better leveraging his off hand (Juwan Howard did a great job building play designs that got him attacking with his strong hand) and improve as a shooter, though.
Defensively, Franz is 6-foot-9 and a strong, fluid athlete. He really got into guys in college, sliding step for step with smaller guys and doing a great job contesting guys his size. I think he comes into the NBA as an average defender, which is better than you can say for most rookies.
I think there is a small chance Franz could be a primary initator (like, a 3% chance), but it’s more likely he is just a VERY high-level 3-and-D wing, a guy who glues together any starting lineup by covering what his teammates don’t do on both ends of the floor.
9) James Bouknight
A 6-foot-5 bucket getter with less overt athleticism than the 6-foot-5 bucket getter ahead of him, Bouknight capably (55% True Shooting percentage) absorbed a TON of offense (31% usage rate) for a UConn team that only had two other players averaging double figures in points and only one player who averaged more than two assists per game.
I am less concerned about his the three-point percentage (29% from three) than, say, Jalen Suggs — again, he was taking on a ton of usage, and with that comes some questionable shot selection. Shot selection should (SHOULD) be less of an issue with better coaching in a lesser initial role.
Bouknight is a good mix of future potential and college production, and adds a three-level scoring punch the Pistons don’t have right now. It’s worth noting here as well that it appears the Pistons like him; James Edwards III at The Athletic has brought him up multiple times as a possibility if the Pistons fall in the lottery.
10) Jaden Springer
Springer is a bowling ball who gets into the paint and converts but is a weird athlete and is “only” 6-foot-4. He finishes around the rim with bully-ball and tries to finish everything off of a jump stop and two feet. If you can ever get him to drive and jump off one foot, you’d have a stew going. He was a good perimeter shooter by percentage in a small sample (he shot 43% on a grand total of 46 threes this year at Tennessee), but the lack of volume points to a lack of comfort; I don’t expect that to be part of his game right away.
On defense, he’s not the point-of-attack demon his teammate Keon Johnson (coming soon) was, but he still managed to be impactful on that end and was consistently engaged.
Jaden Springer is this year’s Tyrese Maxey for me. I am positive he contributes to winning basketball over the course of his career, but I don’t know if he’s “The Guy” as he does so.
11) Scottie Barnes
Getting it out of the way early: Because he can handle but not shoot, I think Scottie ends up a big man, not a wing. So as a playmaking, non-shooting, athletic-laterally-but-not-vertically big man, Barnes is in a weird place for me. He does not do any of the things I generally like big men doing (protecting the rim, catching lobs in the halfcourt), but the things he DOES do well (like passing, leading the break, causing holy hell as a switch defender) are valuable.
I think Scottie is quite good but not the best fit for Detroit. Toronto, though? Wow would he be great for the Raptors. OG-Siakam-Scottie switching everything, trapping sometimes, getting out and running? Sheesh.
12) Moses Moody
Moody is a ready-made 3-and-D wing. Some people think he has creator upside. I buy his creation ability less than Bouknight and Springer’s, but he’s 19 and has time to get there. He will have to get better as an athlete, though - his clips are full of below-the-rim finishes and barely getting by college guys’ uncontrolled closeouts.
But, oh baby, does he make those guys close out hard. When Moody’s on, he’s a knockdown shooter especially from the corners. Just watch the SEC Tournament semifinal against LSU; Moody made threes with guys draped on him, after one dribble off a DHO (the Duncan Robinson Special), and off movement.
I get BIG Saddiq Bey vibes from Moody - he’s going to help a team right away.
13) Keon Johnson
Keon Johnson is an explosive, violent athlete and a demon at the point of attack on defense. I cannot imagine trying to drive on a guy that athletic and that hungry to mess up your day.
On offense, though... Johnson has some strides to make. He makes some nice cuts in halfcourt settings, and he uses his athleticism in transition, but the low percentages and lower volume of threes taken this season means his avenue to unlocking his offensive potential is longer than most. The Pistons have guys like him already on the roster - I don’t think he would be an amazing fit in Detroit, but the athleticism is worth betting on if they go down that road.
14) Josh Giddey
Josh Giddey is a 6-foot-8 Australian playmaker, and if you know me at all, you know the minute I heard “6-foot-8 playmaker” I rushed off to YouTube to see what’s what with the kid. Right now, Giddey is a special passer, making all the live dribble passes you’d like to see out of the guy orchestrating your offense.
However, if he’s not passing the ball, he’s good-not-great on offense. Strength improvements will help as a finisher and a shooter (he shoots long threes like he’s not strong enough to shoot long threes yet), but he’ll have to get more creative as a ballhandler and improve as an athlete to be a primary offensive guy in the NBA.
If he does all of that, though... then he’s a 6-foot-8 guy who can dribble, pass, and shoot, which is what every team is looking for. Giddey is 14th on the board for now, but if there’s one guy who could rise up this (and other) draft boards, it’s definitely the 6-foot-8 guy who’s putting up triple doubles all the time.
15) Isaiah Jackson
He jump real high real quick.
Isaiah Jackson possesses a simple skill set with the potential for more — he looks comfortable putting the ball on the floor in the short roll and taking (not necessarily making, but taking) mid-range jumpers. Jackson shot 70% from the free throw line as well; I think there’s some shooting upside here.
However, what he is right now (a bouncy lob threat who blocks a ridiculous number of shots) is still very useful. Jackson put up an eye-popping 7.2 blocks per 100 possessions this season for Kentucky, blocking dunks, layup, floaters, jumpers; Any kind of shot you can take, he blocked it. As you can guess, he occasionally took himself out of position chasing blocks, but his sense of timing and quick vertical explosion makes him a truly intriguing rim protector at the NBA level.
The 2021 NBA Draft Lottery, where we’ll learn where the Pistons will be selecting, is on Tuesday, June 22. See you all then.