The Cleveland Cavaliers winning the Donovan Mitchell Sweepstakes, the Eastern Conference is tougher than ever, and it makes clear that the Detroit Pistons are likely selecting in the lottery for the 2023 NBA Draft. This is not a good thing, this is a great thing! While I have never been one to condone outright tanking à la The Process (tm), this year is not about wins and losses. Fans can be excited for this team, but they need to be patient. Why? This year’s incoming freshman class, that’s why.
That is not only because of the overall talent expected in lottery range, but also because the vast majority of the top players fill the Pistons’ glaring need for an athletic wing. The top two guys in this draft are not wings, but they are clear cut top of the draft talents that you would take No. 1 in almost any draft and while the Pistons aren’t going to be great, it would be near impossible to out-duel some of the outright tanking teams this season. But that just pushes those wings further down and into Detroit’s expected range. I will say this all year and you may get sick of me saying it, but this would be a terrible year for the Pistons to miss out on the lottery.
Before the NBA season kicks off, and with the college season just over one month away, it feels like the perfect time to offer up my rankings of the top 20 incoming freshman/first-year draft eligible prospects with a Pistons’ specific view of the field. The top 10 is full of absolute perfect fits in the MotorCade, and 11 through 20 would be fantastic additions due to all having real #Upside, but may take longer to fully develop. I will list them in ascending order starting with No. 20 and working our way to the tip top No. 1 prospect.
And lastly, BECAUSE this is a Pistons’ specific preview of the 2023 NBA Draft, I will be leaving out Kel’el Ware and Dereck Lively II. The Pistons already are very much invested in Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren, and I think the absolute only way either Lively or Ware enters into the conversation is if they show top-5 level talent.
Let’s get started!
20. Baba Miller, PF/C Florida State
The wildcard of all wildcards in this draft, Baba Miller is someone many draft evaluators are fascinated by and will be paying close attention. You look at that size and might think “too skinny,” but Miller is the next in a growing line of lanky Florida State position-less guys that can do things guys their size aren’t supposed to do.
Miller can handle some, dish out some primetime dimes, drain threes, block shots, and get out on the perimeter to defend. Miller also spent the last two seasons at Real Madrid in their development system. This is the same coaching staff that helped Nikola Mirotić, Luka Dončić and Usman Garuba get to the NBA. They don’t develop just anybody. He also goes to a development system now at Florida State that has a great track record of developing size and skill guys like Miller. From Jonathan Isaac to Patrick Williams, Scottie Barnes, and John Butler, Florida State has shown a commitment to recruiting these lanky forwards with big-man length who flash a combination of wing and guard skills. If the spectrum is John Butler at the bottom and Scottie at the top, Miller’s potential falls somewhere around Patrick Williams as he can at least be that kind of multi-positional defensive weapon with a great complementary offensive skillset.
So why is he the last guy on this list when Williams was a top-4 selection? Well, he is incredibly raw and all the skills he does have appear in FLASHES. He does not do much consistently yet. As Coach Spins and our own Bryce Simon discussed in a recent The Box-And-One Podcast, Miller may end up taking multiple years at Florida State to develop consistency in any one area. And if you are JUST looking at his stats, you can see he is far behind a player like Rayan Rupert, who is just in front of him and viewed as a role player. In seven games with Real Madrid’s U18 team and one appearance with the senior club this past season, Miller averaged 5.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks, and 1.9 turnovers. He was 17-of-24 from two-point range (70.8%), 1-of-12 from three-point distance (8.3%), and 8-of-14 from the free-throw line (57.1%).
The percentages and stats mean almost nothing as the sample size is tiny, but it is more evidence Miller has a long way to go. One thing he has in his favor is the aforementioned “next-in-line” guy at Florida State. Coach Leonard Hamilton does have a good track record of developing these lanky, position-less, unorthodox players into NBA players who provide instant mismatch problems on the court.
Scouting Video by Bryce Simon of Motor City Hoops:
19. Rayan Rupert, SF/SG New Zealand Breakers
Rayan Rupert begins the list of players on my #MikalWatch, as they profile as major difference making wing defenders with good upside on offense—like current Phoenix Suns star Mikal Bridges. He is also on the #Tools watch list because he does have physical advantages over his peers that even as a role player, can provide high impact and contribute to a team’s win and loss column.
