The NBA Draft is finally here, but that is where the clarity seems to end. During a somewhat unpredictable draft evaluation process, perhaps it is fitting we are ending it with absolute chaos among your friendly staff at Detroit Bad Boys over who makes up the optimal players likely to be available when the Pistons make their selection.
In April, we ran a staff big board. Staff member ranked players for the entire first round. At that time, if the actual NBA Draft stayed true to the big board, the Pistons would have selected Jarace Walker at No. 5.
Last week, DBB once again participated in the SB Nation Mock Draft. Believing in democratic ideals, DBB editor Sean Corp solicited opinions throughout the staff, and thoughts varied widely. Because we had already had some intel that the Pistons were favoring Ausar Thompson, it was decided the pick would be Ausar and the worst that would happen is it would make the mock draft a little more chaotic than expected.
Finally, we are here for the NBA Draft. This time, the staff was asked to list their top five potential players assuming Victor, Scoot, and Brandon are off the board. We then averaged out all the draft positions and this list is the result.
It turns out, if you’re lower on Ausar Thompson, you’re really low on Ausar Thompson. While Taylor Hendricks and Anthony Black fought over the scraps of being included and omitted on others’ lists. That left a trio of more consensus selections up top — Amen Thompson, Jarace Walker, Cam Whitmore. I’ve synthesized what I believe is the case for and the case against each of the selections.
Let’s get to the list!
Detroit Bad Boys Top 5 Players at No. 5.
Stats: 12.5 points, 5.3, rebounds, 0.7 assists | 47.8 FG%, 34.3 3P%, 70.3 FT%
The Case For
Detroit needs athletic talent, and they desperately need it on the wing.
While the 2023 lottery crop is full of six-foot-five plus athletes, Villanova freshman, Cam Whitmore addresses a number of sorely lacking needs at the forward position.
Whitmore’s blend of size, strength and bounce at six-foot-six is unique for an 18-year-old freshman.
Offensively, Whitmore projects to enter the NBA as an effective off-ball player with his off-ball cutting and catch-and-shoot abilities.
In 26 collegiate games, the teenager shot 40% on 45 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts. When he’s able to get his feet set, the form on his jump shot is viable and is a solid bet to translate over to the NBA.
The power and strength within Whitmore’s attack yielded excellent results as a finisher, converting on 64.5% of shots at the basket. The majority of these baskets came via cuts or straight-line drives, but Whitmore’s developing handle gives reason to believe he can become more dynamic as a shot-creator with the ball in hand.
The Case Against
Passing and processing ability.
Whitmore dished out 0.7 assists to 1.6 turnovers per game as a freshman, yikes.
For the most part, the Saddiq Bey comparisons between the pair of Villanova forwards have been off-base. But, the one area where each of the burly forwards draws similarities is in their stop-and-survey approach to offense.
Upon receiving the pass, Whitmore has a tendency to; stop, look at the play ahead and jab-stepping before making a decision. Put simply, he’s somewhat of a ball-stopper.
On drives to the basket, Whitmore rarely looks to pass, not for selfish purposes, but the teenager is often slow to read the adjusting defense ahead of him. Missing open teammates in a better position to score.
While these processing and playmaking deficiencies would be nullified alongside Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, this area of Whitmore’s game requires the greatest improvement.
Stats: 11.2 points, 6.8, rebounds, 1.8 assists | 46.5 FG%, 34.7 3P%, 66.3 FT%
The Case For
Jarace Walker just feels like Troy Weaver’s favourite kind of prospect.
The Pistons’ general manager has a penchant for physical, lengthy forwards (and bigs). Isaiah Stewart, James Wiseman and Jalen Duren were all favourites of Weaver’s in their respective pre-draft work-outs.
Like the aforementioned trio, Walker is fit with a 7-foot plus wingspan and enters the NBA with a muscle-bound 250-pound frame.
But, for as many similarities Walker has with Detroits current crop of bigs, there are equally as many differences within his skill set. Namely his ball-handling and potential shot creation.
Walker’s 1.8 assists per game won’t blow you away, but the freshman has a great offensive feel at 6-foot-7.
He’s able to make split-second decisions out of live-dribble actions—Houston frequently used the freshman as a ball handler in pick-and-roll looks—as well as make reads from the short roll and on the interior.
With an already decent handle, if Walker can continue to improve his outside shot—he shot 35% from deep at Houston—there's potential for Walker to grow into a Jerami Grant level of shot creator.
On the other end of the court, the Houston product has all the tools to be a defensive force at the forward position. Walker has the quickness and length to contain smaller players, while also having the bulk to absorb physical pressure from bigs.
