POP Roundtable: Previewing the NBA Draft, Trading Jerami Grant, and Paying Deandre Ayton

On top of the NBA Draft, the Pistons are reportedly key pursuers in Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (right). (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

The NBA Draft is right around the corner, and the Detroit Pistons are picking fifth overall and have another chance to add a blue-chip prospect that pushes the team back toward the postseason. With Detroit selecting fifth-overall, a disappointing but not dooming outcome, the Pistons likely will not be getting one of the perceived “best” prospects like Chet Holmgren or Jabari Smith. Their options are not limited, however, as there are some great prospects available that certainly fill needs on the roster.

I asked the guys at Palace of Pistons to give their thoughts on the draft, picking for fit or upside, and how Jerami Grant fits into everything.

Question 1: The Pistons fell out of the top four, a big blow as many consider this draft to be top-heavy and fall off a bit starting with…pick number five. What should Detroit do with the fifth pick?

Dylan Edenfield, Staff Writer: “The Pistons could go a few different ways in this year’s draft, as there doesn’t seem to be a must-have prospect after the top three. I am personally hoping that Jaden Ivey slips to the Pistons at five, unlikely as it may seem. Recent reports have shown that the Pistons aren’t especially high on Ivey, but I think his downhill explosiveness paired with Cade’s poise and playmaking could give the Pistons their backcourt of the future for the next decade. Ben Mathurin’s three-level scoring and athleticism make him my next favorite option.”

Tim Forkin, Staff Writer: “All in on Ben Mathurin here. A classic 6-foot-6 two-guard with outside shooting, some bounce, good defense… sure sounds like a tasty fit next to Cade Cunningham. With Killian Hayes coming off the bench, the Pistons could opt to go small with three tough defenders at the first three guard spots in certain lineups to ease up on Mathurin’s average playmaking. What pushes Mathurin over the top with the 5th pick compared to Keegan Murray (another nice option and my second choice), Jaden Ivey, Shaedon Sharpe and others is… as Palace of Pistons Podcast co-host Jasper Apollonia likes to put it… He just has that DAWG in him.”

Jasper Apollonia, Palace of Pistons Podcast Co-Host: “Assuming Jaden Ivey is not available, the Pistons should take Keegan Murray out of Iowa with the fifth pick in the draft. While he does not have Ivey’s rim-rattling explosiveness, or maybe have quite as much of that DAWG in him as Benedict Mathurin, Murray is arguably the best scorer in this draft from day one, as he shot nearly 40% on his threes and over 60% on his two-point attempts last season. He’s not a creator and his handle could use some work, but he’s easily the most polished prospect outside of the top three picks, and could quite possibly walk in the door as one of the Pistons best scorers and defenders from day one.”

Q2: Who do you think is going to be the sneaky-good player that falls out of the top 5?

Dylan: “Shaedon Sharpe is one way to go here, as he’s the most unknown of the likely available prospects at five and seems to have the highest ceiling as a scorer among Ivey, Mathurin and Murray. If Sharpe does fall past the Pistons at five, there is tremendous value for whoever takes a chance on him after. Not too many people have seen him play in the last year, though, making him undoubtedly the highest risk-reward player in this year’s draft. I am not particularly comfortable with the Pistons risking their pick on him, but I definitely see the appeal.”

Tim: “The track record on player development in recent years is that players with crazy athletic tools and great defense are becoming good enough shooters to stay on the court. Dyson Daniels is the hot name rising up the boards, but I’d give him less than 3% chance to crack the top-five. He has every tool to succeed in the NBA — huge size for a guard, quickness, active hands, good playmaking and finishing instincts, intimidating defense while guarding one through four. I don’t think he becomes a superstar, but he’s going to be a damn good player for years.”

Jasper: “In a draft that feels destined to have the best player end up being taken outside the top half of the lottery, I think Mark Williams out of Duke has a chance to be that player. His physical tools, at 7’1 with a 9’9 standing reach, fit exactly the type of player you want from a modern rim-protecting big man, and while he’s certainly still raw in many ways, I think he has a legitimate shot at being an elite rim-protector and rebounder while also providing a dangerous lob threat. Don’t get me wrong, a lot has to go right for Williams to hit his ceiling, but he’s a player I’ll be keeping an eye on even if he doesn’t end up in Detroit.”

There are a lot of Benedict Mathruin (above) fans in the Palace of Pistons house, with his athleticism and fit next to Cade Cunningham a big factor. (James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Q3: There are several teams in the lottery that could trade for Jerami Grant. The Blazers, Wizards, Pelicans, and Cavaliers could all have an interest as teams looking to compete for the playoffs next season. If the Pistons get another lottery pick, who are a few players you would like them to target?

Dylan: “Unless the Pistons are getting a top-10 pick, they should be hanging on to Grant – for now at least. If Portland is willing to send 7th-overall to pair Grant with Damien Lillard, however, I think the Pistons should seriously consider it, as that pick will have a name from the same group Detroit is considering at five. I would be ecstatic to nab Mathurin, Murray, or Sharpe at 7 – in that order.”

