Cade Cunningham
Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

After the NBA Draft Lottery awarded the Detroit Pistons with the #1 overall pick this year, it was obvious to many who would be selected with that pick – Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham. 

As one might expect, almost every sportsbook that has odds on the Draft has Cunningham projected to go first. Some sites have Cunningham’s odds as low as -10000. PointsBet and DraftKings Sportsbook are both offering these odds, as well as many sportsbook bonuses if you are interested in betting on the draft.

So let’s get into Cunningham and his fit with Pistons.

The Player

Cunningham has phenomenal potential as a versatile all-around player.

Lets’s start with his ceiling as a playmaker. With an extremely high basketball IQ, his feel for the game is incredibly adept for such a young player. While his passing and dribbling need to be improved in order for Cunningham to reach his ceiling, his intelligence and elite size at the guard position can lead him to develop into a supersized playmaker and elite secondary ballhandler.

Cunningham’s ability to put the ball in the bucket is where he truly shines. In his lone college season, Cunningham averaged over 20 points per game while shooting 40% from beyond the arc. For a 19-year-old, those numbers are sensational. 

Cunningham can manipulate the pace of the game as a ballhandler just about as well as anyone not named Doncic or Harden. When running the pick and roll he can use his IQ to decide whether to pull up for a jumper or take it to the rack and use his 6’8” frame and NBA-ready body to finish over and around bigs down low. True 3-level scoring ability.

As an off-ball player, Cunningham has shown poise being able to cut and work around screens to create catch-and-shoot opportunities for himself.

Defensively, Cunningham has a lot of upside. His frame easily lends itself to defensive versatility and the ability to switch and adequately guard multiple positions. His basketball IQ allows him to easily jump passing lanes for interceptions and deflections.

He doesn’t yet have the footspeed to lock down smaller guards, but as an off-ball defender, Cunningham can shine.

Cunningham projects as a perennial All-Star and two-way force.

The Team

In what was clearly a rebuilding season, the Pistons unceremoniously dumped former All-Stars Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin and ended the season at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and the second-worst record in the entire NBA. Lucky for them, their tanking was rewarded with a lottery win and a potential franchise cornerstone.

In terms of fit, the Pistons have holes just about everywhere. Veteran Jerami Grant had a bit of a breakout season averaging over 20 points per game for the first time in his career. In the frontcourt, he is joined by a decent stopgap center in Mason Plumlee and Saddiq Bey, coming off of a promising rookie season.

Detroit’s backcourt is where the real problems lie and where Cunningham will fit. Thrust into a larger role than anticipated in a season shortened by the pandemic and injuries, last year’s seventh overall pick Killian Hayes didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Still, he’s a talented young player, so the Pistons will want to work on developing him as a part of their backcourt of the future alongside Cunningham.

Unfortunately, sharpshooting wing player Wayne Ellington is likely to leave the Motor City in free agency over the offseason to try and chase a ring in the later stages of his career. This opens up a starting spot in the backcourt for Cunningham, but having an elite shooter like Ellington to space the floor may have made the expected first pick’s life easier.

Barring other offseason moves, Cunningham will slot into Ellington’s spot starting in the backcourt next to Killian Hayes.

The Fit

Cunningham’s versatility means he would fit on just about any team in the league, but Detroit seems perfect. Here, he should have free rein to control the offense and develop his playmaking skills. 

While the supporting cast in Detroit is far from great (or even good) Jerami Grant is a legitimately very good player and Saddiq Bey has the potential to blossom into an elite 3-and-D role player.

With some smart team-building moves and player development over the next two seasons, I can see a Cade Cunningham-led Pistons team making a push for the playoffs as early as the 2022-23 season.