The 2021 NBA Draft is nine days away and the Detroit Pistons are unofficially on the clock.
Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham is still the consensus top choice, but trade rumors have started to swirl.
However, we will assume the Pistons do not trade the first overall pick for this exercise.
In this scenario, Cunningham becomes the face of the franchise.
Detroit gets a 6-foot-8 jumbo guard with superstar potential to lead them out of their rebuild.
Given Cade’s versatility, what might an ideal lineup look like surrounding him?
Stars have all the power in the NBA today and it is critical front-office personnel keep them happy.
Otherwise, they risk the star becoming disgruntled and leaving – i.e.: Anthony Davis.
The best way to keep stars happy is by winning.
And the best way to win is by surrounding them with talent that meshes with their skill-set and can help them on their quest to win a title.
Here is the dream starting five for the Pistons with Cunningham as the star.
I have been told by a source in the #Pistons organization that they are going to select former Oklahoma State point guard Cade Cunningham with their number one pick in the #NBADraft and that it has already been discussed as a “done deal.” pic.twitter.com/zqhlzlWwW5
— Michael Balko (@MichaelBalkoJr) July 16, 2021
PG – Cade Cunningham
Most of the Pistons’ starting five is already set in stone.
Cade’s passing and all-around talent should make him the starting point guard from day one.
He will assuredly make mistakes as a rookie, but these will be teaching moments that can better him for the future.
Cunningham has terrific vision as a passer and his above-average size for a guard allows him to make nearly any pass.
This is not to say he will be the next Doncic or Tatum, but his game projects to be similar.
Because of this, the Pistons would be smart to surround him with plenty of shooting.
They should also do their best to give him a pick-and-roll partner and a second scorer to shoulder some of the load.
Cunningham is talented enough to make life easier for those around him.
SG – Wayne Ellington
This is the one controversial selection.
Killian Hayes was the No. 7 overall pick in last year’s draft and was seen as their point guard of the future.
He showed some flashes down the stretch that showed why he was a top-10 pick.
But he only shot 35 percent from the field and 28 percent from three.
Hayes is still a teenager and has time to develop but Wayne Ellington would be a cleaner fit next year.
He still needs to be brought back but Pistons GM Troy Weaver has stated they will focus on re-signing their guys over attacking free agency.
That leaves the door open for Ellington.
A career 38 percent shooter from deep, Ellington just tied his personal-best mark for a season at 42 percent.
He’s no longer the defender he once was but the Pistons have the personnel to account for that.
His ability to stretch the floor will be beneficial to open driving lanes for Cade to operate.
The veteran leadership he brings would also be a steadying presence for Cunningham and the other young Pistons.
SF – Saddiq Bey
He took over as a full-time starter in his 25th appearance of the season and never let it go.
After becoming a full-time starter, Bey posted 14 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting 37 percent from deep on nearly eight attempts per game.
Bey appears to be your prototypical three-and-D wing that all NBA teams covet these days.
His size and athleticism allow him to switch across multiple positions on defense.
Bey and Cunningham, who projects to be a decent defender in the NBA, will let the Pistons cover Ellington’s shortcomings on that end.
If Saddiq can take another step forward this year in his development, he would slot in perfectly next to Cunningham.
He would be another floor spacer who gives Cade a kick-out target off drives.
PF – Jerami Grant
— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) July 13, 2021
Grant silenced a lot of doubters with his play after signing a 3-year, $60 million contract last offseason.
It was a head-scratcher of a decision at the time.
A rebuilding team giving $60 million guaranteed to an unproven 27-year-old forward?
But Grant now appears to be a steal at $20 million per year.
After six years of being a role player, Grant was given lead duties as the main scoring option for the Pistons.
His usage rate ballooned to nearly 29 percent after never getting above 18 percent.
And he attempted 17.3 field goals per game after never averaging more than 10.3 for a season.
While Grant was not as efficient as he was in recent years, he didn’t fall off a cliff with higher volume.
He averaged 22.3 points per game while slashing .429/.350/.845 – good for a 56 percent true shooting.
Not an elite number but not bad for his first time being the focal point of an offense.
With Cunningham coming on board and drawing defensive attention, Grant should become more efficient.
His proven scoring ability would take some of that responsibility off Cade’s back and prevent defenses from solely focusing on Cunningham in crunch time.
Grant has developed into a good three-point shooter who can help space the floor.
And is an above-average athlete who would provide Cade with a lob threat either in transition or in the pick-and-roll.
Grant is still developing but already seems primed to be the number two option on a playoff team.
C – Isaiah Stewart
Rounding out the starting five is Stewart, the No. 16 overall pick in last year’s draft.
A 6-foot-8 center out of Washington, Stewart showed real promise last year with his high-energy play.
While his counting stats were nothing to write home about he did finish the year strong.
Stewart posted 12 points and seven rebounds as well as 2.1 blocks per game in his last eight games of the year.
This included a monster 20/10/3 game in only 29 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks.
While Stewart is only 6-foot-8, his 7-foot-4 wingspan and tremendous strength allow him to play bigger than his height.
His strength and high motor were a big reason why he was named second-team All-Rookie.
Improving upon the hints he showed of extending his shooting range would help vault Stewart to the next level.
A stretch-5 who provides high-energy play on both ends of the court is a perfect fit alongside Cunningham, Ellington, Bey, and Grant.
Pistons’ Starting Five
A starting five of Cunningham, Ellington, Bey, Grant, and Stewart should be the dream for Detroit.
It provides a great blend of everything teams look for in a modern-day NBA lineup.
Cunningham is the primary ball-handler who runs the show.
His three-level scoring ability as well as his passing chops will be the engine driving the offense.
Grant is the secondary creator who handles some of the offensive load so as not to overload Cunningham.
Ellington and Bey are both floor spacers that can keep open driving lanes for Cunningham and Grant to operate.
And Stewart provides floor spacing and some post-scoring ability to keep defenses honest.
In terms of defense, Cunningham, Bey, and Stewart all appear to have above-average defensive potential.
Bey and Stewart already showed flashes during their rookie years, while Cunningham has the size to become a multi-positional defender.
With less of a workload on offense, Grant should also be able to exert more energy on the defensive side of the ball.
An area he made his money in during his early career.
With this starting five, the Pistons should be able to develop Cunningham while not sacrificing winning basketball games.
This also allows them to bring Hayes off the bench, letting him run the second unit being the primary ball-handler and continuing to develop.
It may not be enough to compete for a playoff spot, but they shouldn’t be cellar dwellers once again.