No drama: Pistons taking Cade Cunningham, per most-dialed-in NBA reporter

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

New York — Maybe some of the suspense is being sucked out of Thursday night's NBA Draft.

For many Pistons fans, that’s a good thing.

Cade Cunningham, the likely No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, already is embracing the city of Detroit.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Pistons have settled on Cade Cunningham as the No. 1 overall pick.

The Pistons had been focused on Cunningham, an uber-talented 6-foot-8 wing, since they won the draft lottery last month. If he is the pick, Cunningham will fit into their rebuild nicely, alongside last year’s first-round picks, guard Killian Hayes, wing Saddiq Bey and center Isaiah Stewart, as well as forward Jerami Grant.

The decision would end weeks of speculation that the Pistons were considering trading the pick to acquire more future assets to help with general manager Troy Weaver’s roster rebuild. The Pistons reportedly were interested in G League guard Jalen Green — the probable No. 2 pick by the Houston Rockets — but after a final meeting with Cunningham and his representatives on Wednesday night, the Pistons met Thursday and decided to select Cunningham. 

It’s not a done deal, though. There could be a surprise trade that changes Weaver’s mind in the final hours, but it would have to be a massive deal that would surpass anything that the Pistons have seen in the weeks leading up to the draft.

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, who has a rare blend of size, ballhandling, scoring and leadership, puts 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.

Mike Boynton, Cunningham’s coach at Oklahoma State, has seen enough to know there isn’t an issue there and that Cunningham can blend into a variety of lineups.

“Cade could play with any combination of players. If you have another primary ballhander — there's been some talk about Killian — but they absolutely can play together,” Boynton said this month. “If you didn't have a primary ballhandling playmaker, he could be that guy. He can play with that guy or with two other guys, and still find a way because he doesn't have an ego about having the ball all the time or taking the most shots. With his size and skill, you can move him around anywhere.”

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.

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.

“Wherever I get placed, I feel like I'll find ways to be effective and to help impact the game for my squad,” Cunningham said in his predraft media availability last week. “When I go into training camp or wherever I land, I'm still going to try to go in and play my game. I'm not going to change myself for anybody, but I'll always adjust for winning, for sure.”

His arrival is expected to jump-start the Pistons’ offense with another facilitator and player whom other defenses will have to game-plan around. That, in turn, will open shots for the shooters like Bey and Grant.

“He's an elite playmaker. He can create a shot without a coach's help, because he knows what to do,” Boynton said. “He'll identify in the first Summer League game who is good at what and he'll be able to get those guys shots where they need to get shots

“He'll know when to pick his spots to try to get his own, but he's not going to just go out there and just take a bunch of shots.”

Cunningham was the Big 12 player of the year and an All-America selection in his one year at Oklahoma State, and his skill set has drawn comparisons to another Pistons icon, Grant Hill.

That should be enough to make Pistons fans anxious for the start of the Summer League in Las Vegas, which begins next week.


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