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  • Steve Hinson

The 2022 NBA Draft looks perfect for Detroit Pistons needs

It's been a long, frustrating season. And we haven't even made it to the All Star break yet.


Yeah, it's frustrating to hear "wait till next year" during a rebuilding process, but really though, if anyone was talking about this year as the next year you were supposed to be waiting for...well, they were dumb.


This roster was obviously destined for the bottom of the league, and that's ok. There's a time when it's appropriate to be bad, and this season is a very appropriate time. Teams are clawing for the postseason and even teams that saw themselves as potential contenders are around .500 or below - the Celtics, Hawks, Blazers, and Lakers.


The Pistons instead are starting a rookie, three second year players, and now 23 year old Hamidou Diallo has entered the starting lineup. That's perfect.


And given the makeup of the 2023 NBA Draft, next year really is that next year you're waiting for. They might still need more seasoning before competing for the playoffs, but the team that eventually is competing for the postseason should start to make sense.


The roster clearly needs another capital G Guy to accompany Cade Cunningham, and they'll get that this summer. By now, you've certainly heard the names. Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero came into the season as the obvious gems of the class, since then Jabari Smith Jr. and Jaden Ivy have inserted their names into the top tier as well.


The Pistons desperately need an infusion of offensive talent, particularly with size, and they'll get it with one of these guys. You can find scouting reports on them elsewhere, but I'll take a look rather about how they would fit for the Pistons and my current Pistons-specific ranking for them and a few others.


1. Paolo Banchero, Duke

I've been smitten since midway through the first half of Duke's matchup with Gonzaga. At the 10:30 minute mark, Paolo took the ball at the top of the key matched up with Chet Holmgren, went straight into Chet knocking Holmgren backwards, and made a layup drawing the foul. He completed the three point play, then on the next defensive possession helped force Drew Timme into a miss on a tough shot. He snagged the defensive rebound, immediately pushing the ball up for a 3 on 2 fast break, finishing it with a beautiful lob to Mark Williams. Gonzaga had another miss and Paolo called for the ball in transition on the wing, knocking down the three. Here's a video of the sequence.


That's a number one pick right there.


The versatility, the smoothness, the competitiveness in such a big game.


So much about Paolo's game is exactly what the Pistons need for this roster. I love his ability to act as a frontcourt ball handler, and he has the speed and size combo to be a prototype of a modern power forward.


His three point shot is a work in progress, but he's incredible from the midrange and a good free throw shooter - I think that three point shot will eventually be there. But I actually like that he's more dangerous inside the arc. He's shooting 54 percent on 9.1 two point attempts per game, with a large bulk of those shots coming from midrange. The Pistons are last in the league in two point field goal percentage and second to last in two point field goals made. They desperately need a tough shotmaker from two, and Paolo already excels on that front.


Paolo's upside is questioned, and I'm not sure of it either. He may not be the star player for a title team. But as a co-star of a title team next to Cade Cunningham? I could see it.


2. Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga

Chet's so weird.


His beauty is in the eye of the beholder, figuring out what his game looks like at the next level. But there's no doubt about his production at Gonzaga. Maybe he is just some actualized version of Poku (Alexsej Pokusevski), but he indeed looks actualized.


Both are super skinny seven footers with perimeter skills, but while Poku just flashes glimpses of potential, Holmgren has consistently produced. He's used his 7'6 wingspan to be an outstanding rim protector and inside finisher, and has also rebounded the ball well. His handle hasn't been quite what it was made out to be coming into the season, but he can certainly put the ball on the floor and showed some talent as a passer.


I just don't really know. It's much easier to see Paolo and Smith's path to being NBA starters than Chet, and it'd be tough to miss on those two by taking a swing on such an odd player. But I have him ahead of Smith because I think the Pistons are potentially the type of team that could be the right fit for Chet.


If you're planning for Chet to be your long term starting center, I'd be worried about it. I like Mo Bamba, but if Chet's destiny is to be a skinnier Bamba, I don't want to invest a top three pick in him. I'd rather just draft Smith and sign Bamba this summer. And I think he could wind up looking that way with a lot of teams.


