Could the 7th pick yield next Detroit Pistons star? Draft history says there’ll be one available
Noah Graham (NBAE/Getty)
There’s a popular exercise once a team knows its draft position that goes like this: The Pistons are picking seventh in the 2020 draft – whenever it takes place – and here are all the players taken seventh in the past (fill in the blank) drafts.
A more relevant endeavor would be to examine not who was taken seventh but who was available after the first six players were taken.
Troy Weaver, hired as Pistons general manager in June largely on the strength of his track record of being able to project what 18- and 19-year-olds can become, gets his pick of the crop once Minnesota, Golden State, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland and Atlanta pick off the top six – make that the first six – players.
There’s less to learn from looking at past seventh picks than there is from looking at the possibilities offered by seventh pick in past drafts. The expectation is that Weaver is better equipped than the average general manager at spotting the diamond in the rough who can outperform his draft slot.
As you peruse the list of players taken at seven or lower in past drafts, understand that the goal for Weaver isn’t necessarily to find at seven the equivalent of Giannis Antetokounmpo – taken 15th in 2013 – but to find the best remaining player, to find a player who’ll be looked at differently by the basketball world at large a year or three years from now. And notice that in most drafts, there’s a future All-Star caliber player available when the seventh pick comes up.
We’ve gone back to 2006 because that was the first draft that American-born high school players were not draft-eligible.
- 2019 – It’s too early to make any sweeping conclusions but it’s fair to say Chicago didn’t make a glaring miss by picking North Carolina’s Coby White at seven. White averaged 26.1 points over his last nine games and he’s already a league-average 3-point shooter on high volume. Jaxson Hayes at eight and Rui Hachimura at nine also had promising rookie seasons. Tyler Herro, taken 13th, had a prominent role on a team now in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Pistons think Sekou Doumbouya – the youngest player in the NBA as a rookie – will take a big step forward in year two.
- 2018 – Wendell Carter, also a Bulls pick, has been pretty good when he’s healthy, but Chicago almost surely would draft Shea Gilgeous-Alexander if it had the chance at a do-over. Michael Porter Jr., one of the revelations of the Orlando bubble, went 14th and could be headed for stardom. But he gets an asterisk because everyone saw the talent but feared the prospects of lingering back issues. Denver took him 14th where the risk-reward ratio was more in balance.
- 2017 – Lauri Markkanen, yet another Bulls pick, had a promising rookie season but has plateaued since. A Donovan Mitchell-Shea Gilgeous-Alexander backcourt would look pretty good in Chicago, no? Bam Adebayo went 14th, one spot after Mitchell.
- 2016 – Jamal Murray was Denver’s pick at seven and there’s no second-guessing that one, though you could make a case that in a re-draft Murray might go after Pascal Siakam, taken 20 spots lower at 27. Two other emerging stars came out of that draft after Murray was picked: Domantas Sabonis at 11 and Caris LeVert at 20.
- 2015 – Emmanuel Mudiay has been a significant disappointment as the seventh pick, one spot before the Pistons took another in Stanley Johnson. Myles Turner went 11th, though, and Devin Booker, the 13th pick, would be no worse than a top-three pick in a re-do of the ’15 draft.
- 2014 – Julius Randle, taken seventh by the Lakers, has bounced around and scored everywhere he’s been without making much impact. If the best player from the ’14 draft isn’t Joel Embiid, taken third, then it surely is Denver’s Nikola Jokic, taken 41st. And if you think there isn’t an element of luck in the draft, consider that Denver used Chicago’s pick at 16 to take Jusuf Nurkic 25 spots ahead of Jokic.
- 2013 – Ben McLemore, who had considerable support as the top prospect in the draft at the mid-point of his only college season at Kansas, wound up going seventh in a draft similar to 2020’s for its lack of clarity at the top. It’s also the draft that produced Giannis Antetokounmpo at 15 in addition to C.J. McCollum (10) and Rudy Gobert (27).
- 2012 – Harrison Barnes went seventh in a draft that has proven to be thin. Anthony Davis was an eminently worthy No. 1 pick and Damian Lillard (6) is a future Hall of Famer. The Pistons did well to get Andre Drummond at nine. The most accomplished player taken after seven: Michigan State’s Draymond Green, who went 35th.
- 2011 – Bismack Biyombo inspired a wealth of intrigue but hasn’t lived up to his No. 7 draft slot. Kawhi Leonard went 15th and grew into one of the NBA’s five best players and a Finals MVP. Klay Thompson is on a Hall of Fame track from the 11th slot. Quality players taken later in the first round: Nikola Vucevic at 16, Tobias Harris at 19 and Reggie Jackson at 24.
- 2010 – The Pistons took Greg Monroe at seven and got good return until the NBA changed around him and reduced him to a role player. Gordon Hayward, taken ninth, earned a maximum contract and was on the cusp of greatness before suffering a traumatic leg injury in his Celtics debut in 2017. Paul George has been a legitimate MVP candidate, overcoming his own traumatic leg injury, as the 10th pick.
- 2009 – Golden State got a two-time MVP and the most prolific 3-point shooter in NBA history at seven, Steph Curry. That’s the all-time best seventh pick. DeMar DeRozan went ninth, Jrue Holiday 17th.
- 2008 – Eric Gordon has had a very good career after a one-and-done college stop at Indiana. Brook Lopez went 10th and has made the transition to modern-day NBA big man admirably, becoming a key member of Milwaukee’s NBA title contender. Serge Ibaka went 24th and helped Toronto to the 2019 NBA championship.
- 2007 – Corey Brewer went seventh after winning back-to-back NCAA titles as a sophomore and junior at Florida. He’s been a solid NBA journeyman for years, but Minnesota would have been better served taking his Gators teammate, Joakim Noah, who went ninth.
- 2006 – Randy Foye hung around the NBA for 12 seasons as a useful role player. To illustrate how the draft is often more art than science, consider the career of his Villanova teammate, taken 17 spots lower than Foye. Kyle Lowry has a streak of six consecutive All-Star appearances and has a chance to defend Toronto’s 2019 NBA title even after the departure of Kawhi Leonard in free agency.