The Detroit Pistons closed out the 2021-22 regular season on a strong note. After the All-Star break, the team went 10-14 while playing some of the best basketball the franchise has seen in years. A strong finish did not hurt their odds in the NBA draft lottery. Although it was a close finish, the Pistons edged out the Oklahoma City Thunder for the third-worst record in the league. Detroit holds a three-way tie for the best odds to land the number one pick in the draft lottery.
This is a pivotal offseason for Detroit. Depending on how the draft, free agency and the trade market shake out, Detroit could either look to turn the corner next season or wait another year. The foundation has been laid. The Pistons have the face of their franchise in Cade Cunningham, and they have young players bursting with potential in Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. If the right pieces are there, this could be the offseason the Pistons take a step towards playoff contention, and it all starts with the draft.
A single lottery simulation on Tankathon.com showed Detroit’s worst-case scenario. The Pistons may hold the best odds to land the top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, but the team can fall as far as the seventh pick. In this Tankathon simulation, that is exactly what happened.
Pick 1: Sacramento Kings, Chet Holmgren, C, Gonzaga
The Sacramento Kings land the first overall pick in this lottery simulation, moving up six spots to do so. Hey, it is about time they won something, right?
With the number one pick, the Kings take Chet Holmgren out of Gonzaga. Holmgren has the highest ceiling on both ends of the floor in this draft class. The 19-year-old was a superb rim protector in college. He averaged 3.7 blocks per game as a Bulldog. On offense, Holmgren can score the ball from all three levels. He shot 39 percent from beyond the arc and sank 73.7 percent of his two-pointers. There are questions about his frame. Holmgren stands at 7-1 and 195 pounds. Filling out his frame will be a top priority for any team that drafts him.
Sacramento lands possibly the best player in the draft who, also fits well among the personnel already in place. Holmgren’s floor stretching would pair well with Domantas Sabonis who is most effective inside the three-point line. He also provides a lob threat for De’Aaron Fox.
Pick 2: Indiana Pacers, Jabari Smith, F, Auburn
The Indiana Pacers move up three spots to get the second overall pick, and the best fit is still available for them.
The Pacers select Auburn’s Jabari Smith with the second pick. Smith had some buzz as potentially the best player in this draft class, but that hype died down a bit as the college basketball season went on. The 19-year-old does a lot of damage from three-point range. Smith shot 5.5 threes per game at Auburn, he sank 42 percent of them. The mechanics on his jump shot are simply beautiful. He is no slouch on the defensive end either. The biggest concern with Smith is his inefficiency from within the arc. He only shot 43.5 percent on his two-point attempts. He struggles when putting the ball on the floor and his shot creation needs work.
The Pacers will now have two floor-spacing bigs in their lineup with Smith playing next to Myles Turner. The Pacers starting five could be composed entirely of players with the ability to shoot the three-ball well.
Pick 3: New Orleans Pelicans (via Los Angeles Lakers), Paolo Banchero, F, Duke
With the Los Angeles Lakers’ first-round pick, the New Orleans Pelicans move up five spots to land a top-three pick.
In this simulation, Tankathon has the Pelicans taking Paolo Banchero out of Duke. At Duke, he did not show much ability as an off-ball scorer. He is not a great floor spacer, although a really solid NCAA Tournament performance showed he can develop into a more reliable three-point shooter. He is not engaged on the defensive end of the court. With the ball in his hands, Banchero is special as a scorer. Of the three bigs that headline this draft class, Banchero is the best at creating for himself. He is not a ball stopper either, Banchero often makes the right reads and keeps the ball moving.
Banchero is an interesting pick for New Orleans, to say the least. Yes, he is the best player available, but the fit is awkward. Zion Williamson already fills the power forward role for the Pelicans. There are frustrations growing between Williamson and the Pelicans organization. Perhaps Banchero could replace the often injured Williamson if New Orleans decides to move on. Maybe the Pelicans experiment will with Williamson at point guard next year.
Pick 4: New Orleans Pelicans, Jaden Ivey, G, Purdue
The Pelicans move up seven spots in the lottery, this time with their own pick.