But I like him alongside a player like Isaiah Stewart to bring out the best in both players and hide some of the limitations of each. Stew helps bring some of that bulk that Chet lacks while Chet offers the length that Stew comes up short with. Stew can man up the bigger centers while Chet offers a great weakside protector. Either gives you the option of playing up a position at four or holding down the five.


I also like Chet ahead of Smith because of his potential as a frontcourt creator, something the Pistons should have as a high priority. But it's close.


3. Jabari Smith Jr., Auburn

Smith has earned his way into the conversation for the top pick.


At the start of the season, I expected him to be a Kristaps Porzingis type of role. A stretch four, kinda stiff, good but meh. He's certainly been much more than that.


He has much more fluidity and lateral quickness than I expected, and has had some of those eye-opening type of plays - particularly with his transition threes, both as a ball handler and as a trailer.


At the NBA level, I definitely see Smith as a four who can slide down to center at times more than as someone who can mostly be a center. He's been playing next to 7'1 Walker Kessler at Auburn for the majority of his minutes this year, and I think it's benefited his perimeter defense to have Kessler and his four blocks per game backing him up. Which is fine for the Pistons, Smith would pair nicely with Stewart.


His jumper looks great, he has nice length and speed, he should be a very good power forward for a long time.


What I don't get with Smith is why his two point field goal shooting isn't better and why he doesn't accumulate more assists.


He's shooting just 44 percent from two, which is a red flag to me - particularly for the Pistons, who need help there. He's certainly not a particularly physical player, generally opting for a pull up over attacking the rim, and only averaging .6 offensive rebounds. Most of his finishes at the rim that I've seen have been uncontested, not much finishing through traffic or contact. I also wonder if he just doesn't have great hands - it seems like he bobbles a lot of entry passes.


And for a guy with pretty advanced handles, I just don't see much to his passing game. It's mostly pretty simple reads and not much at all off the dribble. It might just be a product of a more condensed college court and something that comes later for him, but I think Chet's shown more in that part of his game at this point.


Still though, he'd look great in a Pistons uniform if that's the way things play out on draft night. These are three very nice Pistons fits at the top of the draft.


4. Jaden Ivey, Purdue

When Ivey's name was showing up in the lottery conversation to start the season, it was weird. I mean, the guy shot under 40 percent with fewer than 2 assists per game last year. This is a point guard prospect? What?


He's showed why this season though. He's an absolutely electric player and has shown that he is capable of shooting. Purdue has the best offensive rating in the country, and Ivey is the reason why.


When Ivey pulls down a defensive rebound, accelerates end to end, and slices through for the layup, he just looks unstoppable. With his size, speed, and athleticism, that's something that will certainly translate in the NBA. Getting his three point shot up to snuff at 43 percent means he's also a half court threat as well.


There's a divide about whether he's more of a point guard or an off guard, but hey, there's that divide with Cade Cunningham too. I'd like to see more creation for the Pistons on the wing to pair with Cade, but a player as dynamic as Ivey certainly could work.


These four prospects are certainly in their own tier, and it's fair to juggle them up however you'd like. After Ivey comes a clear and dramatic dropoff in the draft's quality.


5. AJ Griffin, Duke

This is a bit crazy and probably at least five spots higher than you'll see Griffin anywhere else, but screw it. I think it's the right call.


This next tier behind the clear top four is a big conglomeration of guys. It depends on the type of player you're looking for. I think Griffin has star potential, and am slotting him here for the Pistons for that reason.


Griffin got off to a slow start in his Duke career, partly due to coming back from an injury, partly just because the team is absolutely loaded and he needed to earn his way into the rotation. He was a nonfactor in Duke's big matchups with Kentucky and Gonzaga, which accounts for his fall into the middle of the pack with most draft analysts.


But over the past month, he moved into the sixth man role and was been impressive. The quality of competition was mixed, but it finally gave the opportunity to see what kind of player Griffin really is - in more than just 5-6 minute stints. And he finally started, posted 22 points on 83 percent true shooting, and I think he's just getting started.


