Detroit Pistons 2021 NBA draft grades for every pick
The Detroit Pistons entered the 2021 NBA draft knowing they have been cellar dwellers the past two seasons, finishing with 20 wins in each of the past two years. While their stable of young talent has grown, the team hadn’t truly drafted that blue-chip, top-tier draft prospect so far in the team’s rebuild.
However, after the Pistons finished with the worst record in the Eastern Conference last season at 20-52, and the second-worst record in the league, behind only the Houston Rockets, Detroit was rewarded with its first No. 1 overall draft pick since 1967 – when they took Jimmy Smith out of Providence at the top of the draft.
The Pistons have had the No. 2 pick multiple times, drafting Isiah Thomas in 1982 and -ahem- Darko Milicic in the legendary 2003 draft. They also selected Hall of Famer Grant Hill at No. 3 in 1994 and likely got his best years before injuries curtailed his career.
For the 2021 NBA Draft, while there was some heated debate about the best prospect, for many months – and even years – prior, it seemed to most draftniks that the best player available was Cade Cunningham out of Oklahoma State.
With the No. 1 spot on the board, the Pistons had the chance to select a franchise cornerstone right out of the gate, but the team did far more than that in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Read on to explore grades for all draft picks the Detroit Pistons made in 2021.
Pistons NBA draft grades: First Round, First Overall
Cade Cunningham, A+
This was definitively the correct choice for the Pistons at the top of the 2021 NBA Draft. Despite veteran Jerami Grant fully spreading his wings with the Pistons last season, Cunningham already has an NBA-ready frame at age 19 (6-foot-8, 220 pounds), and his passing acumen already likely makes him the best passer on the roster – without ever even playing a second in the league.
Cunningham produced up to his level in his lone season with the Oklahoma State Cowboys, averaging 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game on efficient shooting splits of 43.8 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from 3-point.
The 19-year-old Cunningham was pretty much the only ballhandling option Oklahoma State had, so they of course took advantage of his ball skills. With far better players around, including talented offensive weapon Kelly Olynyk – who recently signed with the Pistons this offseason – expect Cunningham to become a notable up-and-coming young player.
His skills certainly seem NBA-ready when checking his highlights, which can be found below:
Overall, the Pistons were clearly looking for a team reset after sending away Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin over the past couple of years. The team needed a new “face of the franchise,” and it seemingly got it with Cunningham.
Adding him to the team’s young core of Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart (the latter of which were both named to an All-Rookie team last season) should give Detroit fans plenty of excitement about their team going forward.
Second Round, 42nd Overall
Isaiah Livers, B+
A seasoned collegiate player under a program with a tremendous pedigree, Isaiah Livers was a nice pick-up for the Pistons in the second round of the 2021 NBA Draft. While not the flashiest player, Livers was a proven three-and-D archetype during his four-year career at Michigan.
While this might not be the sexiest pick, Detroit’s front office did well to add another talented wing to the team, which is now veritably overflowing with young wings and swingmen: Cunningham, Grant, Bey, Livers as well Hamidou Diallo, Sekou Doumbouya and Deividas Sirvydis makes for quite the treasure trove of young players at the most coveted position in the NBA.
Livers was a part of the Michigan team that made it all the way to the title game in 2018, where they lost to Villanova, but Livers quickly improved his game following a scoreless performance in that contest.
Over the past three seasons, Livers shot over 40 percent from downtown on high volume (54.1 percent three-point attempt rate), and he hit his career-high last season with a robust 43.1 percent clip from beyond the arc.
A talented, seasoned shooter and defender, Livers should serve as an excellent Swiss-army-knife young prospect for Detroit alongside the team’s young core.
Second Round, 52nd Overall
Luka Garza, A
While he might not be the most “modern” player in this year’s draft, one can’t deny that picking up a Naismith National Player of the Year deep into the second round was an absolute slam dunk for the Pistons.
Luka Garza was dominant in his final year with the Iowa Hawkeyes, putting up 24.1 points per game, 8.7 rebounds per game, 1.7 assists per game and 1.6 blocks per game. Garza’s efficiency was sterling as well, as the senior slashed 55.3/44/70.9 during his uniformly excellent final season with Iowa.
Garza was a scoring machine last season, and his ability to score could simply not be denied with Iowa. According to the NBA’s draft profile of him, his advanced numbers proved the eye test (or vice versa):
- Ranked 1st in the NCAA and 1st in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency among volume scorers (1.16 points per possession)
- Ranked 1st in the NCAA and 1st in the Big Ten in post-up scoring (10.3 points per game)
- Ranked 4th in the NCAA and 1st in the Big Ten in put back scoring (3.4 points per game)
- Ranked 1st in the Big Ten in roll man scoring (3.2 points per game)
Second Round, 57th Overall (traded from Hornets)
Balsa Koprivica, B
A hulking 7-foot-1, 240-pound center out of Serbia, this is something of a long-term play by the Pistons after selecting three players ahead of him (Cunningham, Livers and Garza) that will likely see plenty of playing time next season.
With Olynyk and Isaiah Stewart already firmly established in the center rotation ahead of him, Koprivica will likely be ripe for a Two-Way Contract with the team for next year.
Still, this was a nice swing to trade down in the second round with the Hornets and get a long, young shot-blocking center with the fourth-to-last pick on draft night – completing an excellent draft night for Detroit.
There you have it! Garnering the No. 1 overall pick (and not flubbing it completely) usually means your team is going to have a good night, and in the case of the Pistons on 2021 NBA Draft night, that’s exactly what happened.
The team is stacked with young talent headlined by Cunningham and while they might not immediately threaten the big guns in the Eastern Conference, they already have a strong core that should only grow and get better with time.