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Putting Detroit’s interest in Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green in context

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Bleacher Report with a clear-eyed analysis of Detroit’s position at No. 1 in the draft

Agua Caliente Clippers v G League Ignite Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

The Detroit Pistons are big fans of Jalen Green, as many outlets have previously reported. Does that mean that the Pistons could potentially pass up Cade Cunningham by either selecting Green at No. 1 or trading down and getting him elsewhere?

It is impossible to get anyone associated with the Pistons on the record so in a sense getting answers are impossible. Still, reporters are surveying the league to get an understanding of Detroit’s thought process and potential posturing as it explores what to do with the No. 1 pick.

A report by Jonathan Wasserman at Bleacher Report is a quality look at Detroit’s situation that fans should certainly read. Scouts and executives were, indeed, gossiping ... some would say recklessly speculating about what the Pistons would do and if their known interest in Green means Troy Weaver will shock the league on draft night.

Wasserman writes that “certain staff around general manager Troy Weaver were initially informed about Detroit’s plan to take Cunningham.” That’s about as direct a piece of news as we have, but it’s hard to tell what’s true and what’s a smoke screen at this point.

Speculation is easy, it costs nothing and helps pass the time between scrimmages. Wasserman looks at it from two angles that are pretty valuable:

  1. Why passing on Cade Cunningham is difficult.
  2. Why Houston could be an intriguing trade partner at No. 2.

In regard to Cunningham, Wasserman writes:

Green doesn’t offer the same playmaking ability as Cunningham. Detroit can still use Hayes in ball-screen situations and slide Cunningham off the ball, where he shot 43.9 percent as a catch-and-shoot threat, per Synergy Sports. But even Hayes has experience playing 2-guard, where he logged 44.0 percent of his possessions as a rookie.

Green possesses No. 1-option scoring potential, but Cunningham generated 1.06 points per possession out of isolation, per Synergy Sports, the highest of any recent NCAA lottery pick (minimum 50 possessions). There are differences in Cunningham’s movement compared to Luka Doncic’s, but his archetype is the same.

That being said, the Rockets have stuff to offer Detroit and if they like Green more than Cunningham, you could extract a future asset and still get your primary target in the draft.

What would it take for the Pistons to trade down, especially if their rumored interest in Green is legitimate? Some scouts believe Detroit value Green more at No. 2, citing a smaller gap between him and Cunningham compared to what the media has painted. Previous unconventional draft picks and signings make it easier to picture Weaver ignoring outside expectations.

....

Like every team that picks first overall, Detroit will presumably listen to offers. The Rockets could propose No. 2, plus future picks from the James Harden trade and Kevin Porter Jr. Or the Cleveland Cavaliers could offer No. 3, a future first-rounder and Collin Sexton.

I’ll leave aside the Sexton deal because I feel like it has no chance in hell of happening. It at least seems like Detroit is targeting a primary scoring option to build its offense around in this draft, and that gives you either Cade or Jalen. That means three is too far to fall. Sure, Evan Mobley is a hell of a consolation prize, but it leaves Detroit thin where it matters most — a primary offensive initiator and scoring threat on the wing that can score in isolation and create easy looks for others.

The Houston trade, though, is interesting. Cade is from Texas so there is a bit of narrative satisfaction to the whole deal. The Pistons could get a pick from Houston, including their own future first-rounder they owe, which would free up the team to make future advantageous deals down the line using their picks without limitation. If you land the top guy on your board, a player that you can build an offense around, net a couple future assets, create organizational flexibility as you keep building your squad and send Cunningham home where he “belongs,” well, that’s not nothing.

Now, back in a reality-based space where I live? Whereas I give a trade with Cleveland a zero percent chance of happening, my belief in a trade with the Rockets surges to a maximum of about 4%.

Not impossible but not likely at all. Most likely, of course, is that Cunningham will be No. 1 on their board, in their hearts and minds, and will be the top overall pick. The next most likely scenario is that Jalen Green is the best player in the draft in Troy Weaver’s eyes and the team simply picks him No. 1 We’ll give that a 6% chance.