After much internal debate within a robust power structure, including vice chairman Arn Tellem, general manager Troy Weaver, senior adviser Ed Stefanski and head coach Dwane Casey, the Pistons opted for the consensus top prospect over the draft’s two other high-ceiling options, Jalen Green and Evan Mobley.
Cunningham is a 6-foot-8, 220-pound lead guard who possesses all the skills necessary to dominate the modern NBA. The 19-year-old can create for himself and others, play on the ball or off it, score from all three levels and defend across multiple positions. Cunningham may not be a truly explosive athlete, but his vision and command of the game have drawn comparisons to 22-year-old MVP candidate Luka Doncic.
“I love Detroit,” Cunningham told reporters after his recent workout with the Pistons, his lone pre-draft visit with any team. “I’ve already been listening to Detroit music and things like that, way before the draft lottery. … I was already hip to the culture in Detroit. It’s a city that has a lot of things going on, and I feel like getting the sports team rolling again would be huge for the city. Detroit fits me. That’s the main thing I’m going to try to do is step in and embody the swag that people from Detroit walk with, the people from Michigan in general. They have an underdog, go-get-what-you-want feel to them, and I like that about the city. ”
Cunningham averaged 20.1 points (on 44/40/85 shooting splits), 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.4 combined steals and blocks in 35.4 minutes per game as a freshman at Oklahoma State this past season. He led the Cowboys to a 21-9 record and the NCAA tournament’s second round, where his 24 points, five steals, four rebounds and three assists were not enough in an upset loss to 12th-seeded Oregon State.
Green is the explosive athlete, a highlight reel wrapped in a 6-foot-5, 180-pound frame. The 19-year-old faced professional competition for the G League Ignite last season, averaging 17.9 points (46/37/83 splits), 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.8 steals/blocks in 32 minutes over 15 games inside an Orlando bubble.
Mobley is to modern bigs what Cunningham is to modern wings. The 7-footer has the athleticism to defend in space, pick-and-roll to the rim or pop into a jumper, and even orchestrate offense himself. He averaged 16.4 points (58/30/69 splits), 8.7 rebounds, 2.9 blocks and 2.4 assists in 33.9 minutes per game as a freshman for USC last season. He led the Trojans to a 25-8 record and a berth in the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight, where he collected 17 points, five rebounds and three assists in a loss to top-seeded Gonzaga.
Gonzaga freshman Jalen Suggs was the fourth option of a clear top tier in this draft. He is as polished a 19-year-old player as you will find, completely commanding a Bulldogs team that took a 31-0 record into their loss to Baylor in the national championship game. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound guard averaged 14.4 points (50/34/75 splits), 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.2 steals/blocks in 28.9 minutes per game as a freshman.
Only, the Toronto Raptors surprised everyone by selecting Scottie Barnes, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound hard-nosed defender who played point guard as a freshman at Florida State. He averaged 10.3 points (50/28/62 splits), 4.1 assists, four rebounds and two steals/blocks in 24.8 minutes per game for the Seminoles.
The complete first-round draft order:
1. Detroit Pistons: Cade Cunningham
2. Houston Rockets: Jalen Green
3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Evan Mobley
4. Toronto Raptors: Scottie Barnes
5. Orlando Magic: Jalen Suggs
6. Oklahoma City Thunder: Josh Giddey
7. Golden State Warriors (from Minnesota): Jonathan Kuminga
8. Orlando Magic (from Chicago): Franz Wagner
9. Sacramento Kings: Davion Mitchell
10. Memphis Grizzlies: Ziaire Williams
11. Charlotte Hornets: James Bouknight
12. San Antonio Spurs: Josh Primo
13. Indiana Pacers: Chris Duarte
14. Golden State Warriors: Moses Moody
15. Washington Wizards: Corey Kispert
16. Houston Rockets (from Boston via Oklahoma City): Alperen Sengun
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