New GM Troy Weaver made his own stamp on the team Wednesday night with a flurry of activity in the long-awaited 2020 NBA Draft.
By the time the dust settled, the Pistons took part in three trades and reshaped their roster to get younger and more athletic.
So the obvious question, how’d he do?
Well, that doesn’t have a simple answer. It basically depends on what you think of the players.
I had both Killian Hayes and Saddiq Bey as top 10 prospects on my Pistons-specific big board. So certainly, I like both. I’m also a fan of Isaiah Stewart, though I liked him better when he was projected about 10 spots lower than where he was taken at pick 16.
Overall, you can certainly call it a successful night for Weaver. But there are certainly still plenty of question marks at the end of the day.
The Pistons’ French Connection
Hayes has plenty of things to like about his game. He has great size, he’s very young, he was pretty productive in France. He seems like a smart guy with solid character.
But I’ve always been a bit lukewarm on him. He comes from that same player profile of Emmanuel Mudiay, Dante Exum, and Frank Ntilikina of international point guards who were all young, had size, and some solid attributes. But they all lacked some je ne sais quoi from finding success at the position in the NBA. It’s not entirely fair to project their failures onto Hayes, but c’est la vie.
I am looking forward to the young duo of Hayes and Sekou Doumbouya being able to form The French Connection though. And really, there is plenty to be optimistic about with Hayes. He checks plenty of boxes, and with Derrick Rose not included in Weaver’s dealing, he may get more patience to grow into the role than those other names above had.
Going Old School
Isaiah Stewart’s selection had the same mixed feelings. As a player, I’m a big fan. Coming out of high school, he was universally considered one of the top prospects in the country, even as high as the number two player by Rivals. It wasn’t because of his frame like James Wiseman or for projecting his game in the modern league like with Anthony Edwards or Cole Anthony.
I mean, Stewart was the opposite. He’s a throwback player, a power forward who might be a little short to slide down to center, a rugged and physical post presence. It was because every time he’d go up against a tough matchup, he’d play great. He has such a physical style to his game that left him looking like a man among boys, even as a freshman at Washington.
He plays angry. I like that.
His toughness translates on the court. While his rebounding numbers will get some scrutiny, they’re actually fine – especially when you look at his 2.8 offensive rebounds per game. But in a tough loss to Oregon, Stewart was a force with seven offensive rebounds and 15 shots from the free-throw line. You saw the same thing in their conference tourney loss to Arizona, where Stewart had the team on his back with 19 rebounds and 11 free throw attempts, along with shooting 9-11 from the field.
He had eight games with at least double digits attempts from the line. That ability to play tough and get the call will certainly be beneficial for him at the next level.
As a defensive player, he’s fine. But yeah, it’s his offensive ability that he’s being drafted for. Washington played a zone, which makes figuring individual defensive ability challenging. But he has a terrific 7’4 wingspan and was an adequate shot-blocker at 2.1 per game. But his lack of particularly quick footspeed will likely make him a liability defending the perimeter and hints that his long term future may need to be at center.
The next step for Stewart will be developing a 3-point shot. He only attempted 20 at Washington, but showed touch from midrange and was a 77 percent free-throw shooter. If he manages that, he has all the potential for a nice offensive big man.
But. Offensive big men are not really considered all that valuable these days. Looking at the gem in Christian Wood the Pistons found on the waiver wires, it makes the return given for Stewart at 16 (a future first, while also taking on Trevor Ariza for the cash-strapped Houston Rockets) look steep.
Hopefully the future pick the Pistons send Houston’s way has some noteworthy protections on it. The Pistons are leaning heavily in on youth, which likely means those picks in the coming years will be quite valuable.
Bey Bye Luke
Three picks later, the Pistons used Luke Kennard to acquire another pick in the draft at 19. I’m a believer in Kennard, so this one is bittersweet too. But it makes sense all around.
The Clippers get the more proven player, the Pistons get the younger player with more physical upside.
I think Bey and Aaron Nesmith were the two best wings in this draft, ahead of the two who went higher than them in Isaac Okoro and Obi Toppin. Bey is terrific without the ball in his hands, doing a great job moving, setting up, and being able to get his shot off quickly.
