2021 NBA Draft grades: Detroit Pistons select Cade Cunningham with No. 1 overall pick

Picking at No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft for the first time since drafting Hall of Fame big man Bob Lanier 51 years ago, the Detroit Pistons selected Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham with the top pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Cunningham, a 6-foot-8 point guard, was long viewed as the likely pick for Detroit after it won the lottery last month. 

However, the Pistons worked out a number of this year’s top prospects including Jalen Green, who reportedly wowed the team in a private workout last week, and Evan Mobley, the 7-footer from USC. The front office never totally tipped their hand on where they were leaning, though Cunningham has been seen for months as the most likely to go No. 1 regardless of which team won the top pick.

Only a select few prospects were brought in to Detroit for a workout during the pre-draft process and Cunningham, who made only one predraft visit with a team — the Pistons — seemed to embrace the franchise that selected him Thursday. In an interview with reporters after his visit earlier this month, he said, “I love Detroit.”

“I’ve already been listening to Detroit music and things like that way before the draft lottery or any of that stuff,” he added. “If Detroit picks me, that’s the main thing I would try to do: step in and embody the swag that people from Detroit walk with, the people from Michigan in general. They kind of have an underdog go-get-what-you-want feel to them, and I like that about the city.” 

Gary Parrish’s grade: A+

Here’s what CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish had to say about Cunningham as he graded each team’s pick in the NBA Draft:

Cunningham is the best prospect in this draft and should’ve gone No. 1 regardless of which franchise picked first. So Detroit got this right. If the Pistons spend the coming years building back to a place of relevance, this decision they made tonight will be the biggest reason why.

Cunningham was a consensus All-American in his one season at Oklahoma State. He took home Big 12 Player of the Year honors and was the only freshmen in America to average at least 20 points and 5.0 rebounds. In 26 games, he averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 boards and 3.5 assists per game. 

“He’s unique in that I don’t think you could have a roster that he couldn’t fit in, because he’s able to play with any type of other player,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said of his star pupil earlier this spring when he declared for the draft. “If you put him on a team with a bunch of shooters, he can them get shots. If you put him out there with other ball handlers, he knows how to space the floor himself. . . I think he fits regardless of what your roster looks like because his versatility allows you to play another point guard with him, play him at the point, he can post up, which we’ve shown this year, he can be a shooter and that totality of skills is really what makes him a super high value for any NBA franchise out there.”

That will be welcome words for Detroit fans who saw the franchise use its top pick in last year’s draft, at No. 7 overall, on French point guard Killian Hayes after he played in only 26 games during an injury-riddled rookie season.

Detroit, which went 20-52 last season, has not had a winning campaign since the 2015-16 season, when it went 44-38 and lost in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The drought ties for the second-longest in the NBA behind only the Sacramento Kings.

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