Weaver’s draft track record, philosophy bode well for Pistons as they prep for 2020 lottery pick

Maybe the draft pick that has most defined Troy Weaver’s career was his first. It came mere weeks after Weaver joined Oklahoma City’s front office in 2008 as Sam Presti’s right-hand man. A year after taking Kevin Durant with the second pick, the Thunder held the fourth pick as Weaver signed on.

With a more acclaimed UCLA teammate Kevin Love available after Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo went 1-2-3, Russell Westbrook was pushed hard by Weaver to be Oklahoma City’s pick. As easy as that decision seems now, Westbrook wasn’t seen as a slam dunk then. He wasn’t a touted recruit, he wasn’t a one and done, he averaged 12.7 points as a UCLA sophomore. Westbrook didn’t scream future NBA MVP as a draft prospect.

Now fast forward 12 years to Weaver’s introductory press conference when he was asked a general question about draft strategy.

“I just feel like my philosophy is we don’t draft players, we draft people,” Weaver said. “We want to make sure we get the person right. More times than not, high picks that don’t pan out the way people see it, you miss on the person.”

Westbrook was a somewhat polarizing prospect from a personality perspective beyond the trouble some evaluators had in gauging what he might become as an NBA point guard. Westbrook, then as now, exuded an air of extreme confidence. I recall one NBA executive, early in Westbrook’s NBA career after he’d already flashed All-Star potential, talking about how any gym Westbrook walks into, he to his core believes he’s the best player in the building.

Weaver saw it in Westbrook and determined it was genuine and would help Westbrook become his best version. That’s an invaluable skill set in the critical area of talent evaluation. Others might have seen it and were scared off, their money on the likelihood that Westbrook’s self-image would prove an impediment to his development.

The Pistons go into the August 25 lottery with the fifth-best odds at landing the No. 1 pick, at 10 percent, and a 42 percent shot at pulling a top-four pick. In a draft where beauty will be in the eye of the beholder like few others, having someone who can spot the character traits that will enable the person to become the player, to paraphrase Weaver, is precious.

That 2008 draft proved foundational for Oklahoma City. Not only did the Thunder get Westbrook at No. 4, they drafted Serge Ibaka at No. 24. From that draft class, Westbrook leads in points, assists and minutes played. Ibaka is seventh in scoring, fourth in rebounding and fifth in minutes.

Drafting where Ibaka was taken, Weaver said, he’s more willing to roll the dice.

“If you get the person right, the basketball will take care of itself,” he said. “Drafting high, getting the person right is more important to me. You draft in the 20s, you might want to take a swing on some talent or maybe a position. But when you’re drafting where we’re drafting, we want to make sure we get the person right, that he fits what we’re trying to do in Detroit, restoring the culture here. A fierce competitor, someone the community can be proud of on and off the floor.”

Weaver and Pistons owner Tom Gores each expressed how the timing was right for both of them this time and a big part of that was the opportunity that having more cap space than all but two other NBA teams plus a high lottery pick creates for an incoming general manager to make his mark.

It sets up as a very big first off-season for Troy Weaver. If it goes as well as his first off-season in Oklahoma City, it portends a very good run ahead for the Pistons.