The odds of the Detroit Pistons selecting Oklahoma State star Cade Cunningham with the first overall pick in this month’s NBA Draft seem to be increasing with each day.
But, for content purposes, what if they don’t take him?
For the first time since 2003, the Pistons have been presented with not only good draft luck but the chance to pick from a group of four players who many believe to be future All-Stars. It’s an exciting time, and considering the state of the franchise, you’d probably be alright picking anywhere in the top four of a draft like this — though picking first is especially sweet considering Detroit’s marvelous tank job this season.
Let’s look at the draft holistically — and by that, I mean let’s look at these four wunderkinds at the top — and envision their fit with the Pistons now and going forward:
If this were 2001, I think Suggs would be the first overall pick. He just feels like the kind of guy who would have thrived in the rough-and-tumble era of NBA defense. Suggs has a lot of Pistons-esque characteristics with his leadership, toughness, and willingness to defend.
He would have been a perfect fit stylistically with the Goin’ to Work team.
The thing is… it’s not 2001. It’s 2021. Suggs’ strengths are still very useful, but his weaknesses are what makes it hard to envision him working with this team. He’s not a great perimeter shooter and he’s got a so-so handle. I find it hard to believe that you can pair him and Killian Hayes in the backcourt and win games.
Maybe that would be alright in the meantime, but both would need to find more consistency from outside to make that partnership work. In many ways, it could be like a bizarro CJ and Dame situation. They form (arguably) the best offensive backcourt in the league, but both players’ lack of size and limitations on defense hold Portland back.
Hayes and Suggs would be the defensive version. They’re both big enough and willing enough defenders to make life hell on opposing backcourts. Nightly, opponents would react at the opening tip like LeBron did when Kawhi checked back into a Finals game:
The Pistons need bucket-getters, though. They need scorers who can make it happen late in close games. That’s never going to be Suggs. He’s going to be the indispensable glue guy, a culture fit and leader who makes the machine run… but a go-to scorer he is not — despite the half-court shot he hit in this year’s Final Four.
There was a time, before the Lottery Gods shined down on Detroit, that I was pretty sold on Mobley with the Pistons. He’s just so freaking skilled, a true unicorn, and you don’t want to miss out on a chance to get a guy like that.
Big men are dime a dozen, specifically centers, but big men like Mobley don’t grow on trees.
It’s a lazy comparison, but he’s Chris Bosh with elite shot blocking ability. The difference is it took Bosh quite a few years to really tailor his game to the 3-point line. Mobley might only be a year or two away from being a true three level scorer, able to knock it down from outside, finish inside, and get to the line for easy buckets.
He’s skinny, but he plays stronger than he is.
The problem with Mobley and, really, any unicorn-y big man, is that a lot of the #potential is hypothetical. Yes, Mobley could become a knock-down 3-point shooter. Sure, he could put on 30-40 pounds and bang around down low. None of that is the case now.
His fit in Detroit does and does not make sense.
Do the Pistons need a guy like this? Oh yeah. Does he really fit well with the current young core? Not so sure about that. Isaiah Stewart is a fine player, undersized as a five, but his high motor and physicality allow him to succeed there. I’m not sure he’s quick enough to play the four full-time, though, which he would need to do with Mobley occupying big minutes at center.
It’s just an awkward fit, one that could work later, but probably doesn’t help now.
I mean, imagine picking Mobley, then landing the top pick this year or next year and having to squeeze in (or pass on) the likes of Chet Holmgren or Victor Wembanyama?
Mobley is going to be good, but he’s not the guy that’ll make this team great someday.
I bet you’ve heard enough Jalen Green scuttlebutt over the past month that you irrationally hate him for it. It’s not his fault, he’s a super talented prospect, the type of scorer folks in the scouting community tab every year but rarely ever hit on.
Green has holes, but his tantalizing combination of athleticism and shot making are top-pick caliber.
He fits, too. Killian and Green would work well. Hayes is the distributor that finds him in his spots, he profiles as the type of defender who can slide over and take the assignment of guarding the best opposing backcourt scorer.
Green isn’t good defensively, but he’s got the athleticism to eventually be passable there. His downfalls as a passer are offset by Hayes, and surrounded by the likes of Saddiq Bey and Jerami Grant, opposing defenses can’t collapse on him. He’d have room to breathe.
If there’s one thing the Pistons have c o n s t a n t l y passed on in the draft in recent years, it’s scorers. The Stan Van Gundy regime (and Ed Stefanski after) never valued individual perimeter scorers, those guys who get buckets.
They drafted for need or long-term potential.
Maybe they were right: you really can find microwave-like scorers all over the place, just look at Frank Jackson. Green, though, has the potential to be much more. He’s got the Donovan Mitchell/Devin Booker potential as a scorer, but he might even have a higher ceiling than someone like Booker thanks to his insane athleticism.
However, “Bouncy Devin Booker” isn’t enough to lead you to the promise land alone.
Green’s warts are pretty much everything outside of athleticism and scoring. He’s not a defender. He’s not a playmaker. That might be ok in the scheme of things. Maybe he’s just the offensive version of Liam Neeson from Taken:
A very specific set of skills sounds like Green. I just don’t think he’s a franchise-changing player.
Ah, finally, the golden goose.
Cunningham has everything you want in a franchise player: size, skill, attitude, and the desire to be THAT guy. The fact that he wants to come to Detroit and wants to be the one to save this wreckage of a franchise is enough to endear himself to a fanbase that, likely, has never seen him play.
He’s the big, multi-talented wing that you need in today’s NBA. His shooting touch is elite, as is his playmaking ability. He’s often compared to Luka Doncic, which isn’t a fair comp for any player, but it’s the same skillset. Maybe he’s just Jayson Tatum with point guard skills?
That’d be just fine.
His fit with Hayes? Flawless. It works because Cade can take pressure off Killian as a secondary facilitator. Being able to score from 26 feet and in helps, too. He’s an offensive player who puts so much pressure on the defense that he just naturally opens windows for others.
Remember how Grant was constantly swallowed up by opposing defenses late last season? That was because no one else could create for themselves. I don’t see that being as big an issue with Cade. He’ll either occupy the defense himself or keep it honest on the perimeter to better space the floor for the rest of the guys.
Cunningham has warts, sure, but so do all prospects. He’s not the elite athlete, but he’s plenty athletic enough. His handle isn’t tight, but ball handling is a skill you can get better at. His decision making wasn’t great at Oklahoma State, but neither were his teammates.
The fit, the skillset, the demeanor, all of them are perfect fits.
It’s fun to wonder “what if” on guys like Green, Mobley and Suggs, but once July 29 rolls around, it’ll be time to shift gears start thinking about on what Cunningham will do for Detroit.