The Detroit Pistons have found their centerpiece, now what?

When the Detroit Pistons got the No. 1 in the draft lottery, every fan had the same thought: “Don’t mess this up.” 

Over the last 15 years, it’s seemed like they  drafted at No. 7 or No. 8 overall  and missed out on some of the best players imaginable. Now, they have the first potential superstar we’ve drafted in a long time: Cade Cunningham.

Cunningham is in his rookie season and is showing flashes of greatness. The 6-foot-6 guard is averaging nearly 17 points per game along with six rebounds and six assists. He’s got a smooth game that doesn’t exactly pop on screen, but makes the game easier for teammates, especially considering he’s making Marvin Bagley III, a former No. 2 overall pick, look refreshed since joining the Pistons  in via trade in February. He’s an all-around player who is making a quick case for best player in the draft.

The Detroit Pistons have found their engine of the future in Cunningham. Now what?

Players like Cunningham don’t come around often and the Pistons need to recognize the best ways to succeed. A big-bodied wing who can shoot and make plays are crucial to the modern game, but the best players of this mold need three things to reach their full potential: a pick-and-roll big, a 3-point shooter, and 3 and d roll players.

Though two of these seem to overlap, let me explain. The best example of how to make the most of Cunningham is in Grant Hill, who plays a very similar game. Hill was best as a playmaker, who could score, drive to the rim, and pass out to the perimeter to the open man. Though injuries kept him from reaching his full potential, his game is a precursor to the modern era. After him, larger playmakers became the new crown jewel, and players like LeBron James were moved into focus.

I’m not saying Cade will be among these players… yet, but it’s clear that he is a special talent. The Pistons are also in a rare position where they have a Max contract slot available this summer as well as a potential top 3 pick. 

If Detroit somehow gets the number one pick overall in back to back years, it’s clear that Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren fits this bill. He’s a rare talent, being a 7+ foot center who can grab rebounds, play interior defense and shoot threes at a high percentage. Detroit has also coveted players like Deandre Ayton from the Phoenix Suns who is a modern pick-and-roll big who can anchor a defense as he did last year and led the Suns to a Championship.

The Pistons have something special with Cade Cunningham. He’s what most NBA teams look for when they want to find a player to build around. Detroit, though not playoff ready, is at the precipice of a quick rebuild as they look to make their first playoffs since 2019, and their first playoff win since 2008.