Life after the lottery: Many paths to progress for Pistons

No matter how hard you tried to bring your vision of Victor Wembanyama donning Pistons colors to life, there was always an 86 percent chance it wasn’t going to happen. Dropping to fifth was essentially a coin flip – 52 percent it wouldn’t happen, 48 percent it would – and that’s the sphere of reality that Troy Weaver was occupying.

And no matter how many shortcuts to relevance landing Wembanyama would have provided the Pistons, the fact remains: There aren’t a handful of teams among the 30-member NBA with more pathways to improvement over the next few months than them.

Weaver goes into the off-season with the No. 5 pick and $30 million in cap space – more than all but four teams – to bolster a team that already stands to be bountifully bolstered by the return of Cade Cunningham. Let’s also not forget the Pistons played the final third to a quarter of the season without some or all of Bojan Bogdanovic, Alec Burks and Isaiah Stewart, too.

Weaver didn’t sound like a man who’d been run over by a Mack truck when he spoke with reporters minutes after the lottery results last week. And he said something that made a few ears perk up when he talked about his expectation for the fifth pick.

Let’s parse it:

“We think it’s another high-end draft where there’s a lot of high-end talent at the top. Obviously, one” – safe to assume he’s referencing Wembanyama here – “was a different tier. But we’re excited about where we are to add another young player to our core.”

It sounds as if Weaver thinks this draft is comparable to last year’s draft in quality at the top and he fully expects to come away with a player who a year from now will be viewed in the same light as Jaden Ivey, picked fifth last season.

This part was of note when Weaver was asked about the perception that there were three players considered at the top of this draft:

“A lot of people had it tiered that way. I saw it was one and then it was another tier. But where we’re picking, five, we like the talent pool that’s there. I think you can get a very good player at five. I think you could scramble it up pretty much from three to eight and we’re in that range at five.”

If Wembanyama is alone at one and you could throw a blanket over the group at three to eight, then that suggests Weaver sees someone – the guess is Scoot Henderson, but perhaps Brandon Miller – is also in a tier of his own at two. Three to eight is a group of six players and good luck guessing which six. The next six players by consensus would appear to be twins Amen and Ausar Thompson, Cam Whitmore, Jarace Walker, Anthony Black and Taylor Hendricks.

They’re all wing-sized players. You can argue if Amen Thompson is best utilized as a point guard and Walker and Hendricks as power forwards, but they’re all of a size and athletic package that would be appealing to a Pistons roster that now has four young big men and three recent lottery guards.

Only one of that group figures to be off the board when the Pistons get on the clock, assuming the top three stay locked in. Weaver will be in strong position to be picking from the top of his tier as opposed to the bottom of it.

As always, he’ll prioritize character – the Pistons definitely have a type – and put a premium on high-end outcomes over immediate impact. There’s a real chance the No. 5 pick will have a tough time cracking the rotation next season, too. Bogdanovic and Isaiah Livers are almost certainly going to be in the rotation on opening night and the bulk of that $30 million, in all likelihood, will be directed toward that position.

We’ll be diving into specific prospects in the one month from now until the June 22 draft. In the meantime, take a deep breath. The Pistons will have company – 28 other teams – in not employing Victor Wembanyama next season. They plan to field a team regardless.