Draft Central presented by Draft Kings
Draft Central presented by Draft Kings

Making the Case: Debating the pros, cons of top prospects and their Detroit Pistons fit

Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green
Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green are among the players considered at the top of the 2021 NBA draft class and the Pistons will have their choice when the pick first July 29
Andy Lyons/Juan Ocampo (Getty Images)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The Pistons have had more than three weeks now to digest the reality that they won the NBA draft lottery. Two weeks from tonight they’ll at last put their cards on the table. It stands to reason that they’re now deep into the process of evaluating the five players Troy Weaver said would stand as legitimate candidates to go No. 1 after the lottery results.

Not that there are any flies on the wall of the gleaming new Pistons Performance Center where Weaver and his inner circle are huddled, but if there were what might they know about the discussions taking place?

There is a case to be made for each of the consensus top five players to be the Pistons pick – and, perhaps, a case to be made against each of them. We’ve posted profiles of each of those players – Evan Mobley, Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Jalen Suggs and Cade Cunningham – though, as we’ve cautioned, those aren’t necessarily the five players Weaver had in mind for Pistons possibilities.

So let’s make the case for each one – and a case against each one for devil’s advocate purposes.

CADE CUNNINGHAM

SHOULD BE THE No. 1 PICK BECAUSE … Playmakers have never been more valuable in an NBA where equilibrium has tilted toward offense and the Pistons need an infusion of playmaking to catch up to the field. And playmakers with elite size – Cunningham is 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-1 wingpsan – are especially coveted. Combine that with potentially elite 3-point range – Cunningham hit 40 percent from the 3-point line at Oklahoma State on high volume despite marginal talent around him and invariably being the focal point of opposition defenses – and Cunningham adds up to the most complete offensive prospect in years. He’s also a responsible and disruptive defender who’ll better enable the switching defenses central to Dwane Casey’s blueprint at that end. Cunningham’s ability to serve as a primary facilitator will expand the lineup possibilities available to Casey and help ease the burden on Killian Hayes as an inexperienced point guard.

ON THE OTHER HAND … Cunningham is quite possibly the least athletic of the top five prospects and there’s a case to be made that the lack of high-end explosiveness will cap his playmaking effectiveness. Cunningham’s efficiency numbers at Oklahoma State required him to connect on an inordinate number of contested shots. There’s a school of thought that he’ll become even more devastating in the NBA surrounded by shooters and benefit from greater spacing, but doubters exist who wonder if the greater size, length and speed/quickness of NBA defenses will simply mean a greater percentage of Cunningham’s attempts will be of the contested variety in the NBA.

JALEN GREEN

SHOULD BE THE No. 1 PICK BECAUSE … Nobody else in this draft class has the potential to lead the league in scoring and the only way to have a chance to field a truly title-worthy team – the ingredient necessary to win playoff games – is to have someone with the combination of athleticism and scoring chops that Green possesses in abundance. There’s a little more projection with Green as far as his ability to harness his offensive skill set, but you don’t have to squint very hard to see that it’s within his grasp. Green is also a very neat fit with last year’s three first-round rookies – Killian Hayes as the pass-first point guard, Saddiq Bey as the high-volume 3-point threat and Isaiah Stewart as the physical screen-setter, rebounder and interior presence.

ON THE OTHER HAND … Green had more turnovers (40) than free throws (35) in 15 G League games, which might be a red flag for a shooting guard who wasn’t his team’s primary ballhandler and whose athleticism logically should have resulted in opponents resorting to fouling him more than they did to prevent him from scoring at the rim. Maybe that doesn’t scare anyone away, but it does underscore the uncertainty of projecting teenagers based on relatively tiny sample sizes.

JONATHAN KUMINGA

SHOULD BE THE No. 1 PICK BECAUSE … In a world where each of the consensus top five prospects max out, Kuminga is a good bet to appear in more All-Star games than anyone else. He’s got very similar measurables to Cade Cunningham but comes with an extra top gear or two. He’s also 13 months younger than Cunningham and there are a lot of teams that lean heavily into draft age when extrapolating future impact. Kuminga requires the most projection of the top five, but the potential outcome is a player who at age 25 generates the most value for his franchise.

ON THE OTHER HAND … Betting on Kuminga reaching his potential would be an easier call in a draft without the star quality apparent in prospects like Cunningham, Jalen Green, Jalen Suggs and Evan Mobley. And not that the presence of Sekou Doumbouya, a similar prospect with similar development challenges blocking his path to stardom, should be a disqualifier in consideration of Kumgina, but it’s perhaps a legitimate tiebreaker.

JALEN SUGGS

SHOULD BE THE No. 1 PICK BECAUSE … If it’s a question of the total package – offense, defense, athleticism, character, leadership traits – then Suggs is pretty hard to ignore. His two-sport dominance as a Minnesota prep, where he led both the football and basketball teams to state titles and was named both Mr. Basketball and Mr. Football, is a testament to Suggs’ winning DNA. In another age, maybe some would see overlap with Killian Hayes but in today’s NBA having the ability to pair two guards as adept at playing off the ball as on it – and with the size to facilitate the manipulation of matchups to their team’s advantage at either end – seems more an argument in favor than against.

ON THE OTHER HAND … The 3-point shot has become such a defining tool for players and the fact Suggs comes in as an average shooter – he hit 34 percent from the college line – diminishes the likelihood he’ll have enough offensive impact to warrant the top pick. There are also legitimate questions if Suggs has enough distributing instincts or vision to be a high-level point guard as much as a combo guard.

EVAN MOBLEY

SHOULD BE THE No.1 PICK BECAUSE … If a 6-foot-8 playmaker is unique and invaluable, what does that make a 7-foot playmaker? Mobley’s ceiling is preposterously high as someone with elite shot-blocking and rim-protection potential combined with his ability to be a one-man fast break and serve as a pick-and-roll facilitator. The Pistons see Isaiah Stewart as a player who can pound opponents inside with his physicality but also step outside and hit shots when the matchup warrants as much. A fully realized Stewart next to a fully realized Mobley would be bonkers.

ON THE OTHER HAND … The 215 pounds is cause for concern – especially if there’s reasonable doubt about how much Mobley’s lean frame can accommodate even as he physically matures and benefits from NBA-level weight-training sophistication. Mobley’s ability to play on the perimeter is a wonderment for a 7-footer, but if he’s relegated to playing almost exclusively on the perimeter because a lack of strength forces him away from the paint then his ceiling is lowered by a few levels. Also warranting debate are the many stretches of Southern Cal games where Mobley seemed content to blend in rather than assert himself in step with his superior talent level.

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