The flexibility Walker offers as a help defender and on-ball defender makes him a tantalizing prospect to slide alongside Jalen Duren in the front court.
The Case Against
How much do you believe in the jump shot?
Walker converted 35% of his threes at college. A solid percentage, but nowhere near threatening enough to garner defensive attention at the NBA level. On ‘un-guarded’ outside looks, Walker converted only 38%, further cementing the notion that NBA teams will simply dare him to shoot.
If the jump shot doesn't develop, does a Walker/Duren front-court offer enough offensively for Detroit to win at the highest level? Most likely not. Even with Duren and Walker’s passing chops, the spacing issues caused would be to the detriment of Cunningham and Ivey’s attack.
Stats: 16.4 points, 5.9, rebounds, 5.9 assists | 56.8 FG%, 23.3 3P%, 64.6 FT%
The Case For
There is a very real possibility that Amen Thompson ends up being the second-best player in the 2023 Draft Class.
The 6-foot-6 wing out of the Overtime Elite (OTE) enters the NBA as a 99th-percentile athlete. Not only can Thompson jump out of the gym, but he also is able to gracefully launch off of one or both feet. A trait that makes him a dynamic player around the basket in both on-ball and off-ball situations.
Thompson converted on 74.3% of looks at the rim with the City Reapers last season. He possesses hand-eye coordination and a quick twitch which allows him to chain dribble moves together and explode for finishes in transition and the half-court.
Without the ball, Thompson is a more than willing cutter and a constant threat to score on lob attempts from the dunkers spot or when dashing full-court on a fast break.
The high-flying wing has also demonstrated an ability to create open looks for teammates via his relentless dribble penetration. Thompson dished 5.9 assists a contest, many of which were generated off him drawing a help defender and hitting the open man for a basket.
Defensively, the California native has it all. Length, speed, a broad frame, lateral quickness, anticipation, you name it.
There were many instances where Thompson flat-out suffocated the competition during his recent season with the OTE. His 2.3 steals and 0.9 blocks were a result of a multitude of overwhelming defensive possessions on a nightly basis.
If he’s able to channel the requisite time and energy into defense at the next level, there’s All Defense-type potential within the 20-year-old.
The Case Against
The jump shot is non-existent.
Thompson’s shooting percentages outside of six feet were mightily concerning. He shot 23.3% on threes and 28.2% on mid-range attempts.
On top of the poor conversion rate, his release will likely need to be completely rebuilt from the ground up.
In order for Thompson to scrap his ceiling as a pro, it’s imperative he develops either a mid-range game or a three-point stroke. Without either, NBA defenses won’t need to account for him off-ball and will sag to the painted area when Thompson possesses the rock. Not ideal for an offense featuring slashing threats like Jaden Ivey and Cade Cunningham.
Thompson’s defensive awareness was suspect at best during his time with the OTE. The 20-year-old was often out of position and looked lost at times defending in space. On the ball, Thompson was susceptible to blow-bys as a result of his often straightened stance.
If these habits aren’t rectified early, they have the potential to significantly limit Thompson’s ability on this end of the court.
Stats: 15.1 points, 7.0, rebounds, 1.4 assists | 47.8 FG%, 39.4 3P%, 78.2 FT%
The Case For
UFC’s Taylor Hendricks has arguably the highest floor of any prospect listed in this article.
The 19-year-old is the prototypical big man for the modern-day NBA.
He can protect the basket, rebound, defend multiple positions and stretch the floor offensively. He truly embodies the ‘3&D’ archetype of a player.
In 34 games as a freshman, Hendricks swatted a shade under two shots (1.9 blk) per game, often rotating over from the weakside to deter the opponent at the basket. Impressively, his high block numbers weren’t conducive to fouling with Hendricks only fouling an average of twice per outing.
As a three-point shooter, Hendricks is able to dial outside looks from a multitude of ways. He shot 40% or better on catch-and-shoot (40%), pick-and-pop (61.5%) and transition (55.6%) three-point looks.
On top of the shooting and defensive prowess, Hendricks also projects as a solid rebounder. An area which Detroit has surprisingly struggled with, ranking in the bottom 10 of the league in the past five seasons.
The Case Against
If he’s not catching and firing immediately, there’s little Hendricks has to offer in terms of self-creation. As today’s kids would say; ‘Hendricks has no bag’.
If the jumper isn’t failing as a rookie, Hendricks could suffer similar growing pains as Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr.
Even with these possible struggles, Hendricks still has a ton of NBA potential, but the question now begs; is it worth taking a shot on a guy like Hendricks at pick-five when there are higher ceiling options on the board?
