A month after the NBA rookie class of 2020 expected their debuts to happen, they’ll finally find out in what uniforms those debuts will take place.
The NBA draft is on the books tonight – five months after it was originally scheduled, another in an endless series of events postponed and transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Pistons, who went into the August lottery with the fifth-best odds to land the No. 1 pick and wound up with the seventh pick instead, have lately become linked heavily in mock drafts to Florida State’s Patrick Williams, a 6-foot-8 forward whose stock has soared as the draft process has played out in unprecedented ways.
Among them: While the Pistons might typically bring 60 or more players to their practice facility for draft workouts and interviews, this year the NBA – in a nod to pandemic safety protocols – limited teams to 10 in-person interviews with a limited number of team personnel on hand.
Troy Weaver, overseeing his first draft since being hired in June as general manager, downplays the magnitude of the differences imposed on this draft process and said he’s confident the Pistons will go into draft night armed with the necessary information to make an informed decision.
“I feel pretty good that we’re getting to know them,” he said. “I feel pretty good we’re getting the right intelligence. When we get in front of the kid via Zoom or in person, I feel we’re getting to know the prospect.”
What hasn’t changed, by outward appearances, is the identity of the perceived top three candidates. It was big man James Wiseman and guards LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards last winter and nothing has changed on that front. No one is certain who’ll be the No. 1 pick when Minnesota goes on the clock tonight – or which team will end up making the pick, for that matter – but the expectation remains that the first three picks, in some order, will be Wiseman, Ball and Edwards.
After that, it gets murkier, though NCAA consensus Player of the Year Obi Toppin and Israeli teen Deni Avdija are the two other players most likely to be off the board when the Pistons get to make the pick at No. 7.
In his role as second in command to Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti’s for the past decade-plus, Weaver has been a part of every major decision for a team that came tantalizingly close to winning an NBA title but he’s been most renowned for his draft acumen and ability to project what unfinished 18- and 19-year-olds can become as NBA players.
If the top five goes as anticipated, then Weaver could be picking from a pool that includes Williams, French teen point guard Killian Hayes, Auburn freshman wing Isaac Okoro, Southern Cal freshman big man Onyeka Okongwu or Iowa State sophomore guard Tyrese Haliburton. Okongwu’s status was cast into doubt on draft day with reports of a foot injury that could delay his debut. Atlanta, picking directly ahead of the Pistons, will get first pick of that group if Wiseman, Edwards, Ball, Avdija and Toppin are the first five off the board.
Among projected top-20 picks, the Pistons had self-reported workouts with six prospects: Hayes, Haliburton, Alabama guard Kira Lewis, Vanderbilt wing Aaron Nesmith and American native R.J. Hampton, who spent last season playing professionally in New Zealand. They participated in Ball’s workout held for the Pistons, Golden State and Charlotte, teams picking second and third.
The Pistons have no second-round pick this season, their 2020 second-rounder having been traded five years ago to Phoenix for Marcus Morris and Reggie Bullock. The pick currently belongs to Sacramento. Weaver recently expressed strong interest in finding a way to obtain a second-round pick, either via trade or by purchasing one outright.