On the court, I see a lot of Jimmy Butler in Griffin. They're a similar size and build, and also move similarly. Griffin plays with the same kind of "fuck you" mentality that has helped to turn Butler into an elite player.


Like Banchero having that star moment against Gonzaga, Griffin had it with his first breakout game against Lafayette. He knocked down 3 three pointers over a two minute span, two of them were off-the-dribble-stepbacks. Ahem, yeah, Lafayette isn't at the same level of Gonzaga. And Duke was up 30. But still! It was a nice moment. And I think it was a sign of the type of player he is. The scoring is cool, but he was also diving on the floor, forcing jump balls.


I dig the competitiveness. From this tier of guys, he's just had more of those moments of seeing him and saying "Yeah, this is a DUDE" than any of the other guys in the range. That's what boosts him to 5 for me. I think he has the kind of chip on his shoulder to grind, a combination of both talent and meanness.


With his increased role, he's showing some nice scoring skills for his age. He'll still be 18 years old on draft night, but has been knocking down 44 percent of his threes and 63 percent inside the arc. He shows a nice midrange game, good physicality, and solid range on his three point shot.


I'd still just like to see a bit more productivity elsewhere in his game. He can put the ball on the floor, but hasn't really created for teammates much. He also looks like he should be a better defender than he's been. It seems like he competes, gets in a good stance, but has gotten beaten by guys who don't really have any business scoring on him and his block/steal numbers are just mediocre. He also doesn't get to the free throw line as much as it seems like ought to.


Not a perfect prospect, by any means, but none of the guys at this next tier are. For the Pistons, an aggressive, efficient, competitive wing? He's my pick.


6. Keegan Murray, Baylor

I admit, I'm throwing my hands up a bit here. Murray is showing he can score the hell out of the ball this year, and the Pistons need that. He's a tough shot maker from all three levels and would give Cade a reliable front court scoring partner. I'd love for one of the guys I have lower than him here, Kendall Brown or Patrick Baldwin Jr. in particular, to give me a better reason to have them above Murray.


There shouldn't be any reason for the Pistons to drop out of the top five in this draft, and I really hope they don't.


7. Mark Williams, Duke

The logic here is similar to that with Murray. Williams has given a reason to take him here whereas some of the guys below him haven't in the same way. But I'm sure no one else has him this high.


I think Williams could be a starter for the Pistons right now. Today. I love Isaiah Stewart and hope he's a Piston for life. But his limitations have been pretty clear this year, particularly if he never becomes a three point shooter. He's basically a Jason Maxiell role - which is great, Maxiell was an awesome Piston.


But that leaves an opening for a guy like Williams on the Pistons roster. Williams is an absolutely elite defensive center. He's seven feet tall with a 7'7 wingspan, blocks and challenges everything, an excellent rebounder, great mobility, great finishing and efficiency.


From day one, you know what you have and it's everything you need in the role with nothing more.


8. Kendall Brown, Baylor

Brown has been a draft darling early this season and I'm starting to think he might be becoming too much of one.


He has great size and athleticism, plays good defense for an excellent team. He's unselfish, efficient, there's a lot to like with him.


But also, I cringe a bit at having him eighth - even more than I cringe at some of the other guys who I have weirdly placed on this list.


Brown has been in single digit scoring for the past four games. He hasn't hit a three pointer in the past five games and has only knocked down more than one three pointer in a game once this season. He's had statlines in games this year of 4/1/0/0/0 (points/rebounds/assists/blocks/steals) and 2/1/1/2/0.


I like his unselfishness, he looks and feels like a guy who will be a helpful NBA player, but his lack of productivity is alarming for a guy that some folks have in their top five.


I think he still belongs in this range and he could be a great fit for a team out there, but probably not the Pistons. They have enough hesitant shooters and non-scorers that they're trotting out.


9. Jalen Duren, Memphis

Jalen Duren's talent should have him in the top five. But after a nice start to the season against some mediocre competition where he was blocking everything in sight and was a force of nature, he's just dropped off the planet.


