As expected, the Detroit Pistons selected a University of Houston star in the first round of the NBA draft on Thursday night.
It just wasn’t the Cougar everyone thought it would be.
Heading into the draft, Houston power forward Jarace Walker was favored to go fifth to Detroit. Instead, the Pistons picked up one of the most athletic, defensive-minded wings on the board in 6’6” Ausar Thompson — who was selected just one pick after his twin brother, Amen, who went to the Rockets.
And then the Pistons dealt a pair of second-rounders to the Celtics to move up six spots to No. 25 in the first round, where they selected Walker’s collegiate teammate, the 6’2” guard Marcus Sasser.
Critical consensus was that the Pistons knocked it out of the park with the Thompson pick, while the decision to move up to take Sasser was met more quizzically. Sasser is a fine shooter and solid defender, but was projected to still be around by the time Detroit picked to kick off the second round.
Yet Kyle Shields, WynnBET’s senior NBA trader, is more bullish on the Sasser pick than most.
“He’s a similar type player to Marcus Smart,” Shields told MI Bets. “I don’t mind the pick, getting someone who can handle the ball, play good defense, and make three-pointers.”
As for what Detroit did with its lottery selection, Shields said, “Ausar, he’s a pretty good fit. He played off the ball a lot with his twin, which should be good with [Cade] Cunningham and [Jaden] Ivey having the ball most of the time. Jarace Walker, they’re pretty set at big with [James] Wiseman, [Isaiah] Stewart, and [Jalen] Duren.”
Chemistry with Cade considered key
Draft picks tend not to move the needle much when it comes to team futures. To wit, even after selecting French phenom Victor Wembanyama with the first pick in Thursday’s draft, the San Antonio Spurs are a 200/1 longshot to win the NBA title at WynnBET.
The Pistons bring up the rear in this regard at 300/1, but could there be a free agent they could sign that would at least put them in the play-in conversation? Even if there was, Shields doesn’t think that’s part of this year’s plan.
“I feel like they will probably just try running it back, seeing how Cade progresses,” he said. “Last year, with Cade being out, you don’t really know how good they can actually be. Next year is where they’ll look to add a veteran free agent if things go well this year.”
Wembanyama is a -225 favorite at both Caesars Sportsbook and DraftKings to win Rookie of the Year, whereas Thompson is the seventh pick at 22/1 at both books. (Walker, who was picked seventh by division rival Indiana, is close behind at 25/1.)
So what would it take for Thompson to overtake his twin (Amen is at 15/1) and seriously contend for the first-year honor?
“He would have to come in and be a lights-out shooter and jell really well with Cunningham,” said Shields. “Obviously, it’ll be tough with Wembanyama and Scoot and Chet Holmgren in the mix. It’s a pretty stacked field. He’d have to be pretty spectacular.”
Jett’s surprising ascent
Two former Michigan Wolverines were taken in the first round on Thursday night, only not in the order anyone expected.
Combo guard Kobe Bufkin went to the Hawks with the 15th pick, which is about where prognosticators had him pegged to go. But sweet-shooting swingman Jett Howard, who left Michigan after just one year playing for his father, Juwan, was the night’s most surprising riser, going 11th to Orlando when most observers expected him to go in the late teens or high-20s.
“Jett Howard is a little bit of a reach, but the Magic has a history of taking Michigan guys like Franz Wagner,” explained Shields. “So I’m not too surprised they kind of reached for him. They also have a history of taking longer wings and have proven they can develop them pretty well. So this is probably best-case scenario for him.”
No Michigan State Spartans were selected on Thursday, although the Utah Jazz signed Joey Hauser to a two-way contract shortly after the draft’s conclusion. Upperclassmen A.J. Hoggard and Jaden Akins initially declared for the draft before opting to return to East Lansing, making Tom Izzo’s Spartans among the preseason favorites to win an NCAA title at odds of 15/1 (WynnBET).
“The college game is pretty different from the NBA at this point,” said Shields. “Izzo’s going for college profile players, whereas Howard’s going for ‘let’s develop you into NBA talent’ types.”
This goes a long way toward explaining why the Spartans are March Madness mainstays, while Michigan (60/1 odds to win the national title) is hit-or-miss.
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