It makes sense for a whole host of reasons, including Cunningham’s status as the consensus top prospect in a loaded draft class.
However, it’s not as clear-cut as this. Detroit selected fellow ball-dominant guard Killian Hayes with the seventh pick in the 2020 draft. There’s some reasonable questions regarding his ability to coexist with Cade Cunningham. Sure Hayes struggled as a rookie (35% shooting, 28% from distance), but the Pistons are not going to give up on the 19-year-old Florida native after just one season.
Meanwhile, wing Jalen Green continues to be talked about as a rising talent leading up to the annual event. The former top recruit dominated for the Ignite during the shortened NBA G-League season in the Orlando Bubble and is seen as a consensus top-four prospect. This has led to some speculation that the Pistons might opt to take Green over Cunningham.
“Gossip exchanged at the NBA combine included the Detroit Pistons and their No. 1 overall pick, presumed to be Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham. But some rival teams brought up the Pistons’ possible interest in G League Ignite star Jalen Green,” Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report noted.
To be clear, this is a franchise-altering decision for up-and-coming general manager Troy Weaver. Despite Hayes’ struggles last season, Weaver hit a homer with his three first-round picks in the 2020 NBA Draft. That included impressive rookie performances from Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. He now needs to find a true star to help expedite Detroit rebuild.
Cade Cunningham has to be the Detroit Pistons’ pick, right?
This almost seems to be a no-brainer. Coming off a freshman season that saw the 6-foot-8 Cunningham average 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting 40% from distance, he’s seen as a generational talent and one of the top prospects to come down the pike in some time.
“Cunningham’s size, weight and length has him built more like a forward, but his skill set has him ready to be a jumbo point guard at the NBA level,” Kyle Irving of NBA.com noted in his scouting report of Cade Cunningham. “As a true floor general who commands the pace of the game, Cunningham is fluid and polished in just about everything he does with the ball in his hands.”
The ability to play multiple positions without an issue wouldn’t conflict with Hayes’ presence on the Pistons’ roster. Regardless, to pass up on this type of talent because of need just doesn’t make a ton of sense. It’s not too often a team has the ability to add someone of Cunningham’s ilk.
Detroit Pistons could look to trade down, add more assets
Rather than going Jalen Green over Cunningham No. 1 overall, Detroit could potentially look to collect a whole lot of assets by moving off the first pick. Depending on where it lands lower in the lottery, the team would still be able to add another core piece immediately with USC’s Evan Mobley being an option. It’s something Weaver touched on following the draft lottery. He’s open to the idea.
A logical potential trade partner in this scenario would be the Orlando Magic picking fifth and eighth overall in the 2021 NBA Draft. Orlando would have to throw in other pieces, including a young player and future draft assets. But it could work. Perhaps, the Magic offer up stud young wing R.J. Hampton to entice the Pistons. They would then have to throw in at least one future first-round pick.
Either way, it seems to make very little sense for Detroit to trade down from one if it is sold on Cade Cunningham as the face of the franchise. A lot of that will depend on the offers presented to the Pistons and their stance on other top-end prospects.
But for now, it’s no longer a lock that Cunningham will go to Detroit at the top of the 2021 NBA Draft in late July. By its very nature, that’s a surprise.