Rupert’s wingspan is reportedly 7-foot-3. That’s where the conversation starts, because this wingspan is NOTICEABLE on film in a variety of ways. Easily poking out the ball on loose handles, getting his arms up to block smaller players’ shots without jumping, finishing under, through, and over a variety of guys on offense. Rupert has the ideal #Tools an NBA Mad Scientist would concoct when building the ideal wing defender. Rupert also has the energy and focus on defense to take full advantage of these #Tools. This also helps his jumper as he has a higher release point that makes his shot harder to swat.
What his EXACT role on offense will be is not set in stone, however. He does create off the dribble, he can shoot…but he hasn’t been efficient at either. Last season with Centre Federal Du Basket-Ball in France’s NM1 League—which is the third-division league—Rupert scored 14.0 points per game in 34 games, yet shot 45.6% from two, 25.2% from three, and 76.0% from the free-throw line. His projections as a primary or secondary scorer are low at this point due to these percentages—as do his 66 assists to 63 turnovers. He can handle some, and he is far ahead of last year’s No. 11 overall pick Ousmane Dieng, but he does get it plucked out of his hands too much for a team to invest in it as a rookie. I also guessed on his weight as I cannot find a reported weight on him from a source like RealGM, the NBL, or New Zealand Breakers website.
The #Tools will be there no matter what, and guys on #MikalWatch do not need to turn in Paul George 2.0. But he has to show his stuff, and all the guys in front of Rupert on this list will be in better position to showcase their skills as Rupert will be playing for the New Zealand Breakers after jumping from the third division in France. That is a big learning curve for any player, and it may take some time to adjust. Still, he is going to the same coaching and development staff that is responsible for 2020 No. 24 overall pick RJ Hampton in addition to the aforementioned Dieng. A rise is not completely out of the question. He did just play his first two games with the New Zealand Breakers in the NBL against Brisbane and Illawara and has flashed much more offense than his time in Europe.
Scouting Video by Bryce Simon of Motor City Hoops:
18. Terrance Arceneaux, SG/SF Houston
Arceneaux is one of the more intriguing guys in this draft cycle. It is unclear what his role will be freshman year, but what he can do on the court will seemingly make it hard for Coach Kelvin Sampson not to play him.
If you know Texas High School basketball, you know Arceneaux is a clutch shot maker—his most famous being a pair of them to win the state title in his junior season. Rather than being a scoring machine that only puts up shots, Arceneaux is a Johnny-On-The-Spot player who can get your team what they need at just the right time. Whether it is a tip-in dunk, outlet pass for an easy transition score, or drawing a double team to get a teammate an open look, Arceneaux has it in his bag. On the skinny side, Arceneaux might end up being a Josh Hart-like player who can do a bit of everything on the court while still filling in his primary job of being a shooting guard. Just looking at his senior season per-game stat line of 15.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 4.0 blocks, 2.0 assists, and 2.0 steals, you can see he does a lot for his team.
The biggest question I have for Arceneaux comes on defense. While he seems to be good as an off-ball defender, I am uncertain what he looks like in man-to-man. While at Beaumont United, Arceneaux worked as a forward mostly patrolling the strong-side and even occasionally becoming the de facto center. He jumps passing lanes well and is a surprisingly good shot blocker as he averaged 2.0 steals and an astounding 4.0 blocks per game. While these stats indicate he will commit to his role, this is also NOT what is going to be asked of him as a guard. Can he stick with quicker guards and does he have enough length to deal with the lanky ones? I also hesitate to say anything overly positive about his jump shot because of a major dip in his percentage from deep his senior year as well as struggles from the free-throw line throughout high school.
I imagine he will have a freshman year similar to Josh Primo, who mostly came off the bench for Alabama, but still made an impact in a variety of ways. With all that Arceneaux can do, it may be hard to pin down his exact role right now. Yet, whether or not he even will have a role is less of a question for a guard who can get to the free throw line, get stocks (steals and blocks), and shoot 54% or better from two-point range any time he steps out on to the court.
Winning 2nd State Title for Beaumont United vs. Mansfield Timberview courtesy of JReed Visuals:
17. Chris Livingston
Chris Livingston may be overshadowed by his higher profile freshman teammate Cason Wallace, but he should not be overlooked for first-round consideration if he gets consistent playing time. All signs point to Livingston definitely being in the regular rotation if not the starting lineup for Kentucky. Coach Cal knows how to get his guards NBA ready so Livingston gets the Kentucky bump.