It's been a disappointing season for Memphis. Duren and Emoni Bates were star recruits, the coaching staff is star studded with Penny Hardaway, Rasheed Wallace, and Larry Brown. But their 9-5 record makes their early season top ten ranking seem like team is just hype.


Folks will call this list crazy for having Williams so high and Duren so low, but I say that if you talk yourself into putting Duren ahead of Williams, you're the crazy one. The only way to justify that would be buying into hype.


He's had too many games where he just doesn't do anything. He's not blocking shots, not rebounding, not scoring. It's frustrating, because he showed the ability early this season. He was doing all of that at a high level and was hyper-efficient.


But he seems like the type of big man who ebbs and flows, who you have to feed on the block occasionally to get the best effort, who needs to be a featured player. It's been a tough season for Memphis, so it might just be a bad situation for him. But when you have another player who doesn't have those concerns, I'm going to go with the other dude.


Hopefully he and Memphis can get their seasons back on track. Duren posted 22 points, 19 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 2 steals back in November against Western Kentucky, and yes, I get that it's Western Kentucky. But they also have 7'5 Jamarion Sharp, one of the best shot blockers in college basketball, and Duren dominated.


It doesn't need to be monster games like that, but he'll need to get back to consistent productivity to avoid continuing to slide. Duren's capable of getting back to that top 5 range. But if he keeps going at the rate he's been at for the past month, he could also wind up at the end of the first round.


10. Patrick Baldwin Jr., Milwaukee

I want to believe.


In theory, Baldwin can be a legitimate power forward with solid size who can be a number one or two offensive option with incredible range, mobility, and handle. Heading into the season, I thought he might be the second best potential fit for the Pistons behind Banchero. It seemed easy to envision him as Cade's scoring partner in the frontcourt, getting buckets at all three levels.


Between injury and with his surrounding talent at Milwaukee, he hasn't been that.


He's missed time this season with a sprained ankle, which is concerning as he missed most of his senior season in high school last year with an ankle injury. And when he's been on the court, it's been a struggle. He's only shooting 31 percent from three with a 48 percent true shooting percentage, scoring just 13 points per game.


At this point, he's probably going to have to return for his sophomore year to show that his ankle is healthy - as well as improve his performance for his draft stock. It's not the worst thing in the world, as Milwaukee has been lousy at 5-11 so far and his dad is his coach there. Bringing his namesake back as a sophomore probably be helpful for pop's job security, who has yet to finish above .500 in his four years with the team. Maybe next year he pulls off a Keegan Murray type of season?


It's approaching time to drop him off the list, but I can't bring myself to do it just yet. I'm still too much of a fan of what Baldwin could bring to the table - plus just uninspired by the guys I have on the next tier.


Bennedict Mathurin would be the next guy up. He's been an efficient shooter and has good athleticism, doesn't really create much for his teammates though. But it feels like the Pistons are fine at the more shooting guard mold, I'd rather see more size on the team.


Maybe Johnny Davis, maybe Bryce McGowen, maybe Julian Strawther, maybe Terrence Shannon, but they all have that same issue. Are they really giving the Pistons anything they don't already have to an extent with Saddiq Bey and Hamidou Diallo? It just seems redundant.


It doesn't matter much since it's unlikely the Pistons will wind up with a second lottery pick anyways - and that's probably for the best. I just always go top 10 for this draft list each year.


***


It's been tough to watch the Pistons this season. But it's for the best. Any of the likely top 3 guys the Pistons would be getting will be great for them. I'll enjoy any of the top 5. But after that? It wouldn't move the needle, which would be a shame for such a shitty season.


But that's the good news. Next year should be the last year of tanking for the Pistons. Next year is that next year you've been waiting for. And it's not that long of a wait.


Do you realize it's been less than a year since the Pistons waived Blake Griffin? Less than a year since the Pistons traded Derrick Rose?


It's always nebulous to look through the crystal ball in this league. But Troy Weaver really has positioned the team well in building a competitive young team.

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