After a decade in the wilderness, the Detroit Pistons have a chance with this month’s NBA Draft Lottery to help position themselves for better days ahead.
As it often does for NBA franchises in need of a lift, the most important result of the calendar year will be how the ping-pong balls fall at on Tuesday, June 22 (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
On the court, even the mostly checked-out portion of the fan base knew this past season was a success by seemingly every measure.
This outlook comes despite the team compiling its worst winning percentage in nearly three decades, going 20-52 (.278).
How, you ask? Well, as Pistons fans know, at least moving down in the standings is a direction. And a direction is something that’s been missing for this franchise for too long.
Detroit Pistons stuck in the NBA’s middle
Since winning the NBA title in 2004, the Pistons front office has primarily made moves in an effort to keep the franchise afloat.
Notable draft misses such as Austin Daye, Brandon Knight and Stanley Johnson were compounded by big deals to Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. This cycle kept the franchise at nowhere near championship contender status, but not bad enough to cash a meaningful lottery ticket.
This pattern culminated in the short-sighted trade for Blake Griffin in January 2018. Predictably, Griffin helped raise the franchise a small bit for a short time. But the acquisition ultimately delayed real and needed change for the long-term.
The firing of Stan Van Gundy as coach and president of basketball operations after that season signaled that change was on the way.
After executive Ed Stefanski allowed the dust to settle for two years, the Pistons made their big move last summer, bringing Troy Weaver over from Oklahoma City to begin a restoration effort of the once-proud franchise.
But there was a long way to go. Forget a playoff series win: the Pistons haven’t won a playoff game since 2008.
Troy Weaver’s eye for talent proving prescient
Weaver was billed as a super scout from his time with the Thunder, along with previous stops.
He lived up to that reputation in Year 1.
Selecting Isaiah Stewart at No. 16 and then Saddiq Bey at No. 19 in the 2020 NBA Draft look like steals.
Meanwhile, signing Jerami Grant for $60 million and elevating him from role player to a focal point was a success in year one. Grant was second in Most Improved Player voting in the first season of his three-year deal.
Although Weaver didn’t maximize the value of what was left for him in the cupboard by his predecessors, the urgency of giving it a thorough cleaning was another win in his first season.
In less than a year, just one player (Sekou Doumbouya) remains from last summer.
Sure, Weaver could’ve called bluffs and played the asset management game a little more patiently. But there’s no cogent argument denying that Detroit is in a much better place now than when he arrived.
2021 NBA Draft: A chance for a jolt
So the environment surrounding the Pistons is finally ripe for continued growth.
In Grant, you have a young player who could play real minutes for any team in the NBA. In Stewart, Bey and Killian Hayes, you have three rookies who could develop into starting-caliber players on a playoff team.
Next month, that group could be joined by a true catalyst.
Cade Cunningham of Oklahoma State, Evan Mobley of USC, Jalen Suggs of Gonzaga, and G League Ignite standouts Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga lead a loaded class.
It’s a good year to hold a lot of ping-pong balls and the Detroit Pistons have as many NBA Draft Lottery as anyone.
Because of the smoothed lottery odds, Houston, Detroit and Orlando all have a 14.0% chance at the No. 1 pick, a 13.4% chance at No. 2, 12.7% for 3 and a 11.9% chance at No. 4.
Even more significantly, as the league’s second-worst team, there is just a 20.1% chance of the Pistons falling to No. 6 in a nightmare scenario.
Weaver’s deft scouting touch could give hope to hit again at that number, but getting a high pick in a top-tier class would make the fan base breathe a little easier for the first time in … well, seemingly forever.
2021 NBA Draft Lottery oddsThe expectancy rates for where the 14 teams in the NBA Draft Lottery will fall on June 22 (excludes trades):
|Oklahoma City Thunder||11.5||11.4||11.2||11.0||7.4||27.1||18.0||2.4|
|New Orleans Pelicans||4.5||4.8||5.2||5.7||60.6||17.9||1.2||>0.0||>0.0|
|San Antonio Spurs||1.7||1.9||2.1||2.4||85.2||6.6||0.1|
|Golden State Warriors||0.5||0.6||0.6||0.7||97.6|
Detroit Pistons have little past NBA lottery luck
If you believe in karma, the Pistons might be lucky on draft night. And if you believe in curses, Detroit’s basketball team is near the top of any list.
There’s a lot of lottery numbers you can comb through, but this is pretty rock solid: The Pistons have never moved up.
More specifically, Detroit has never had its own pick boosted in the lottery since it was added in 1985.
In 1994, the Pistons moved down from No. 2 to No. 3 to pick Grant Hill.
In 2003, when Detroit selected Darko Milicic at No. 2, it was actually Memphis that moved up from No. 6 to 2 — one spot away from keeping their pick and landing LeBron James.
Pistons have best draft opportunity since Darko flop
Speaking of 2003, it’s instructive to go back to that top five to put this draft in perspective.
To be clear, nobody is comparing Cunningham or anyone in this draft to LeBron.
Carmelo Anthony (No. 3), Chris Bosh (4) and Dwyane Wade (5) are also Hall of Famers, and it would be unfair to tag any of these prospects with those lofty expectations.
But the Pistons could have their best chance since the Darko pick — a top-5 worst draft selection in American sports history, perhaps — to find a franchise player.
Winning the NBA lottery doesn’t create a foolproof scenario for the Detroit Pistons. There could still be a Darko-like bust or two looming in the top tier and hidden gems later for Weaver to unearth.
But the chance is there for the Pistons to return to relevance if the balls bounce their way next Tuesday.
Can you bet on the NBA Draft Lottery in Michigan?
The Michigan Gaming Control Board recently approved wagers on the NBA Draft Lottery.
PointsBet Sportsbook has live odds for the first pick as follows: Houston, Detroit and Orlando at +550, Cleveland and Oklahoma City at +650, Minnesota at +900, Toronto at +1100, Chicago/Sacramento/New Orleans at +1600.
As for the Pistons, the odds for them to win the first overall pick are +550, second at +580, third at +600, fourth at +650, fifth at +245, and sixth at +370.
NBA Draft bets are also permitted by the MGCB. So, you can expect plenty of markets to emerge on who the Pistons will ultimately select July 29.