Is Cade Cunningham The Detroit Pistons’ Best Bet In The NBA Draft?

If the Pistons pass on the Oklahoma State star, they might find the next Joe Dumars.
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After watching their team snag the top pick in the upcoming NBA draft during Tuesday night’s lottery, Detroit Pistons fans and front-office personnel alike face one pivotal question that will help determine what to do with that #1 selection:

How much do you like Killian Hayes?

The 19-year-old point guard, selected by the Pistons with the seventh pick in the 2020 draft, showed flashes of competence in April and especially May after returning from a hip injury that cost him most of his first NBA season. But at no point did the streaky-shooting southpaw assert himself as a dominant force, and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether he’ll eventually become another De’Aaron Fox, Cameron Payne, or someone in between — like D’Angelo Russell or Brandon Jennings.

The case for Cunningham

If you’re betting that Hayes will go bust, then you might want to actually bet on the Pistons taking Oklahoma State University point forward Cade Cunningham with the top pick. As of Tuesday morning, BetMGM had the 6-foot-8 freshman at odds of -2000 to be the top pick, making him the overwhelming favorite to be the first prospect to shake NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s hand — and possibly even hug him! — on July 29.

Despite the fact that Hayes, who’s the same age as Cunningham, played professionally for three years in France before entering the NBA (taking the Tony Parker path to the league), Cunningham is, by leaps and bounds, the more NBA-ready prospect. It’s extremely hard to find an outright weakness to his game. He has the potential to be an elite scorer, distributor, and defender as a pro.

If you wanted to nitpick, you could argue that Cunningham can be too passive at times, making one wonder if he lacks the killer instinct to become a true superstar. But if Paul George is his ceiling, that’s still plenty high enough to hang a crystal chandelier from.

Suggs or Mobley may make more sense

With or without Cunningham, the Pistons are unlikely to contend for a playoff berth for another season or three. And if the team is already committed to a long-term rebuild, it might make sense to give Hayes the keys to the offense and more time to develop — and draft yet another 19-year-old, Gonzaga combo guard Jalen Suggs, as his backcourt mate.

Like Cunningham, Suggs — currently BetMGM’s second choice to go #1 at odds of +1400 — doesn’t have many holes in his game. He needs to develop a more consistent three-point stroke, but is a great change-of-pace player who can score from all over the floor. He’s built like George Hill, but is a whole lot springier. If the Pistons — who really need a shooting guard — liked Brandon Roy in his pre-injury prime and decide that Hayes is their point guard of the future, they may be perfectly fine with taking Suggs over Cunningham.

At odds of +1600, University of Southern California 7-footer Evan Mobley is BetMGM’s third choice to be selected first. The subject of endless Chris Bosh comparisons, the lanky Mobley is an elite defender and passer with a great face-up game, but could stand to improve both his footwork on the block and his outside shooting. If the 19-year-old (notice a trend here?) can deliver on those promises, he’d fit in snugly alongside Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart in the Pistons’ frontcourt of the future.

Another Joe Dumars could shoot up the board

Nothing makes modern NBA scouts salivate more than a big wing with otherworldly athleticism. That would aptly describe 6’8’ G-League prospect Jonathan Kuminga, currently at odds of +2000 to go first in the draft.

Kuminga is as raw as you might expect from an 18-year-old with no collegiate experience, but if the Pistons liked how last year’s top draft pick, Anthony Edwards, developed in his rookie year for the Timberwolves, they might be willing to take a big swing on Kuminga, whose game offers similar deficiencies and (enormous) upside at this stage.

Alas, in every NBA draft, there’s a player who shoots up the board after initially being projected as a mid- to late-lottery pick. This year, that player could be Baylor combo guard Davion Mitchell, currently sitting at fat first-pick odds of +5000. Built like a fullback, Mitchell gave Gonzaga’s Hurts fits on defense in Baylor’s NCAA championship upset over the Bulldogs and improved mightily as a long-range shooter during his three years in Waco. His age (22) and height (6’2”) could be seen as deterrents, but if the Pistons are looking for another Joe Dumars — and, really, who isn’t? — Mitchell might be worth the extreme stretch.

Image credit: Marc Lebryk/USA Today Sports

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