Palace of Pistons Roundtable: What Should the Pistons do if they Pick Fifth?

Scouting G League's Ignite: Jonathan Kuminga, Daishen Nix – The Athletic
Jonathan Kuminga (above) is mostly regarded as the fifth-best prospect in the 2021 NBA Draft class, but he is not the slam dunk others are more regarded as. (Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

The NBA regular season has officially ended, and the Detroit Pistons are guarunteed to get one of the top six selections in the 2021 NBA Draft. While getting the number one pick is always the priority, it is also the easiest pick to make (at least this year, with Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham). But what about if the Pistsons have to make a (likely) pick outside the top spot? That is what keeps General Managers up at night.

We went to talkathon.com and went for a spin, just to see where the Pistons land. In this particular exercise, Detroit landed with the fifth pick – a near doomsday scenario given the talent level of the top four prospects on most big boards and the dropoff after that. In this scenario, Cunningham, Jalen Suggs, Evan Mobley, and Jalen Green are already off the board. Trading down is an option too, so we gave our guys the rest of the draft order:

  1. Wolves: Cade Cunningham

2. Magic: Jalen Suggs

3. Cavaliers: Evan Mobley

4. Rockets: Jalen Green

5. Pistons:

6. Thunder:

7. Raptors:

8. Magic (from CHI):

9. Pelicans:

10. Kings:

11. Wizards:

12. Spurs:

12. Pacer:

14. Grizzlies:

So we asked some of our writers what they would do if the Pistons’ ping pong ball fortunes dropped them off at number five.

Tim Forkin:

James Bouknight, who The Athletic has reported that the Pistons front office is quite fond of. Bouknight is a 6’5, 190 pound sophomore guard from UConn who plays with the same ferocity that Troy Weaver is trying to establish in Detroit. His signature 40-point performance in an overtime loss to ninth ranked Creighton showed a complete offensive package: tough individual shot-making, finishing through contact, creating opportunities through offensive rebounding and the ability to get to his spots whenever he wanted.

Detroit is in good hands if they fall outside of the top four selections because Bouknight would fit seamlessly in the backcourt as a dynamic individual scorer. He also plays like a Detroit basketball player, with toughness, trash-talking, and a game that backs it up. In what many are calling a five-player draft (penciling Jonathan Kuminga into this five-spot), they’re forgetting about the smooth scoring sophomore from UConn who could provide instant offense for a Pistons team that desperately needs it.

OKC Thunder lands James Bouknight in latest 2021 NBA Mock Draft
James Bouknight (above) helped lead a resurgent UConn squad, and figures to slot nicely into today’s NBA as a tough, high-volume scorer. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Dylan Edenfield:

In just about every draft night scenario, I think Jonathan Kuminga will be the 5th pick in this year’s draft; he is clearly behind the top-4, yet he seems to be a better prospect than the rest of a talented top-10. However, Kuminga’s NBA potential and role is more unknown than his peers in the top-10, and with the Pistons looking fairly deep with combo-forwards already in Grant and Bey, I don’t love taking the risk on Kuminga – but wouldn’t be mad at it, either. In this scenario, Kuminga would end up on the Kings, who will be in dire need of forwards with Harrison Barnes and Marvin Bagley likely on their way out. 

Instead, I’d be looking to trade down to around the 10th pick, adding another asset (late-first rounder) in the process, and having the choice of Davion Mitchell, Moses Moody or James Bouknight. I don’t think all three of these intriguing prospects will still be around by 10, but one of them will. The idea of adding a scoring guard next to Killian like Cade Cunningham or Jalen Green is exciting, but even if they miss out on those two, that idea can still come to fruition. Mitchell was a star during the NCAA tournament, while Bouknight and Moody also look like they could be the scorer Detroit is lacking.

Tyler Fauzi:

So the goal this draft is to grab a shooting guard to pair with Killian Hayes in the backcourt, and to get a high upside prospect at that position. Obviously landing at the fifth pick and missing out on the top-three guard prospects isn’t ideal, so I believe the best route is to go with a trade back to the 10th pick with the Sacramento Kings. The trade would go: SAC receives the 5th overall pick, and DET receives the 10th overall pick, a top 5 protected next year, and C Marvin Bagley. This trade allows the Kings to form a nice young 3 with Fox, Halliburton and Jonathan Kuminga who they would be picking with the newly acquired pick, with the added upside of finally moving off Bagley. The Pistons would get a nice back up center who could blossom with new scenery plus a pick for next year’s draft with the trade back. And now at pick number 10 Detroit should select SG Moses Moody out of Arkansas. 

Standing at 6’6 Moody slots in nicely with this young core as a guy with a high motor who fights for turnovers and blocks on the defensive side of the ball. On offense Moses is a raw scorer at both the 3 and in the paint that pairs nicely with Killian’s passing, as they work on developing that connection. I can already envision Killian nicely timing passes to Moses in the paint for a lay up, or kicking it out to sink a 3. With all of that, he’ll be a fun player and fits into the ‘Weaver mindset’ that is instilled in the Pistons roster. Obviously, a top 5 pick is ideal but there is still a good crop of guys between 6-12. And with what we’ve seen from Weaver so far, Pistons fans should have hope regardless of what happens in this year’s draft.

Jasper Apollonia

Call me a sucker for buying into pre-draft rankings, or doubling up on offensively challenged, defensive-minded guards, but if the Pistons fall to five, I’d like to see them take a shot on Jonathan Kuminga. As Dylan said, at this point, he’s clearly behind the top-four prospects in this class, but I also think his potential as a defender and scorer could give the Pistons one of the most unique backcourts in the NBA. He’s technically a small forward, but at 6’6″, I believe Kuminga can slot in at either wing position and, along with Killian Hayes, give Detroit the most defensively devastating backcourt in the NBA. Some might point to his positional questions as an issue, I believe that the shooting Saddiq Bey and Jerami Grant offer at the forward positions can make up for those questions in the short term, while also ensuring the Pistons have plus defenders that can switch 1-4 without any issue. In the modern NBA, where teams will abuse mismatches over and over again in playoff games, that can give Detroit a leg up on more talented offensive squads by focusing on their defense. 

The potential downside of picking Kuminga is obvious. The Pistons already have a glut of long wings with offensive issues in Hamidou Diallo and Josh Jackson. If Kuminga isn’t able to reliably play the 2, Detroit is looking at a real logjam at the SF position. As a sub 30% shooter from deep in the G-league, and a mediocre free-throw shooter to boot, there are real questions about Kuminga being able to provide Hayes with the reliable scoring threat in the backcourt he so desperately needs. That being said, I’m of the opinion that Detroit needs to focus on acquiring talented players at this point instead of chasing positional need, and for me, Kuminga is clearly the 5th most talented player in this class. He made strides in his offensive game during the G-league season, and if he needs a year or two to figure things out on that end, I’m fine with that. Is Kuminga the ideal pick? Absolutely not, but Detroit picking 5th isn’t ideal, to begin with. He fits the mold of a Troy Weaver player, and I’m a proponent of zagging when everyone else zigs.

Every other team in the NBA wants to focus on shooting and scoring? Fine. Let the Pistons create a defensive juggernaut, with players that can create havoc in passing lanes, rebound at every position, and make those other teams’ shooters absolutely miserable. If either Hayes or Kuminga develops the offensive game they’re capable of, Detroit will be one of those teams that every other organization in the league dreads seeing on their schedule, and that’s the type of team I like rooting for.

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