Pistons hold onto No. 1 pick, select Oklahoma State star Cade Cunningham
New York — Waiting is almost always hard to do.
It’s especially hard for the Pistons and their fan base, who have struggled through more than a decade without a win in the playoffs.
Those times are changing, and the future is coming quickly.
Pistons general manager Troy Weaver jump-started their roster restoration with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, selecting Oklahoma State freshman Cade Cunningham on Thursday night.
The crowd at Barclays Center cheered as Cunningham, donning a black and navy-blue suit and black shirt, strode to the stage to shake hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
"We're excited. Great night for the Pistons,” Weaver said shortly after the pick was made. “We're thrilled that we landed on Cade and we're excited about him joining the Pistons family."
The Pistons were focused on Cunningham, an uber-talented 6-foot-8 wing, since they won the draft lottery last month. Cunningham, 19, fits into the starting lineup nicely, alongside last year’s first-round picks, guard Killian Hayes, wing Saddiq Bey and center Isaiah Stewart, as well as forward Jerami Grant.
With Cunningham, they are on a definitive timeline with a young core and although there might not be playoff expectations immediately, the Pistons shouldn’t struggle as much as they have in recent years.
Cunningham becomes the face of the franchise and the centerpiece to their rebuild.
“Last year, Detroit had a great draft,” Cunningham said. “Getting two All-Rookie guys is huge, and it's a good young core that they have. I'm excited to join that young core and grow with them."
The selection ends weeks of speculation that the Pistons were considering trading the pick to acquire more future assets. The Pistons also were interested in G League guard Jalen Green — the No. 2 pick by the Houston Rockets — but after a final meeting with Cunningham and his representatives on Wednesday night, the Pistons met Thursday morning and decided to select Cunningham.
Cunningham wasn't worried in the midst of the trade rumors.
“There was a ton of rumors that run around all the time. I was confident in who I am as a player and who I am as a person,” he said. “I knew God was going to put me in the best situation for me. I knew wherever I landed, that’s where he wanted me to be, and that I was going to try to step in and contribute to wherever I was and try to elevate everybody around me.”
After a 20-52 season, the Pistons showed that they have plenty of improvement to make before they’re a contending team. But adding Cunningham, with his rare blend of size, ballhandling, scoring and leadership, adds a major piece to the puzzle.
Cunningham’s versatility will allow him to play several positions on the court, including either guard spot, small forward, or potentially power forward in a small-ball lineup.
There has been some concern that he and Hayes would have trouble playing together.
The likely scenario is that Cunningham will join Hayes in the backcourt and they will share ballhandling duties as needed. Coach Dwane Casey has preferred lineups with multiple ballhandlers and facilitators, and those are two areas where Cunningham excels.
“I think that I'm going to still bring the same scoring that I've always brought, and the same winning mentality as far as wanting to defend, wanting to be assigned the best offensive player, wanting to dive on a loose ball,” Cunningham said. “I feel like those are things that have made me stand out, and those are things I only want to enhance now that I'm an NBA player.
“It's the biggest stage and I'm playing against the best players in the world. So just talent or your confidence isn't going to get you by in the NBA. You have to also add work with that. I'm confident that once I bring all those things together and get comfortable in the NBA, the sky's the limit for me after that.”
Cunningham has ideal size to defend shooting guards and will give the Pistons multiple options, where he could guard some small forwards as well. On offense, he has the ability to score (20.1 points) and adds rebounding (6.2) and consistent shooting (43.8% from the field) to his resume.
Adding a versatile player to the emerging core benefits both Cunningham and the other young players in the core.
"It adds a lot of energy, but it makes everybody know that we're going to have to work harder," Cunningham said. "I know me, and I know the team and we're ready for that challenge.
“Me stepping in will help Killian a lot and Killian will help me a lot. Both of us are capable of being primary ballhandlers and making things happen off the ball.”