Barring disaster or extreme lottery luck, the 2023 Draft should be the final time Detroit select in the top five for the foreseeable future. Is a core of Cunningham, Ivey, Duren and Taylor Hendricks enough talent to compete with the Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder and other budding young teams?
Stats: 16.3 points, 6.9, rebounds, 6.1 assists | 48.3 FG%, 30.0 3P%, 67.1 FT%
The Case For
There are only two true wings projected to be available at pick five, Ausar Thompson is one. The other is Villanova’s, Cam Whitmore.
The Overtime Elite blue-chip prospect exudes all the physical traits of an elite wing talent. A lengthy 7-foot wingspan, a reported 38-inch vertical leap and a 6-foot-6 frame built to add muscle. Add in a crazy work ethic and it’s easy to see how Thompson has scouts enamoured with his potential.
During two seasons with the Overtime League Thompson overwhelmed the competition with his athletic gifts, particularly on the defensive end.
Thompson averaged 2.7 steals and 1.3 blocks per game in 16 games with the City Reapers this past season. The 20-year-old was a disruptive force in the passing lanes, generating countless buckets off of takeaways from his opponent.
While it could take Thompson some time to find his footing offensively in the NBA, there’s plenty of reason to believe he’ll be excellent in transition as a rookie. Thompson converted 75% of looks at the rim on fast breaks, finishing with dunks on over half of his scores (24/46 FGM), per Synergy Sports.
The California product also demonstrated an awareness as a connector offensively. Attacking a rotating defense and finding the open man won’t be an issue for Thompson as a rookie.
The Case Against
How big of a believer are you in Ausar’s jump shot?
Without a jumper worth defending, it’s hard to envision Thompson as a starting calibre wing in the NBA. Unlike his brother, Amen, Ausar doesn’t have the explosive first step and shifty ball-handling skills to burst through defenders.
This was evident in his half-court scoring numbers.
Per Synergy Sports, Thompson’s 75% finishing rate at the basket dropped from 65% overall to 50% against a set defense in the half-court. Many of his finishing struggles were a result of forced lay-ups where the 20-year-old struggled to create the necessary separation to finish.
Thompson's 31.4% clip on catch-and-shoot did him no favours when trying to attack a set defense. If this number carries across to the pros, defenses will simply dare Thompson to shoot and will load up on Detroit’s ball handlers instead.
It is worth noting Thompson showed signs of shooting improvement in the Overtime Elite’s playoffs. He knocked down 38% (15/39 of three points tries, a significant improvement on his 30% season average.
Stats: 12.8 points, 5.1, rebounds, 3.9 assists | 45.3 FG%, 30.1 3P%, 70.5 FT%
The Case For
In the modern NBA, a roster can never have too many playmakers. Especially high-feel, high-IQ distributors such as Anthony Black.
Black is a paint-penetrating machine. The combo guard out of Arkansas got to the paint at will as a freshman using his size and strength to forge his way to the basket. Black finished 58% of looks at the rim and was a frequent visitor to the free-throw line, averaging 5.2 free-throw attempts a game
Black leverages his size and driving ability as a playmaker too. The assist numbers don’t jump off the page, but the 19-year-old is able to create looks for teammates on the ball and as a connective piece within an offense.
The defensive end of the floor is where Black could really thrive in the NBA. The Arkansas product is a stout defender on-ball and a witty defender in help and off-ball scenarios. He was one of college basketball's best at intercepting a pass and hitting a teammate in transition for two points.
His size, frame and quickness enable Black to defend both guard positions with relative comfortability. If he can continue to develop muscle, there’s potential for Black to defend the NBA’s bigger wings in spots.
The Case Against
Of all the prospects listed in the top 10, Black feels like a certainty to become a rotation-level guard on a Playoff roster. The basketball smarts and intangibles make the combo guard a coach's dream.
The floor is really high with Black, but it’s the limited ceiling that makes it hard to envision the floor in general in Detroit—particularly following Troy Weaver’s recent comments regarding his draft philosophy.
The teenager's awkward jump shot and questionable fit alongside Ivey and Cunningham are further reasons to believe Black’s addition might not be fruitful. While each of the Thompson twins poses similar issues from a skill standpoint, their athletic traits have them slightly ahead of Black in the pecking order.
DBB Writing Staff Voting Tally:
Each staff member ranked their top-5 prospects in order from one to five. The first-placed prospect received five votes, the second four votes and so forth.
Below are the total votes:
- Cam Whitmore, 29 votes
- Jarace Walker, 27 votes
- Amen Thompson, 19 votes
- Taylor Hendricks, 14 votes
- Ausar Thompson, 10 votes
- Anthony Black, 6 votes