It is expected that 19-year-old Cade Cunningham, with only one college season playing experience, will be the number-one overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft on July 29. Detroit has the top pick for the first time since 1970 (Bob Lanier) and third in franchise history (Jimmy Walker in 1967 was the other).
Since he declared he would leave Oklahoma State early for the pros, the 6’8” Cunningham has been considered the top overall selection in this year’s draft. And Detroit fans mainly endorse this by virtual voice vote—Cunningham was given much love when he recently attended a Tigers game.
“It would seem so,” said Pistons broadcaster and former first-round pick Greg Kelser on the probable Cunningham selection this week. He added in an MSR phone interview last week that the young man appears well suited for the Pistons, who last year drafted Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Saben Lee, and Killian Hayes to join Jerami Grant in forming a young nucleus to build a winner.
“He [Cunningham] does seem to have the attributes that you want today—swingman, a guy that can play 2, 3, and 4, handle the basketball and create opportunities for himself as well as others,” said Kelser. Cunningham can shoot it deep as well as finish at the rim: “All of those things that seems to be what this young man has, that would fit right into who the Pistons are trying to have on their roster,” he pointed out.
Detroit has been yearning for several seasons for a competitive Pistons team, and although they only won 20 games this past season, according to Kelser, it gave new hope to fans. “People were enthusiastic about what they saw from the youngsters last year,” continued Kelser. “They showed a level of competitiveness, showed a fire, an eagerness to get better and work.”
He also feels that the Pistons have the right coach in Dwane Casey, a former NBA Coach of the Year at Toronto, where he guided the Raptors to the point where they would finally win a championship in 2019 but Casey was fired the season before. “They are all Dwane Casey players and they started very young with him,” Kelser recalled. The current Detroit coach “is the absolute best person” to lead this roster, he declared.
“He understands how to motivate young guys, pushing and holding them accountable and make them better. So, I like the job he’s doing, and I’m really happy the organization committed to him by extending his contract.”
The Minnesota Timberwolves this year has no draft picks, but there are several Minnesota- based players who are in the mix to be picked sometime in the two-round draft. Jalen Suggs, McKinley Wright, and Jericho Sims are among the prospects. Suggs is projected a top-five pick.
“I like Suggs,” admitted Kelser. “I think he’s a quality ball-handler, passer, and scorer. He’s a leader, and he seem to really have an understanding and a grasp for the game at a very, very complex and complicated position—point guard. The team that gets him will be very happy I would imagine. I think he’s going to have a nice career.”
When asked if Suggs and other one-and-done college players in this year’s draft are NBA- ready, Kelser said, “He is as much as anybody else this year coming out. A player can never hurt himself…you can never go wrong staying another year in school to hone your skill and get bigger, stronger, more knowledgeable, and play all the time [and] practice a lot. College allows for that. The pros don’t.”
ESPN Basketball Analyst Jay Bilas said of Suggs during a draft preview call with media Tuesday, “With Suggs, you’ve got a superior athlete who’s unbelievably strong, surgical in his approach to pick-and-roll offense, and has elite vision.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.