With the fourth pick in the draft, the Pelicans select Jaden Ivey from Purdue. Ivey is an electric guard. The first thing that stands out with Ivey is his sudden burst of speed when he attacks the basket. Shades of Ja Morant? Meh. He is not quite there, but he is fun to watch with the ball in his hands. Ivey has a knack for getting difficult shots at the rim to fall. As a passer, he can find the open outlet pass off of drives. He needs some polishing on the defensive end, but he is pesky when he is engaged. The 20-year-old is a streaky three-point shooter. Ivey is a concern when he is off-ball on offense. He can get disengaged quickly if the play is not run through him.
Maybe the Pelicans do move on from their star power forward in this scenario. Williamson is an injury risk and a starting lineup of CJ McCollum, Jaden Ivey, Brandon Ingram, Paolo Banchero and Jonas Valančiūnas is intriguing. On the other hand, keeping Williamson would make Ivey an electrifying sixth man off the bench.
Pick 5: Houston Rockets, Keegan Murray, F, Iowa
After the Kings, Pacers and Pelicans all move up significantly in the lottery, the Houston Rockets slide four spots to pick number five.
With the fifth pick, the Rockets land the best fit for their team in Iowa power forward Keegan Murray. The 21-year-old Hawkeye is a natural scorer. Murray averaged 23.5 points per game this season on an efficient 39.8 percent from three-point range. He cuts well and moves off the ball. He has a solid frame at 6-8 and 215 pounds. Defensively, he can hold his own, although quicker players may have an advantage over his less than ideal lateral quickness.
Houston gets someone who can slot right into their starting power forward spot. Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. are going to be ball dominant in Houston’s starting lineup, so Murray’s off-ball scoring ability is a coveted trait for the Rockets. When Green and Porter Jr. are off the floor, Murray has the ability to create for himself as well.
Pick 6: Orlando Magic, AJ Griffin, F, Duke
Like the Rockets, the Orlando Magic also slide four spots after the lottery.
With the sixth pick, Orlando selects Duke’s AJ Griffin. Banchero stole the headlines at Duke, but Griffin was a really solid player for the Blue Devils. Come draft night, Griffin will still be just 18 years old. The small forward shot the ball extremely well for Duke. He sank 44.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. He uses the most of his 6-6, 222-pound frame to leverage defenders on drives. Defensively, Griffin is subject to getting beat off the dribble. He does not possess the lateral quickness to keep up with quicker players. He has lapses on defense as well. Griffin has the tools to be a decent defender, but he has to put them together. Injuries will be a concern for Griffin. He missed the majority of his final two years in high school.
The Magic have young talent at every position, but what they lack is star power. Can Griffin be that star the Magic are missing? If things fall into place for him and he is able to stay healthy, there is a world where that happens. Griffin is extremely young, and he has the potential to be a high-scoring three-level threat. At the very least, he will be a solid three-point shooter.
Pick 7: Detroit Pistons, Bennedict Mathurin, G, Arizona
It is interesting that in this simulation all three teams with the best odds to land the top pick fell the furthest they could in the lottery. Like Orlando and Houston, Detroit slides down four spots to pick number seven.
Tankathon has Detroit taking Shaedon Sharpe out of Kentucky with this pick; thanks, but pass. In this scenario, the Pistons take Bennedict Mathurin out of Arizona. Mathurin is a traditional shooting guard. He is a solid three-point shooter, sinking 38.3 percent of his shots from deep in two seasons at Arizona. He can score off drives and makes the right reads as a passer. James Edwards III put it best in my conversation with him.
“Bennedict can shoot the ball. He does not have a lot of wiggle, but he is very direct with his drives. He gets to the hole. I think he is a very underrated passer. I think he can improve defensively. He just fills a hole.
–James Edwards III
The Pistons are looking for another ball-handler to put next to Cunningham. Mathurin is not quite that. If Mathurin is the pick here at number seven, Cunningham is going to have to assume the role as a true point guard. Falling this far in the draft kept Detroit from landing one of the three featured bigs, but Mathurin is a solid player to be had at pick seven. He probably is not going to develop into a star, but he fills an important role and adds three-point shooting to a Pistons team that has struggled from beyond the arc in the past two seasons.
(Featured Image Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)
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