The Detroit Pistons’ rebuild continues to take shape.
The Pistons injected another dose of talent into a promising, young roster Thursday, selecting Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA draft.
It was the first time since 1970 the Pistons have had the top overall pick. That year, they selected Bob Lanier.
Pistons general manager Troy Weaver tried to play coy about his intentions before the draft, saying several possibilities, including a trade or another player at No. 1, were in play.
“We’re going to make the selection based on restoring the Pistons, having longevity here and making sure that this player, whether he’s contributing in game one or it may take them half the season or even the following season,” Weaver told reporters the day before the draft. “So this is a long-term play, it’s not a get-it-right-at-the-moment play. Sustained success is what we’re looking for.”
Cunningham turned out to be that player.
Cunningham played one season at Oklahoma State and is the highest NBA draft pick in the university’s history.
A first-team All-American, Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals. At 6-8, he has great size for a guard, and he can play point or shooting guard, which should make him a solid fit in Detroit’s system. He is strong with no problem initiating contact, and he can finish at the rim with either hand.
Cunningham, 19, has excellent footwork, and combined with his 3-point shot (40% for Oklahoma State), mid-range game and use of head fakes and ball fakes, he is difficult to defend.
Even though his assist number isn’t eye-popping, he knows how to find teammates. Cunningham often drew two defenders. Like all rookies, there is room for growth, especially defensively, but Cunningham possesses active hands, turning steals into transition opportunities.
In Weaver’s short tenue as Pistons general manager — hired 13 months ago — he has shown an ability to draft well, which isn’t a surprise considering he was an assistant to Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti.
Last year, Weaver drafted guard Killian Hayes, who averaged 6.8 points and 5.3 assists but played in just 26 games because of a hip injury, forward Saddiq Bey and center Isaiah Stewart — both of whom made the All-Rookie team.
Cunningham’s ability to play both guard spots should fit well with Hayes, who at 6-5 will give the Pistons a sizable backcourt and length across the starting five.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.