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NBA Draft: Assessing the state of Troy Weaver’s draft picks

Detroit Pistons Introduce Draft Picks -Presser Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

As the NBA calendar edges closer to the league’s unofficial turning point—All-Star Weekend—the Detroit Pistons once again find themselves toiling in the basement of the standings. The Pistons currently have the second-worst record in the NBA, with only the 10-win Houston Rockets below them in the standings.

As demoralizing as watching back-to-back-to-back 20-win seasons has been for Piston fans, the primary goal for Troy Weaver upon assuming his front office role was to accumulate top-tier talent, without committing money long-term.

The best way to do this—lose A LOT of games and build through the Draft.

By loosing a ton of games, Weaver has been able to select 11 rookies combined across the past three NBA drafts. He’s been lauded by fans for his draft day tactics with the Pistons GM never one to be shy of a head-turning transaction in order to attain “his guy.”

The question becomes are any of Troy Weaver’s guys “the guy” or are they just another guy?

With 48 games played in the GM’s third season at the helm, the sample size feels large enough to to take a look at the current iteration of rookies, as well as the second- and third-year selections, to assess how each of Weaver’s draft picks have panned out thus far. It’s also important to judge them both on their own merits and on what historically can be expected from a pick at their slot in the draft.

Whose playing above expectations? Has a player not lived up to the hype? How many of the 11 draftees are still on the roster?

Brooklyn Nets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

Group 1: Exceeding early expectations

The budding chemistry of the self-titled #DawgPound, consisting of Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren, has been one of the few reasons to tune into Detroit Piston games this season.

Upon the selection of Jalen Duren in the 2022 NBA Draft, amongst the excitement, many wondered what the future held for Isaiah Stewart. Without a reliable jump shot, the offensive pairing of Stewart and Duren seemed untenable.

However, Stewart spent the summer working on his perimeter stroke and made a commitment to playing alongside Duren at the 2022 Las Vegas Summer League in order to form on-court synergy.

While the overall numbers indicate a negative impact when paired together, the jumbo-sized duo have flashed there potential together. A personal favourite has been watching each of Duren and Stewart find each other for baskets:

Stewart opened the season firing on all cylinders from distance, converting on 39% of his 4.2 three point attempts in his first 25 games. After garnering little respect from opposing defenses, Stewart’s improved shooting began forcing hard close-outs from defenders. From here we saw the 21-year-old utilize a dribble-drive attack.

In his last 10 games, the three-point shot has tapered off, with Stewart shooting a lowly 22% from beyond the arc. However, even with the recent shooting struggles, Stewart’s offensive development has exceeded the expectations of many through 48 games.

Jalen Duren’s rapid rise to the teams starting center is also a clear indicator of a successful rookie campaign. Any doubts about Duren’s ability to play early in the pro’s were put to rest early, with the 19 year-old scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 boards in his NBA debut. He’s still a raw prospect with a ton to learn, but the fact he asserted himself as the franchises starting center in only game 25, is a credit to his play so far.

Atlanta Hawks v Detroit Pistons Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

Group 2: Star in their role — please just stay healthy!

It’s still too early to label Cade Cunningham and Isaiah Livers as injury prone, but each of the 2021 draftees will have missed significant time through their first couple of seasons.

With Cunningham ruled out for the entirety of his sophomore season, he will have only played in 88 of a possible 164 games—equating to 53% of total games played.

Isaiah Livers has played an even lower percentage of games, suiting up in only 33% of a possible 128 games (games played up until Jan. 15th, 2023).

When available to play, Livers and Cunningham have starred in their respective roles.

Though inefficient (find me a rookie/sophomore guard that isn’t), Cunningham has been everything the franchise hoped when selecting him with the first overall pick in 2021. After a solid rookie season, Cunningham got off to a slow start in year two. However, he followed this with a four-game stretch where we caught a glimpse of the cerebral offensive hub Cunningham predicts to be:

(Open tweet for a thread of highlights within this 4-game stretch)

In the games he’s played, Livers has been the teams best two-way wing. His defensive aptitude combined with a lethal outside shot have been a must have for this roster. The former Wolverine has also been one of the few Piston perimeter players who thrives without the ball in his hands. Whether he’s cutting, setting screens or grabbing rebounds, Livers is always looking to help create optimal outcomes.

Dallas Mavericks v Detroit Pistons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Group 3: Sky-high potential, just need to solidify long-term role

Killian Hayes in-season resurgence has been remarkable. After opening the season averaging 3 points on 20% shooting from the field, Hayes has played the best basketball of his young career. On the season, he’s contributing 10 points and almost 6 assists on a nightly basis, quite the achievement considering his horrific start.

