‘Now we’re No. 1’ – Pistons land top pick in NBA draft for first time since 1970

Hall of Famer Ben Wallace represented the Pistons at Tuesday night’s draft lottery and brought them the good luck to land the No. 1 pick
#1 pick in 2021 Draft
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

It’s like the old saying goes: The 14th time is the charm.

After 13 trips to the lottery and never moving up with their own pick, the Pistons made good on their 14 percent odds to win the No. 1 pick in Tuesday’s NBA draft lottery. They’ll be on the clock when the draft is held on July 29 and have their pick of the crop in a draft that’s been billed as being heavy in star talent at the top.

“I’m happy to have the number one pick, ecstatic about moving our franchise forward,” Pistons general manager Troy Weaver said from Chicago, where he’s attending the NBA draft combine. “Getting the pick right? That’s what I was hired for. We’ve got to do our work and be ready.”

The Pistons haven’t had the No. 1 pick since 1970 when they selected Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier of St. Bonaventure. The only other time they’ve had the top pick was in 1967 when they chose guard Jimmy Walker out of Providence.

Weaver struck gold in the 2020 draft – his first since being named Pistons general manager last June – when he picked Isaiah Stewart 16th and Saddiq Bey 19th. Bey last week was named to the All-Rookie first team and Stewart to the second team. Killian Hayes, taken with the No. 7 pick, missed 41 games of his rookie season with a hip injury but returned for the final six weeks and finished strong.

Getting the No. 1 pick, Weaver said, gives the Pistons their best opportunity to move forward with the process he’s termed their “restoration.”

Oklahoma State freshman Cade Cunningham, a 6-foot-8 playmaker who can fit in any lineup configuration, is considered the presumptive No. 1 pick but Weaver wouldn’t commit to focusing on any single player.

“There’s about four or five of ’em I felt that way about,” Weaver said. “Now we’re number one, so we get to pick the best one we see fit to move us forward. That’s the goal. Whoever we pick, that’s the number one goal – to continue to help us restore the Pistons and build this franchise back to where it once was.”

Weaver did an extraordinary amount of wheeling and dealing in the 2020 draft to pick up the two extra first-round picks used for Stewart and Bey and a second-round pick spent on Saben Lee. He’s called the four draftees the Pistons “core four.” Now they’ll add another highly skilled, highly acclaimed rookie to that mix.

Others who could be under consideration for the top pick include Evan Mobley, a 7-foot-0 freshman from Southern Cal; Jalen Green, a 6-foot-6 guard who skipped college to play a season for the NBA G League Ignite; Jalen Suggs, a 6-foot-4 guard who led Gonzaga to the NCAA title game as a freshman; and 6-foot-8 Jonathan Kuminga, who like Green skipped college to play in the G League.

“It’s going to mean a lot for this team,” said Ben Wallace, who represented the Pistons, of adding the No. 1 pick. “We’ve got a lot of young guys who play hard on both ends of the floor. To add a number one pick to that caliber of team, the sky should be the limit.”

Wallace, recently named as part of the Naismith Hall of Fame class of 2021, said prior to the televised event that he wasn’t bearing any good luck charms.

“I figure after all the work I put in, nothing but good things can happen,” he said.

Weaver was thrilled when the Pistons asked Wallace to represent them, he said.

“He epitomized everything we want to represent in this organization,” Weaver said. “He’s the symbol for our players to look to. He represents the city in a first-class manner. This guy was undrafted and now going to the Hall of Fame. He’s about everything we want to be about here.”

The Pistons went into the lottery in the No. 2 spot with the same odds to get the No. 1 pick and a top-four pick (48 percent) as Houston. The Rockets wound up getting the No. 2 pick, followed by Cleveland and Toronto. The Cavaliers moved up to three from five and the Raptors from seven to four.

The draft will be held on July 29, which gives Weaver 37 days to drill down on the top prospects – or to talk to his peers around the NBA to see what tantalizing trade offers might be proposed.

“We’ll continue to have an aggressive mindset,” Weaver said. “It might not yield as much as it did last year – maybe it will. We’ll have an aggressive mindset for this restoration process for sure. We won 20 games last year – we have to look at everything. We have to have the mindset to improve this team by all means necessary.”

The restoration process could not have gotten a more critical boost than it did Tuesday when – after so many lotteries ended with a thud – the Pistons finally wound up with the last card out of the envelope.

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