With the clock ticking down to the 2021 NBA Draft on July 29, the Detroit Pistons have been on the clock since winning the draft lottery in June. But there are reports that at least four teams want to maneuver up to that spot. One of those teams is the New Orleans Pelicans, who drafted rising star Zion Williamson first in 2019.
The Pelicans slogged through a difficult season in 2020–21, finishing two games out of the Western Conference play-in tournament at 31–41. Stan Van Gundy became a one-and-done coach in the aftermath of the season, and the team is still conducting its coaching search to replace him.
Other teams reportedly looking to trade up to the No. 1 overall spot include the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, and Oklahoma City Thunder. How would a New Orleans offer stack up?
The New Orleans Pelicans have NBA draft assets to move, but they’re not alone
According to Jonathon Givony of ESPN, the New Orleans Pelicans are just one of a handful of teams exploring what it would take to get the Pistons to give up the first overall pick. Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham is thought to be the top prospect and reportedly wants to go to Detroit. But the Pistons are covering their assets by not yet committing to anyone.
If Detroit is looking for some future assets and young talent, the Thunder have a ton. They own three picks in this year’s draft. Besides theirs at No. 6, they also have selections from the Boston Celtics (16th overall) and Miami Heat (No. 18). Through 2027, Oklahoma City has up to 17 first-round picks and six potential pick swaps at its disposal. In terms of young players, they have Shae Gilgeous-Alexander as their centerpiece and finished the season with 12 other players on their roster in their first, second, or third seasons.
The Rockets are in a similar position. Thanks to the James Harden trade and other deals, Houston owns up to nine first-rounders between now and 2027, as well as 17 potential pick swaps. The Rockets have the No. 2 overall pick and picks at No. 23 and 24 from Portland and Milwaukee. Outside of Jae’Sean Tate and the troubled but talented Kevin Porter Jr., Houston’s young talent doesn’t stack up to OKC.
Cleveland has all of its first-round picks through 2027 in terms of draft assets. They have the talented but mismatched guard duo of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, as well.
What do the New Orleans Pelicans have to offer?
The New Orleans Pelicans built a cache of future draft picks with their recent trades of Anthony Davis to the Lakers and Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee. While the Pelicans have just the No. 10 overall pick this year, New Orleans owns up to eight first-round choices from 2022–27, along with two pick swaps.
If president of basketball operations David Griffin sees Cunningham as the future point guard in New Orleans, he might be able to get Detroit to bite on a sign-and-trade option once free agency opens. Lonzo Ball was much-improved last season, upping his 3-point mark to a career-high 37.8%.
And after shooting a pitiful 48.7% from the foul line in his first three seasons, Ball hit a respectable 78.1% last season. That means he doesn’t have to come off the floor at crunch time, which can be a big deal for your primary ballhandler.
Ball will be a restricted free agent this summer, assuming New Orleans extends him the $14.36 million qualifying offer.
The Pistons have lots of leverage heading into the NBA draft
According to Givony, the Detroit Pistons are perfectly content to keep the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft and take Cunningham. But Pistons general manager Troy Weaver also did extensive work scouting Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs, Evan Mobley of USC, and two kids from the G-League Ignite program, Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga.
Weaver is open to exploring ideas to trade down to pick up future draft capital. But Cunningham is also a dynamic prospect as a big point guard (6-foot-7, 220 pounds) with lots of developmental room.
He averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. Some point to his 4.0 turnovers a game as a red flag. But as a freshman, he led Oklahoma State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in four years and the Cowboys’ first March Madness victory since 2009.
Cunningham has touch, hitting 40% from the shorter collegiate 3-point line and 84.6% from the free-throw stripe. He’d be a great fit with Zion Williamson in New Orleans. But Detroit could undoubtedly benefit from building around him, too.
Statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference College Basketball.