The Detroit Pistons should Just Take Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Or, if you like the trending hashtag, #JustTakeCade.
Indeed, this is not the time for the Pistons’ brain trust to overthink what they will do with the No. 1 overall pick on July 29.
Cunningham, to at least one scout quoted by CBSSports.com, is the “most complete prospect I’ve seen in my lifetime.” The impact he had on the Oklahoma State program, its culture and its future, both on the floor next season and in recruiting down the road, was palpable. He has the maturity to handle being the ‘face of the franchise’ for a Pistons team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in 13 seasons and hasn’t won an NBA title since 2004.
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The Pistons appear to be headed in the direction of taking Cunningham. In a piece written by The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, he wrote that ‘league sources have emphasized in recent days that it’s highly likely the Pistons will just stay put and take Cunningham.’
Should the Pistons listen to offers from other teams? Sure. All NBA teams do that. And there are plenty of scenarios out there for a deal, some of which actually make sense, if you’re so inclined.
Should the Pistons deal that No. 1 overall pick, and the rights to Cunningham? Sure, but only if the trade partner backs a dump truck full of assets up to the front door of the team facility. And even then, you should sleep on it.
I’m not saying Cunningham is the next LeBron James. He may not end up being THAT generational a talent. But a No. 1 overall pick is supposed to fit into the league right away. That’s the expectation. That is something Cunningham can do, and it’s not worth over-thinking that from the Pistons’ perspective.
Consider this. Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game last year at OSU. Now, clearly there are differences between the college game and the NBA. But, what if he had put up those numbers in the NBA last year (had he been able to bypass the NCAA for the NBA)? Well, he put up a scoring average that would have put him just outside the NBA’s Top 30. He would have been a Top 50 rebounder. He would have been just outside the Top 50 in terms of assists. Oh, and he would have been the Pistons’ second-leading scorer last season, and not too far behind Jermai Grant’s team-leading 22.3 points per game.
That’s an incredible foundation to start from.
I get that Oklahoma State fans want him in Oklahoma City with the Thunder, and OKC has the No. 6 overall pick, plus two other first-round selections. So the Thunder have the ammunition. Plus, they have a relationship with Pistons general manager Troy Weaver. He worked for the Thunder for more than a decade. He’s credited with convincing the franchise to draft Russell Westbrook.
But I don’t think Weaver is going to do the Thunder a solid on this one. He’s remade the Pistons’ roster into one of the youngest in the league. The Pistons have 10 players on their roster that are 25 or younger. One of the few that is over 25, Grant, is 27 years old and he’s about to play in the Olympics. The Pistons had two players selected to the All-Rookie Team for 2020-21 — Saddiq Bey (first team) and Isaiah Stewart (second team). Most of their top, young players are under contract. Granted, Weaver inherited some salary cap issues. But the dead money will be gone soon and not having to pursue big-ticket free agents gives the Pistons time to grow so they can see what they REALLY need.
Don’t buy the Killian Hayes argument, either. What’s that, you ask? Shortly after the Pistons got the No. 1 selection, some floated the idea that the Pistons should pass on Cunningham because Hayes — the Pistons’ lottery pick last year — was a similar player and drafting Cunningham would impede Hayes’s development. Yeah, well, first, the rookie from France barely averaged six points per game last year (though he had a solid five assists per game). Second, the Pistons are not in a position to turn down a talent like Cunningham because they already have a ‘similar player.’ Third, if it’s THAT big a deal, you can trade Hayes for a second-round pick. But why not see if they can play together first?
Plus, there’s another reasons for the Pistons to keep that pick and take Cunningham. They owe their 2022 first-round pick to the Houston Rockets, though there are some protections involved, depending upon where the pick is slotted. Better for the Pistons to cash in and take the best player in the draft NOW and not risk what might happen next year.
Selecting a player like Cunningham sets up all of that hard work to begin paying off next season. Maybe not in a playoff berth, mind you. But with Cunningham, the Pistons can make a marked improvement in 2021-22.
All they have to do is ‘Just Take Cade.’
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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