Hayes strong play coincided with the loss of Cunningham due to injury. And while it’s far-fetched to pin all of Hayes recent success on the absence of Cunningham, it’s fair to question the Frenchman’s fit alongside a healthy Cunningham and Ivey.

The consensus among the fanbase is to deploy Hayes as the teams back-up option—which makes sense. However, in order to garner an extension with the team, the former 2020 lottery selection will need to prove he can thrive with Cunningham in the fold.

Like Hayes, Jaden Ivey been a divisive topic in his brief time with the Pistons. His fast-paced, burly style of play has lead to a host of highlight plays, but just as many low-lights. For every transition dunk or no-look dime, there’s a costly turnover or defensive lapse. However, for those that studied the draft, Ivey’s play-to-date has been as expected.

He’s averaging 15 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists, flashing improvement as a scorer in the mid-range and beyond the arc. As previously mentioned, Ivey’s struggles predominately come on defense and when trying to orchestrate offense in the half-court. If he’s going to be the franchise's second or third offensive option, his playmaking, handle and shooting will need to improve markedly. Without these tools, it’s hard to envision a winning Detroit team featuring Ivey as a starting guard.

Detroit Pistons v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Group 4: Underwhelming prospects

Halfway through his third season in Detroit, Saddiq Bey has struggled. Since bursting onto the scene as a sharpshooting rookie, Bey has failed to replicate the three-point proficiency displayed in his debut campaign.

Bey’s three-point shooting percentages have declined in each of his three seasons as a pro. After regressing as a long-range shooter in year two, the hope was Bey would rediscover his stroke in an important third year. Instead, Bey is converting on a career-low 33% of triple tries.

A threatening outside jumper is imperative for Bey’s long-term success in the NBA, particularly if he’s looking for starting-calibre money. His journeys inside the arc have been an adventure too.

In the months of October and November, Bey was shooting a solid 52% from two-point range. He did an excellent job of creating driving lines with his strength and up-and-under moves for high quality looks. But, in his last 15 games, the improvement in this area has tailed off, with Bey shooting 41% on twos, the second-lowest percentage on the roster (minimum 1 FGA).

There’s still time for Bey to regain his stride with the team, he’s one of the hardest working players on the roster. Hence, barring a godfather offer, it would seem unwise to deal Bey as the centre of a trade package this season.

If Bey’s inconsistencies persist into January of 2024, then we are having a different conversation.

Alba Berlin v Partizan Mozzart Bet Belgrade - 2022/2023 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Photo by Regina Hoffmann/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Group 5: Draft and stash prospects

Aside from hearing his name called on Draft night, the only time you’ve probably heard Gabriele Procida’s name mentioned is when Piston fans lament Troy Weaver for selecting him over Dallas Mavericks guard, Jaden Hardy.

Procida was selected in the second-round of the 2022 Draft with pick 36. Hardy was taken one pick later with 37.

In case you’ve forgotten (lets be honest, you have), Procida is a 6-foot-7 wing currently playing for Alba Berlin in the Euroleauge. He’s currently averaging 5.6 points in predominately a bench role.

Procida has only been contracted to play with Alba Berlin for this season, it’s still unclear when he will join the Pistons.

Detroit Pistons Introduce First NBA Draft First Overall Pick Cade Cunningham Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Group 6: Where are they now?

Alright, if you’ve made it to this point of the article you’ve read almost 1500 words on Pistons prospects—so I’ll keep this part quick. Below are the 3 draftee’s no longer with the Pistons:

Saben Lee:

The high-flying guard out of Vanderbilt was the most promising of the prospects in this group. Unfortunately for Lee, the moment Jaden Ivey was selected eliminated any shot the 23-year-old had as a back-up guard in Detroit.

Between Hayes and Jospeh, the roster didn’t need another reserve point guard. Lee was collateral in the Bojan Bogdanovic deal with the Utah Jazz. Upon being waived by the Jazz, Lee recently signed a 10-day deal with the Phoenix Suns, where he’s averaging 10 points in two games.

Lee was selected with the 38th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Luka Garza:

Last season’s fan-favourite is currently signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves on a two-way contract. In 12 games he’s averaging 5.6 points.

Garza was selected with the 52nd pick of the 2021 NBA Draft, and he’s still bouncing round looking for an opportunity. He’s probably already played more NBA minutes than most people picked at No. 52.

Balsa Koprivica:
I bet you forgot about the lumbering 7-foot-1 center out of Florida State University. Koprivica is still yet to appear in a preseason or regular season game for the Pistons. The Serbian big-man has played sparingly in each of the past two Summer Leagues. He’s currently halfway through a 3-year contract with Partizan in the Euroleauge.