After falling in the NBA Draft Lottery and settling for the 5th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, the Detroit Pistons pathway to landing another top-level prospect to pair alongside All-Rookie First Team member Cade Cunningham has become more difficult than anticipated. The hopes of drafting in the top 3 – with the ability to pick any of Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, or Jabari Smith Jr. have come and gone. To make matters worse, even with the top three draft selections essentially decided upon outside of the exact order, the Pistons will be at the mercy of the Sacramento Kings, who will pick fourth on June 23rd and are one of the most unpredictable organizations in the league. The Pistons will be selecting from the second tier of prospects in the class: Keegan Murray, Shaedon Sharpe, Jaden Ivey, Benedict Mathurin, and AJ Griffin. Add or subtract from that group as you will, but those are the general prospects that Detroit will likely have the most connection to over the next month.
The draft will kick off a vital offseason for the franchise, which finished the 2021-22 season with a 23-59 record. Outside of Cunningham, the team lacks additional all-star level talent. Jerami Grant’s future with the team remains murky, they can’t start Cory Joseph in the backcourt again next year, and while Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart have improved since they were drafted in 2020 by general manager Troy Weaver, both stand with necessary leaps in their game required.
Short on star potential, with a lack of athleticism and play-making across the roster, is why the Detroit Pistons should select Jaden Ivey with the 5th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Ivey, 20, spent the last two seasons playing for Purdue in the Big 10. After a pedestrian freshman campaign with the Boilermakers, Ivey used his sophomore season to catapult to the elite class of players in college basketball. In 31.4 minutes per game, the 6’4 guard averaged 17.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game while sporting a 46/35.8/74.4 shooting line. Ivey was named to the All-Big Ten first team and played a vital role in leading Purdue to the Big Ten Conference Tournament Championship (lost to Iowa 75-66) as well as an appearance in the Round of 16 in the NCAA March Madness Tournament.
At Purdue, Ivey played in a multi-guard system alongside Eric Hunter Jr. and sometimes Isaiah Thompson in 3-guard lineups. He shined as a downhill attacker, utilizing a mix of speed, length, and athleticism to beat his defender(s) to the rim. He displayed capable playmaking abilities in Purdue’s pick-and-roll offense, but even with a 10% increase in his 3-point shooting percentage, there are still questions about Ivey’s long-term projections as a shooter as well as his ability to consistently lock in on the defensive side of the floor.
Spend 90 seconds watching Jaden Ivey and you’ll immediately notice he’s playing at a gear unattainable by the other nine players on the floor. He will never be the biggest or longest player on the court, but even in the NBA, it will be difficult to find players who can match his speed or bounce. His athleticism is on an entirely different level than anyone else in this year’s class and the way he explodes towards the rim draws comparisons to Ja Morant.
The explosiveness that Ivey plays with will be the driving factor in anyone’s excitement about his potential, but he has some secondary skills that forecast a broader future for him at the next level than just an athletic finisher.
Ivey is a nightmare matchup for any defense in the pick-and-roll. His speed and athleticism make it difficult enough for a defense to stay in front of the 6-foot-4 guard, but he’s a smart passer who can thread the needle or go up to a rising big.
Overall, he is a willing and able distributor. He may not have all of the fundamental skills of a primary playmaker, but the gravity he requires from defenses and his ability to move with his head on a swivel allows for secondary playmaking to come naturally with his game.
It’s no secret that Ivey can score the basketball, and can do so in a multitude of ways, but it is important to note that even at a somewhat slim 200-pound frame, Ivey is capable of finishing against and through contact at the rim. Between his ability to change speeds, adjust in mid-air, and use either hand while finishing, Ivey can score against contact and length with finesse or power.
Ivey improved his 3-point shooting percentage from 25.8% to 35.8% between his freshman and sophomore seasons. That being said, his outside shooting percentage suffered from an unwise propensity to fling 3-pointers early in the shot clock, oftentimes slowing his gallop in transition to hoist from beyond the arc.
He is much better suited to attack the rim or simply slow the ball down and run an offensive set. He will have plenty of opportunities to score from deep, especially when imaging him in an offense led by Cade Cunningham, but these early shot clock heaves result in wasted possessions and are a good way to find yourself glued to the bench both in the Big Ten and the NBA. These inefficient plays cast a cloud over one of the most exciting offensive prospects in the draft.
Although he has the natural gifts to be a strong on-ball defender, Ivey’s off-ball defense was concerning at Purdue. The All-American has an unfortunate tendency to get caught ball-watching, leaving opportunities for his opponent to capitalize on a cut to the rim or leak to the corner for an open 3-pointer. Seeing Ivey look unengaged on the defensive end is disconcerting, as there are exciting examples of him holding his own on that end of the floor.
If Ivey does not improve defensively, he’ll be limiting his potential to be an impactful player on both sides of the floor.
The Pistons are still searching for the right player to pair alongside Cade Cunningham in its backcourt. The hope was that Killian Hayes, Detroit’s lottery pick from the 2020 NBA Draft would be able to star alongside Cunningham. But, after an underwhelming sophomore season that was mired by a slew of injuries, that hope has faded. While Hayes is a more natural ball-dominant lead guard with a strong defensive knack, Ivey would be a much different archetype to place alongside Cunningham. He can play on or off the ball and would help take some of the pressure off Cunningham as a guard who can start or end plays. Hayes is a methodical ball-mover whose lack of scoring aggression was detrimental at times. Ivey on the other hand is a natural scorer with aggression and athleticism that would be unmatched on Detroit’s roster.
The Pistons could construct its roster a half dozen different ways this summer, but no matter which route the front office decides to take, it should include bringing in a starting-caliber guard. Ivey isn’t a perfect guard, nor prospect in general, but he would bring a dimension to the Pistons that they currently do not possess.
At this point, it’s becoming more and more unlikely that Ivey will be available by the time the Pistons are on the clock. If the Sacramento Kings don’t select him at four it may only be because they traded the pick to a team that wanted to move up for Ivey. But if somehow a prospect such as Keegan Murray or Shaedon Sharpe hears their name called when the 4th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft is announced, then the Pistons should be phoning in their pick before the fourth pick can walk off the podium.