He doesn’t have a ton of explosiveness or ability to create his own shot, which is probably why he fell in favor of the likes of Okoro and Toppin.
Kennard will go to a great situation with the Clippers, with plenty of open threes and two of the best perimeter defenders in the league helping him out defensively. It risks the old feeling of letting go of a player prematurely and see them flourish elsewhere. But Bey is a great value at 19 and makes it a risk worth taking.
The Pistons also brought back Rodney McGruder, which feels strangely consequential. In any rebuilding effort, you need adults in the room. McGruder is that. He’ll be able to help out with so many available minutes at shooting guard with a very reasonable salary at a shade over $10 million over the next two years.  Er, since this was originally written, he’s apparently being stretched. Ok.
Two for One
The final trade of the night saw the Pistons get in on the second round, sending a future pick and cash considerations to the Jazz for the 38th pick and Tony Bradley. The Pistons took Vanderbilt point guard Saben Lee with the pick, but honestly, I’m more excited about Bradley.
After coming into the league at just 19 then putting a couple of years in the G League, Bradley had the chance as Rudy Gobert’s backup last season and was terrific in the limited minutes.
The stats are pristine, the per 36 numbers are tantalizing. He’s your prototypical rim running center, but the aesthetics don’t really match the role. He has good but not great size. He’s not an explosive vertical athlete, more of the patient and deliberate type.
But he does the little things exceptionally well. He’s a great screener, positions himself well on the court, battles for offensive rebounds, and holds his own when he gets put on an island defensively. He just does positive stuff for you on the court.
It seems a bit perplexing that the Jazz just gave him away, but they drafted a center in Udoka Azubuike from Kansas at 27 and must feel solid about the four-year college player stepping into rotation minutes as a rookie. Just the same, I’m all for letting some other teams develop players for us.
Back to Saben Lee. The Pistons are signing him to one of their two-way spots, which makes a ton of sense for him. It signaled the end of the Jordan Bone Era at developmental point guard, but really Lee is the higher upside player.
Lee is a bit younger at just 21 years old, has a nice physical profile at 6’3 with a 6’9 wingspan, but his biggest attribute is his mentality. He plays with an aggressive downhill style, not dissimilar to what made Kira Lewis a lottery pick from Alabama. But Lee’s reads and overall passing chops don’t seem to possess the same advanced level, as he did most of his damage as a scorer.
But it’s also worth noting that he was without his fellow draftee Aaron Nesmith for the back half of the season. Prior to Nesmith’s injury, Lee had some of his biggest games as a passer. After it, he had some of the biggest scoring games of his career.
His downhill aggressiveness will benefit from the increased space at the next level. The key will be for him to balance his scoring/passing instincts. And a more consistent 3-point shot wouldn’t hurt.
I’m Dizzy, what just Happened?
Geez. So, do you have a decent idea what the Pistons roster looks like? Me neither. Just wait for what’s coming next.
Troy Weaver put his first stamp on the Pistons roster in his first draft. In the end, the Pistons got younger, more athletic, and kept their financial situation flexible (for then). They also took on a little more short term salary, which pulled them out of the running for top free agents Fred VanVleet, but we’ll talk about free agency later. They sacrificed some future assets.
Even after all of the moves, after putting some of the future assets on the table, I still don’t see the star. The young players the Pistons brought in all show promise and have aspects to like. But I’m skeptical of the star potential of any of them.
The roster was left rather out of balance. Have you tried putting the depth chart together? There are six small forwards, all of whom kinda need minutes. Shooting guard and center are thin, unless Detroit is all in on Bradley and Justin Patton. Point guard only has rookies behind the injury-prone Derrick Rose. And after adding five new players on Tuesday, the Pistons don’t have many roster spots left.
Er, scratch that. Now there are five small forwards and now an extra center, after the trade of Tony Snell and Khyri Thomas moving to Atlanta for Dewayne Dedmon in what looks to be a salary musical chairs. Except the latest is that the Pistons plan on stretching him?
Free agency opened up Friday evening. Well, with the moves the Pistons made, they are certainly the most active and oh uh err um ugh interesting team in the league right now. We’ll have some more on that in the coming days.
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