Running the lottery gamut: Who would be Pistons picks at 1 through 9?

LaMelo Ball
LaMelo Ball at No. 1? If the Pistons beat the odds and draw the top pick in tonight’s lottery, the 6-foot-7 point guard would be an intriguing option
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by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Be forewarned, Pistons fans. The odds say the Pistons have a greater chance of drafting at No. 7 than at any other spot in this year’s draft lottery. In a draft without a clear-cut star as the prize for pulling the top pick, maybe that isn’t the emotional dagger it would otherwise feel like.

Troy Weaver will represent the Pistons at tonight’s draft lottery, scheduled for 8:30 p.m. and televised by ESPN. He’ll be battling history: The Pistons are 0-for-13 in their previous non-playoff seasons at moving up in the lottery since it was instituted in 1985.

Weaver joined the Pistons as general manager in June after a 12-year run as Oklahoma City’s assistant GM, where he gained a league-wide reputation for his ability to spot talent – the most essential tool in a personnel executive’s bag.

And nobody knows how Weaver views this draft. But here’s an attempt – purely for fun, based on nothing more than widely available video clips and speculative draft assessments – at what would happen for the Pistons over their range of draft possibilities from the No. 1 pick through the No. 9 pick, the farthest they could fall in the unlikely event four teams with worse odds leapfrog them.

(For practical purposes, we’ll assume that a player the Pistons might have picked won’t be available after that pick. In reality, in a draft this uncertain, the player the Pistons would take first might well be available to them several spots lower.)

No. 1 (10.5 percent odds) – LaMelo Ball

At 6-foot-7, the youngest of the three Ball brothers is longer than older brother Lonzo, the No. 2 pick in 2017. LaMelo also comes with the same question marks about his 3-point range and praise for his vision and passing skills. His edge over Lonzo is his shiftiness off of the dribble. In today’s spread offenses, Ball’s combination of size, ballhandling, vision and ability to pass with either hand opens a world of possibilities for Dwane Casey’s offense.

No. 2 (10.5 percent odds) – Anthony Edwards

By most accounts, if there’s a player in this draft with the potential to emerge as an alpha scorer, it’s the Georgia freshman. At a powerfully built 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, Edwards opened eyes with his 37-point outburst against Michigan State in Maui last fall. He had way too many lulls and Georgia’s lack of team success – a 5-13 SEC record – might be a red flag, though missing the NCAA tournament didn’t dissuade teams from taking both Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz No. 1 in recent drafts. Weaver said at his introductory press conference that when picking high, you get the person right and the basketball takes care of itself. If Edwards passes muster on character background, he’d figure to have high appeal.

No. 3 (10.6 percent odds) – James Wiseman

Has sentiment swung so far against big men that they’ve now become undervalued? Wiseman’s elite size (7-foot-1), length (7-foot-5 wingspan) and athleticism are tough to ignore for a team without a long-term answer in place at center. (Free agent Christian Wood can play either center or power forward should the Pistons retain him.) Wiseman only played three college games, two against overwhelmed opponents, before eligibility issues ended his college career. But Weaver will have as much intelligence on Wiseman as anyone and this is where his ability to extrapolate comes in most critically.

No. 4 (10.5 percent odds) – Tyrese Halliburton

Halliburton wouldn’t win a decathlon medal but he draws raves for basketball IQ and character and, like Ball, he’s a point guard with tremendous length (6-foot-7½ wingspan) and vision. In a league where Fred VanVleet and Malcolm Brogdon have overcome questions about their physical limitations, Halliburton, rail thin at 175 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame, should similarly be able to figure it out.

No. 5 (2.2 percent odds) – Isaac Okoro

It’s easy to see Weaver and Casey falling hard for Okoro, whose toughness and character are ahead of his skills at this point. The Auburn freshman (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) would give Casey a multifaceted defender who could guard any position. The prospect of Okoro teaming with Bruce Brown would go a long way toward restoring the blue-collar culture that Weaver spoke of when he said he wants a team that Pistons fans and past greats would be proud to watch.

No. 6 (19.6 percent odds) – Onyeka Okongwu

A Southern Cal freshman, Okongwu could develop into a modern-day Ben Wallace at the defensive end given his lateral agility, explosiveness and instincts. Offensively, he comes with offensive rebounding skills, soft hands and a good touch around the paint – all good starting points. Whether he can develop shooting range beyond that will determine his ceiling, but the floor is pretty appealing. Another player like Okoro who figures to pass Weaver’s character benchmarks.

No. 7 (26.7 percent odds) – Deni Avdija

At 19, Avdija became the youngest player to be named Israeli league MVP in helping Maccabi Tel Aviv to the championship of its domestic league in late July after the resumption of the pandemic-delayed season. He hasn’t proven himself as a 3-point shooter yet, but Avdija’s strength at 6-foot-9 is playmaking and running the floor. There’s a lot to work with there, though learning how to play as a third and fourth option figures to be an adjustment for Avdija.

No. 8 (8.7 percent) – Killian Hayes

Another point guard, like Ball and Halliburton, with good size and excellent vision and passing skills, though Hayes favors his left hand excessively at this point. He played a prominent role in the German league last winter and showed teams the improvement they needed to see as a perimeter scoring threat. After taking Sekou Doumbouya at 15 last summer, the Pistons could make it two French first-rounders in a row. Hayes is fluent in English and more familiar with American culture, though, as his father, DeRon Hayes, is a former Penn State star who played professionally in Europe.

No. 9 (0.6 percent) – Kira Lewis

Still not considered a likely lottery pick but you have to wonder if that’s more because the mock drafts are putting more stock in their preconceived notions than in what Lewis put on tape. The Alabama sophomore might have been a one and done but for the fact he was still too young for the 2019 draft as a freshman, not turning 19 until April, which makes him one of the youngest players in this year’s draft despite two years of college. Lewis’ outstanding trait is blinding speed, but he’s got the stuff of the modern NBA point guard – especially if he can pack a little more muscle on a lean frame.

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