Troy Weaver’s dilemma: Who’ll be there for Detroit Pistons at 7th pick?

James Wiseman
James Wiseman of Memphis is one of the players unlikely to be available to the Pistons when their turn comes up in the NBA draft
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Put yourself in Troy Weaver’s shoes. You’ve seen all of the projected lottery picks in person, venturing to Europe and Australia before the word “coronavirus” was part of the lexicon. You’ve watched so much videotape of them over the past six months, that’s what you see on a loop when your head hits the pillow at night.

Surely you know which of the top players you like and would want wearing a Pistons uniform and which ones you’d take a hard pass on. What you can’t know yet is what they’re thinking in the six front offices who get to pick ahead of you. And that’s what you’ll spend a healthy (unhealthy?) chunk of your time wondering over the next … well, however long it’s going to be between today and the NBA draft with reports that the tentative Oct. 16 date has become the tentative Nov. 18 date.

Why the likelihood of a draft in November or beyond when the season will end no later than Oct. 14? Because the draft isn’t merely about divvying up the amateur talent pool. It’s also a hub of trade activity and part of the big-picture roster building that includes free agency, also due to be pushed back.

Teams need budget certainty before entertaining draft-night trades and that means they need to know where the salary cap will be set. That can’t happen until the league and players sit down to make the necessary adjustments to the collective bargaining agreement necessitated by the severe disruption to business of the shutdown and relaunch without fans – and with TV audiences diminished by the fact no one is conditioned to watching weekday afternoon basketball in August and September while unprecedented real-life challenges confront them.

So, yeah, Weaver is going to have plenty of time to mull what he expects to happen ahead of pick No. 7. Today’s exercise will be to take our best guess. We’ll start with the premise that three players – Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball – will be gone. It’s not a dead-solid lock, but it’s a logical starting point.

So it comes down to what happens at four, five and six – Chicago, Cleveland and Atlanta. Let’s take a stab at it.

Chicago – National college Player of the Year Obi Toppin is, by many accounts, the safest pick in the draft even if there are doubts about his ceiling. But the Bulls used the seventh pick in 2017 and ’18 on Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. Do they take another power forward? You could make a case for a point guard – perhaps Ball if he slips past the top three – but the roster is in need of a bigger wing or two. Deni Avdija is a playmaking wing and the 19-year-old MVP of the Israeli league. Makes sense for the Bulls.

Cleveland – The Cavs have used high lottery picks on smallish guards in the past two drafts, Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, so it would be tough for the same front office to go with a point guard here, wouldn’t it? Despite denials that Kevin Love is available in trade, it still seems inevitable that he’ll be shopped to a contender. Obi Toppin would make a lot of sense – or Avdija in the event he’s available.

Atlanta – The Hawks have done a nice job of adding perimeter talent in the last few drafts – Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddick, De’Andre Hunter – and have considerable money tied up in big men Clint Capela, Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins. What they could really use is an upgrade behind Young at point guard. Tyrese Haliburton can take over that spot while also playing next to Young if he can force his way into a bigger role.

That leaves Weaver with the field. If he wants a point guard, French teen Killian Hayes looks like the next best option, but North Carolina’s Cole Anthony or Alabama’s Kira Lewis could be on his heels. Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey isn’t necessarily a point guard, but some look at him and draw parallels to Donovan Mitchell.

Auburn’s Isaac Okoro is likely the premier perimeter defender and draws raves for his character. Southern Cal’s Onyeka Okongwu is Okoro’s counterpart on the interior. Wings Aaron Nesmith of Vanderbilt and Devin Vassell of Florida State could be in the mix. Vassell’s Florida State teammate, athletic 6-foot-8 forward Patrick Williams, has the look of a player who’ll catch someone’s eye in the top 10.

We’re at 15 names. Weaver said on the night of the lottery last month that he sees the draft as 14 or 15 deep. Decent chance there’s a name or two on Weaver’s list of 14 or 15 we haven’t broached. In a draft with so little clarity, it’s tough to read the tea leaves. But we’ve got at least two more months to stare at them, it appears.

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