With all due respect to “The Process” iteration of the Philadelphia 76ers, tanking in the NBA may have a new poster child. Since the beginning of the 2019-20 season, no team has a lower winning percentage than the Detroit Pistons. That has resulted in the team acquiring several intriguing players through the draft.
For Detroit, this season was supposed to be a “turn the corner” year, and the team was expected to at least be competitive in vying for a play-in opportunity. However, lackluster and inexperienced play from young players coupled with injury problems has resulted in the Pistons finding themselves, yet again, at the bottom of the standings. The fanbase’s outlook has begun to shift from optimistic to antsy about the multi-year progress and direction of the franchise. This summer’s draft is a chance for the organization to land a high-impact player who can help alter the trajectory of the franchise alongside other promising young players such as Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey.
Unfortunately, the Pistons finishing with a bottom-three record does not guarantee a top-four pick. There is a distinct possibility that Troy Weaver and co. could be selecting from as low as pick number seven.
My goal in this space is to give readers a greater picture of what the Pistons could be getting with some of this year’s draft prospects. I will focus mostly on players that are projected to go outside of the top three, as even many casual fans are familiar with the consensus top 2 or 3 players in this year’s class. Let’s dive in!
I’ll start with Kentucky guard Cason Wallace. Wallace is the latest John Calipari product headed for the greenroom on draft night. The freshman has worn several hats for Kentucky this season but has foundational skills that will excite talent evaluators at the next level.
Though Wallace is a bit undersized and generously listed at 6-foot-4, he oozes 3-and-D potential at the next level.
Right now, defense is Wallace’s calling card, and it is the No. 1 skill that separates him from other wing prospects. Dig into his defensive clips and you’ll see a guy capable of moving his feet on the ball who also possesses impressive strength for someone less than a year removed from high school. He uses this strength to effectively “wall up” and cut off drivers as they attempt to get into the painted area. The Texas native also has very active hands and often comes up with steals both on the ball and from disrupting passing lanes. For his size, he is able to block a lot of shots. He has a case to make as the best perimeter defender in college basketball this season and has no problem switching from point guards to bigger wings. He’s someone who competes hard on that end and rarely takes plays off, and seems to take the task of shutting down opponents as a personal challenge.
Offensively, Wallace shot a respectable 34% from three-point land, and 44% from the field. Due to injuries on Kentucky’s roster, he was forced to play point guard for stretches this season. This has been a good opportunity for him to display his above-average passing chops and take more self-created shots. He averaged 4.3 assists per game, and, most impressively if often unsung, he is able to consistently make the simple pass.
Sometimes, young players can be enamored with only making passes if it results in an assist. Not Wallace. He often simply swings the ball or throws it into the post when there is a mismatch or seal, which helps maintain flow of the game and keeps his teammates involved. Despite having to carry a larger playmaking burden, Wallace has maintained a better than 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio this season. He’s also displayed good instincts in the pick and roll and can navigate screens to get to his spots both to shoot and create for others.
Areas of Improvement
Wallace started the season on fire from three, shooting at a nearly 50% clip through the non-conference slate. However, he went through a rough stretch in SEC play and shot just 23% from deep against conference foes. It’s worth noting that this did coincide with an injury to point guard Sahvir Wheeler, which decreased the amount of open catch-and-shoot. He will never be confused for Ray Allen, but I buy his shooting mechanics and long-term potential as an above-average shooter.
Nonetheless, his streakiness and extended cold stretch are enough to give front offices reason for pause. It is also likely the main reason that he currently remains outside of the top 10 in most mock drafts.
Ball handling would be the other area that scouts will hope to see Wallace continue to improve. While he is not loose with the ball per se, he does not possess a lot of advanced moves to get to the rim. At this point, he relies mostly on taking solid angles and utilizing his strength to get to the rim. While he is adept at using ball screens and has an effective floater in his bag, he shoots just two free throws per game. This is a sign of someone who struggles to consistently turn the corner and get all the way to the rim. He is a plus finisher at the rim, so I’d like to see him find more creative ways to get to the bucket when faced with a one-on-one matchup. Of course, a more consistent 3-point shot, and NBA spacing could help him in this department as well.
Jimmy Butler is the guy that I keep coming back to when assessing Wallace’s possible ceiling. Though he is smaller and has less in his bag offensively at the moment, his no-frills, north-to-south driving style resembles that of Butler. Additionally, they both are solid ball movers and possess advanced shot selection. Butler is a player that is efficient in his movements offensively, and rarely toys with the ball on the perimeter, or takes difficult shots unless necessary. Say what you will about Butler’s clashes with coaches and teammates in the past, but on the court, he plays with a team-first approach and is a largely unselfish player. I see much of the same in Wallace. Pairing those characteristics with his strength, toughness, and defensive ability, I start to see a lot of parallels with Butler’s game. This comparison certainly requires Wallace to add a lot to his game in terms of scoring and playmaking, but the foundation is there. It’s fair to say this is a lofty comparison, but remember, Butler entered the league after 3 years in college with a similar 3-and-D profile and subsequently spent his first few years as a role player.
If Wallace is unable to add to his game, he still profiles as a highly sought after 3-and-D wing in the NBA. I buy his projection as a plus on-ball defender who can, at worst, hit catch-and-shoot 3s at league average. All 30 organizations are constantly trying to add a player with these traits. His projected floor reminds me of something in the neighborhood of Dorian Finney-Smith.
If the 3-point shooting never becomes consistent, Wallace still provides value as a defender. His floor would likely be comparable to the skill set of Matisse Thybulle, an outstanding perimeter defender who struggles to regularly make open 3s. Though he can be played off of the floor in certain matchups, he brings enough as a tone-setter on the defensive end that he can earn minutes at the pro level. He’s currently a rotation guy on a team with playoff hopes, and will most certainly be rewarded with a second contract. At worst, Wallace can provide this skill set to an NBA team. This provides him with a higher floor than some of his wing counterparts, as he already has a tangible skill that can earn him minutes.
Another reason I am high on Wallace is simply due to Kentucky’s recent history of churning out productive perimeter players in the NBA. The league is littered with rotation players that spent at least a year in Lexington. What’s even more, is that many of Coach Cal’s guys have gone from an underwhelming stint at Kentucky, to quickly out-performing their draft slot in the pros. Some recent examples of this include Tyrese Maxey (pick 21), Shai Gilgeaous-Alexander (pick 12), Tyler Herro (pick 13), and Keldon Johnson (pick 29). I believe that Wallace, currently 10th on Johnathon Givony’s big board, could be the latest player to continue this trend.
Fit with Pistons
The Pistons would likely consider Wallace in the mid to late lottery as he brings an element on defense that is desperately needed. Outside of Isaiah Livers, the team lacks players who can consistently take on the challenge of guarding the league’s top perimeter scorers. I’m not sold on Wallace being a primary creator just yet, but that would not be a necessity when accounting for the Pistons roster that would be around him. With Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey in the fold, Wallace would just need to keep defenses honest by hitting open 3s, cutting off-ball, and attacking close-outs when Detroit’s top two initiators collapse the defense. Wallace could fill in a lot of gaps immediately as a complementary player with room to grow.
Furthermore, I think Wallace would be a solid addition to what Detroit wants its culture to be, as he’s a guy who prides himself on toughness and playing hard. At times, the Pistons look like they are sleepwalking defensively. Effort is contagious, and adding Wallace alongside guys like Livers, Isaiah Stewart, and Hamidou Diallo could help elevate other players on the defensive end. Should Weaver and his brain trust take a chance on Cason?