First pick of 2nd round gives Pistons a valuable chip

The Pistons will pick first in the 2023 NBA draft … in the second round. Not quite the same. But not nothing, either.

You could field a legitimate title contender composed of second-round picks over a 10-year period that starts in 2011. It often takes a season or two for teams to realize exactly what they have with second-rounders for a confluence of reasons that includes the sometimes greater development needed or the lack of opportunity afforded, which explains why our search started with the 2011 draft and ran through the decade.

A team of second-rounders from that 10-year period would start with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic at center. He was the 41st pick in 2014. And if you think luck doesn’t play a significant role in the art of compiling an NBA roster, consider: Jokic wasn’t the first center nor the first European player Denver selected in that draft. The Nuggets made Jusuf Nurkic the 16th pick that year.

We can flank Jokic at power forward with four-time All-Star, eight-time All-Defense honoree and four-time champion Draymond Green, the 35th pick by Golden State in the 2012 draft. Opposite him at forward from the same draft, taken four spots later by the Pistons, is three-time All-Star and 2021 NBA champion Khris Middleton.

Backing up the forwards can be Bojan Bogdanovic – the first pick of the second round in 2011 – plus Jerami Grant, the 39th pick in 2014. Other highly functional forwards considered include Jae Crowder (34th, 2012), Joe Harris (33rd, 2014), Dillon Brooks (45th, 2017), Jared Vanderbilt (41st, 2018), Cody Martin (36th, 2019) and Jalen McDaniels (52nd 2019).

The Pistons have their own candidate in Isaiah Livers, the 42nd pick in 2021, though that’s one year after out cutoff. And don’t forget that nobody drafted Cody Martin’s twin, Caleb, currently seen with his fingerprints all over Miami’s stunning 3-0 lead over Boston in the Eastern Conference finals.

There are worthy guards, too. Jalen Brunson, the 33rdpick in 2018, was the best player on a Knicks team that crushed Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs before running into the torrid Heat. Malcolm Brogdon went 36th in 2016, Gary Trent Jr. 37th in 2018, Norm Powell 46th in 2015, Terance Mann 48th in 2019 and Bruce Brown 42nd and De’Anthony Melton 46th in 2018.

The first pick of the second round has long been seen as a highly desirable pick for a few reasons. It can be used for a European prospect not quite ready to make the leap to the NBA, as Brooklyn did with Bogdanovic in 2011. He starred for three more seasons in Turkey before coming to the NBA a more fully formed product in 2014.

Lots of times older college players get leapfrogged as first-round selections by younger players seen as having higher ceilings and those players – Green, Brunson and Brogdon are shining examples – can often have immediate and long-term impact.

That’s what the Pistons will be hoping to find with the 31st pick. They won’t have a ton of roster spots to play with next season and they’ll also have the fifth pick and $30 million in cap space, so Troy Weaver can go in a lot of different ways at 31. There won’t be any pressing need to land a player ready to step into the rotation on opening night – not the way there might be for peers with impossible cap situations compounded by a changing collective bargaining agreement – but this draft looks pretty strong through the early second round with players who come with significant college experience.

Some of them include UCLA senior Jaime Jaquez, the Pac 12 Player of the Year; Houston senior Marcus Sasser, a consensus All-American and the American Conference Player of the Year; UConn junior wing Andre Jackson, seen as the heart of UConn’s NCAA championship team; or Kansas senior forward Jalen Wilson, a consensus All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year.

If the Pistons were to pick from the European bucket, Serbia’s 6-foot-10 Tristan Vukcevic has stirred some buzz. And if they go for a home-run swing on high-ceiling prospects, South Carolina’s G.G. Jackson – a very late reclassification after he was set to enroll at North Carolina with the class of ’23 before switching to South Carolina late last summer – or Texas’ Dillon Mitchell, a top-five recruit, could be on the radar.

It's the pick the Pistons originally traded on draft night 2019 when they shipped second-rounders in 2021 and ’23 to Philadelphia for the 38th overall pick they used on Khyri Thomas. It wound up with the Knicks and Weaver shrewdly got it back last summer when the Pistons helped facilitate New York’s free-agent pursuit of Brunson by taking on the contracts of Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel.

Not it winds up as the valuable first pick of the second round and gives the Pistons leverage that can used in several different ways – perhaps even to trade back into the first round if one of those cap-strapped teams picking in the 20s wants out of the guaranteed contract slot that comes with first-rounders.