We’ve hit a somewhat sluggish point in the NBA season as All-Star ballots are released and the outlook of most teams have become clearer. For the Pistons — you can call it déjà vu— but their playoff hopes have been slashed before the new year even began. For NBA Draft junkies, that means it’s another early spring.
Since news broke that Cade Cunningham would miss the remainder of the season with a left shin injury, the inevitability of a full development/tank (whatever you want to call it) season was underway, despite some pre-season hopes for a possible play-in bid.
The disappointment behind the loss of the top overall pick in 2021 was only pacified with the increased hope of landing what some are calling the best prospect since LeBron James in Victor Wembanyama with the top overall pick in 2023. The Frenchman’s freakish mystique has been well documented and it would take more than a bad injury to prevent a team from taking him with the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft.
If the NBA had no draft lottery, we may have seen record low win totals for many teams. Thankfully, the system should keep things somewhat competitive in the short-term, but don't be surprised to see some late-season nose dives.
What is clear now with how current rosters are constructed, Detroit has one of the youngest and more dreadful ones without Cunningham and should be well in the running for another top-five selection.
If you’re not familiar with how the lottery odds work, the worst record far from guarantees the top overall pick. In fact, the teams with the three lowest win totals all receive the same probability at the No. 1 overall pick (14 percent). These teams will also have the same probability of receiving the second (13.4 percent), third (12.7 percent) and fourth (12.0 percent) picks.
For the team that narrowly misses out on the Wembenyama sweepstakes and secures the second pick, they will likely be welcomed with what may also be the best consolation prize we’ve seen in quite a while in Scoot Henderson.
By all accounts, Henderson would be the top overall pick in most other recent drafts and has drawn comparisons to the likes of John Wall and Derrick Rose. A freakish athlete with a league-ready frame, the combo guard uses speed and power to attack the rim with ease and set-up for teammates.
In most situations in the NBA, if you have the chance to get the best talent available, don’t think twice. However, with Detroit taking ball-dominant guards (Hayes, Cunningham and Ivey) with their first picks in each of the last three drafts, the possibility of other options at least should be considered. If we’ve learned anything from Troy Weaver to this point, it’s that he will do the best job to evaluate all options at making this team better, whether the fanbase is on board or not. That being said, it’s not odd to think Detroit will conduct its due diligence.
So let’s run the hypothetical and say the Pistons land the No. 2 pick. Here are a few pros and cons of what adding Henderson to the roster would mean for the current team as it looks today in mid-January.
Pros to drafting Henderson
Getting the best talent available:
There isn’t much of a debate on this. Many team executives are viewing the draft to start at the No. 3 pick, as Henderson has established himself as the second No. 1 overall talent.
For the G-League Ignite this season, Henderson is averaging 19 points, 6.1 assists and 4.9 rebounds while shooting 45% from the floor and 25% from three. His outside shooting may be the biggest question mark, but the 75.7 percent from the free-throw line suggests there’s room for improvement. He may be slightly undersized for the modern lead guard at 6-foot-2, but he makes up for it and some with Morant-/prime Westbrook-type athleticism.
Drafting Henderson and figuring it out later may just end up being the best option here if that’s how it shakes out. Three-guard lineups have become more common in today’s position-less basketball, but the lack of shooting between the Pistons’ guards (and the team as a whole) is still concerning.
Detroit still seems to be a few years away from contending, so the idea of drafting for fit shouldn’t be at the forefront. But, you do have to wonder if drafting Henderson would open the door to possibly even trading one of the other young guards to appease the backcourt crowdedness. Both Cunningham and Ivey have high value in their young careers and Weaver loves the element of surprise.
He provides insurance in the case of injury:
This really applies for all three guards, as they all would provide added insurance to each other. Even if the Pistons decide to re-sign Killian Hayes (who has shown improvement), having three starting level guards would allow them to avoid changing their style of play too much if one went down.
As Pistons’ fans were made aware this season, a single key injury could heavily derail expectations for a team, as what happened when Cunningham got hurt.
With each player’s style, it would be helpful to have added coverage in case of another injury. Ivey and Henderson play a similar, fast-paced style where they seem to constantly be flying through the air and hitting the floor. Since bulking up last offseason, Cunningham plays a more bully-ball style to create separation and get into the paint — which causes a ton of contact each game.
Injuries are inevitable and having available depth plays a role in developing a winning culture. No team ever plans for replacement parts, but added depth is never a bad thing.
Cons to drafting Henderson
An obvious log-jam at lead guard:
We’ve seen some situations where having three good guards play out successful for teams. The 2020 Oklahoma City Thunder nearly made a playoff run in a loaded Western Conference with Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroeder commanding minutes. Offensively, the trio combined for the second-best offensive rating in the NBA (128.2) and their true shooting percentage of 67.7 percent was the best among three-man lineups in the league that season.
The issue with the trio of Cunningham, Ivey and Henderson is that on paper, they aren’t the most complementary toward each other. None are great shooters to this point nor have proven to be totally effective off-the-ball players. While Ivey has seen his role increase as a lead ball-handler since Cunningham has been out, this year was supposed to be growth season for the two to get a feel for each other. Now, they will have to wait to develop that chemistry and adding another ball-dominant guard would create a whole new wrinkle.
Miss an opportunity at drafting a wing of the future:
While the consensus is that there is a drop-off in talent after Henderson, there are other prospects who look to fit well with the Pistons youthful direction. Players like Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Villanova's Cam Whitmore both fit the bill of long, silky wings who can put the ball in the basket. Miller, in particular, has been the most productive freshman in college basketball this year and is shooting 44.5% from three. He would fit seamlessly in between the log jam of young guards and bigs currently on Detroit’s roster.
Other players who have have set-up shop at the top of draft boards are the Thompson twins for the G-League Overtime Elite. Amen plays more of a lead guard role but is an ultra-athletic versatile scorer who will enter the league in the top 1 percent of athletes. His brother, Ausar, plays more as a wing and isn’t quite the athlete as Amen but has shot the ball better thus far. Both players have massive upside.
The possibility of drafting a wing also may come down to what Detroit chooses to do with the one’s already on their roster. Saddiq Bey has a team-option pending and Bojan Bogdanović’s name has been swirling in trade rumors for weeks now. The team also has an abundance of cap space and could look to spend on a veteran.