Physically, Livingston is one of the most NBA-ready guys with an ideal frame and athleticism that shines, especially in transition. At six-foot-six and 220 pounds, he already has the body of a Jaylen Brown. He also has hops, turning more than one of his high school games into dunk contests. His shot looks compact and quick, which should help Kentucky space out to the 3-point line so it is hard to envision him not getting major minutes even if it is off the bench. On Kentucky’s Big Blue Bahamas trip this past summer, he went 6-of-10 from downtown and three of four from the free-throw line. Even though these are small sample sizes, he did show great development into his role as a floor spacer for Kentucky. He also has quickness on defense to go with his athleticism to easily project as a 3-and-D wing. He does already display attention to details on defense like proper closeout technique so the potential there is looking good.
Livingston’s shot is still very much under the microscope as is his ability to be more that a role player. In his senior year at Oak Hill Academy, Livingston shot 33.3% from the 33-point line (going 24-of-72) and 69.3% from the free-throw line (draining 52 of 75 attempts). He will need to up these percentages in a floor spacing role at Kentucky. He could struggle for touches as Wallace and Savhir Wheeler are the primary ball handlers, and there is the return of 2022 SEC Player of the Year, AP Player of the Year, Naismith Award winner, and Consensus All-American Oscar Tshiebwe. Add a much-improved Daimion Collins and all-around role player Jacob Toppin and you have a potential starting 5 that doesn’t include Livingston.
While Livingston will be fighting for a role and for touches, the silver lining for his future NBA team is what I like to call the Cal Clamps. From Eric Bledsoe all the way to TyTy Washington, we have seen Kentucky role players come to the league and develop into much more, and Livingston could join that line with his size, athleticism, and growing jump shot. He is another wing to add to #MikalWatch for his 3-and-D potential.
Game Recap of Oak Hill Academy vs. AZ Compass courtesy of Who’s Next:
16. Nikola Đurišić, SF/PF BC Mega MIS
Nikola Đurišić might be the most battle-hardened prospect on this list as he has logged 81 games for Mega’s U18 team, their senior team, and OKK Beograd. Đurišić is a tall facilitator and shooter who has already honed many NBA skills, and I am certain he has fans in NBA front offices already.
Đurišić is just about everything you want out of a wing prospect. Playing for Mega since 2017, Đurišić has spent a considerable amount of time in a professional developmental system, and it’s easily apparent on the court. Able to handle and run pick-and-rolls, hit threes off the bounce and the catch, and change his tempo, Đurišić immediately passes the dribble, pass, shoot test many want in their wing prospects. While his 32% from 3-point distance may seem below average, this was across four leagues within two divisions of competition (U18 and senior clubs). He spent the most time with Mega’s Senior team with 19 games in Liga ABA where he shot 50% on threes (1.3 per game) while playing 18.6 minutes. Not many attempts, true, but a positive indicator of Đurišić’s ability to fill a role as a floor spacer. He also shot an encouraging 79.2% from the free-throw line in all 30 games last year. Đurišić also has great court vision both from a standstill and off the bounce as evidence by his 85 assists and 22.1% assist percentage.
Athleticism will be the biggest knock on Đurišić. While he does use his handle and shooting to get his points and attack the opposition, there are times he struggles to separate when matched up with more athletic competition and can get blown by and struggles to change directions on defense. Đurišić has the size to cut guys off, but he must use proper technique in consistently sliding his feet and keeping his long arms up to contest. He doesn’t have the quickness for point guard, and I am uncertain he could consistently hold up on defense as a shooting guard, but I do think he will be fine as a forward defender. He did recently match up against the Thompson twins and was not embarrassed.
Even if Đurišić ends up being below average on defense, he could be a 6-foot-8 Tyler Herro due to the combination of shooting and ball handling. Đurišić also has the size and skills to fill in a spot in the lineup alongside Cade, Ivey, Saddiq, Duren, and Beef Stew. If the Pistons wanted to develop a guy with a similar skillset to recent trade acquisition Bojan Bogdanović, Đurišić belongs on top of the list.
Film Recap vs. Overtime Elite on September 9, 2022:
Thank you as always for taking your time to read and support us here at DBB! We could not do it without you. Tune in next time as we continue the rise up the top 20 where #MikalWatch continues and we look at some major athletes.