Tim: “Building off of my first answer, I would take Mathurin at five only if it’s clear that the Pistons are not acquiring another first round pick. My reasoning may be flawed here, but if the Pistons have both the 5th and 7th selections heading into the NBA Draft, they should do everything they can to snag both Murray and Mathurin — even if it means taking the risk of Keegan Murray at 5. Otherwise, I’m great with coming out of the draft with two of any of these other targets: Johnny Davis, Shaedon Sharpe, Jaden Ivey, or any of the big three consensus studs (Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren, and Paolo Banchero).”

Jasper: “If the Pistons acquire Portland’s pick, I think without question I’m taking Murray at five and Mathurin at seven. If they end up acquiring a pick later on the in the lottery, where players such as Mathurin, Sharpe, Dyson Daniels or Johnny Davis likely will be off the board, I would be more than willing to swing for the fences and draft a high-upside big man like Mark Williams or Jalen Duren. While I’ve been nervous about his injury history, I also think a player such as A.J. Griffin would be more than worthy of taking a chance on outside of the top-10. Sure, there’s risk, but he’s arguably the best shooter in this class, and could be an absolute steal if he can stay in shape.”

Q4: The roster is still a work in progress, aside from Cade Cunningham. What player in the Pistons range works best with him?

Dylan: “Cade Cunningham has already shown that he can play with just about anyone – a rare and valuable trait. I don’t think there is a player in the Pistons range that would not fit with Cade, but I do love the prospect of adding an explosive downhill threat like Jaden Ivey to pair with him. Cade does not have many weaknesses, but he does lack an elite first step, something that Ivey possesses and showed at Purdue. Other than a rim protector, I don’t think the Pistons have a more pressing need than a quick guard who can score around the rim.”

Tim: “Once again, all in on Mathurin here. Cade Cunningham gets into the paint and makes the right decision. Mathurin is more of a play-finisher at this stage — 40% three-point shooting, smart cuts, enough self-creation to convince you he can get his own — while also bringing more athleticism than Cade provides. I get the idea that Detroit would want multiple ball-handlers on the floor in an ideal situation next to Cade, but there’s nothing wrong with addressing that in free agency and getting a plug-and-play two guard on draft night.”

Jasper: “I think it’s got to be Jaden Ivey. He and Cade could combine for a sort of “thunder and lightening” backcourt, with his explosiveness leading the fastbreak and Cade’s deliberate and methodical approach carrying Detroit more in the halfcourt. Both players could, in theory, cover for the other’s weaknesses while bringing an elite skillset to the table that the other lacks. Detroit really needs another guard next to Cunningham, and while I am a fan of some other guards in that range, I dont think any of them combine quickness, potential distribution and overall game-changing athleticism quite like Jaden Ivey does.”

Q5: Detroit is linked to several centers that could be available this summer, but the best one, Deandre Ayton, will take a max contract. Would you rather have Ayton at the max or a lesser one (Mitchell Robinson, Mo Bamba, etc.) and more cap space to fill other needs?

Dylan: “The Pistons’ biggest need is a dominant, shot-blocking center, preferably one that can at least knock down a mid-range jumper. Ayton provides that, but I’m not sure the Pistons – or anyone – should be paying max money to a big man with inconsistent effort. The Pistons already know what that’s like. With Detroit already having a crowded frontcourt of Isaiah Stewart, Kelly Olynyk, and likely Marvin Bagley, I’d rather see the Pistons use a committee approach with their big man rotation. Adding a cheaper option like Robinson or Bamba to that group would give the Pistons a few different center rotations to try out. Recent years have taught us that max money goes to star forwards and guards that can switch on defense.”

Tim: “It’s a copycat league, and I’ve grown very fond of Isaiah Stewart through these playoffs — Miami, Boston, Dallas and Golden State have each started a sub-6’10” center to great success, and the path to “Stew” succeeding in a similar role is clear as day. Still, I am torn. Detroit is going to run into both Giannis and Embiid for the foreseeable future, and needs a body to do something against those demigod bigs. Ayton can, and would, be great in a Pistons uniform. But for the money, I think Stew is good for now. One name that wasn’t mentioned in the question that would solve some of the Pistons’ biggest needs… Andre Drummond. Just kidding — give me Bamba or Robinson on a test run to see if Stew can propel himself into the next tier of centers.”

Jasper: “I’d absolutely pay Ayton. Look, Isaiah Stewart does some really nice things defensively, but he’s a total dud offensively. People acting like Mo Bamba and Mitchell Robinson are somehow comparable to a borderline all-star in Deandre Ayton are simply not watching the games, or are deluding themselves. There are a very, very select few true centers in this league that are worthy of a max contract, Ayton is one of them. It’s true that you can find decent big play in the NBA for cheap, but if you want an elite center, you either need to draft him or pay him. Next year’s big man class is a dud outside of Nikola Jokic, who will not be leaving Denver for Detroit. If the Pistons are serious about becoming a legitimate playoff team with real aspirations in the next couple of years, I don’t see how they can justify not doing everything possible to acquire the soon-to-be 24 year old Ayton as a restricted free-agent.”

(Featured image by Dylan Guell/Getty Images)

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