The draft lottery has been a staple of the NBA offseason since its inception in 1985. A system that started out giving all non-playoff teams an equal chance at the number one pick quickly evolved into a more complex system carried out behind closed doors. The Detroit Pistons have made 14 picks in the lottery. Come June 23, the number will be 15.
After a bottom-three finish to the 2021-22 season, the Pistons are tied for the best odds to land the number one pick in the lottery. The team has a 40.1 percent chance of staying in the top three and a 52 percent chance to stay in the top four. At worst, the Pistons can fall as far as the seventh pick.
With the draft lottery just one day away, I took the time to look at Detroit’s lottery history. Where did they move up? Where did they fall? I take a look at all 14 lottery picks in chronological order.
Pick No. 10 (via Miami Heat): Lindsey Hunter
The Pistons’ first pick in the draft lottery was not even originally theirs. The 1993 lottery is a bit weird; none of the bottom three teams retained a top-three selection. The Orlando Magic, who held a 1.52 percent chance to win the lottery, moved 10 spots up to the number one selection. The Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors moved up three and four spots respectively to round out the top three.
As a result, the Miami Heat pick belonging to the Pistons moved down one spot in the lottery to pick number 10. With that pick, Detroit selected Lindsey Hunter out of Jackson State.
Hunter had two stints with the Pistons. From 1993 to 2000, Hunter was the starting point guard for Detroit. He was named to the All-Rookie second team in 1994. After the 1999-00 season, Hunter played for the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors. He won his first NBA Championship in his lone season with the Lakers.
Hunter’s return to Detroit in the 2003-04 season saw more team success than his first stint with the team. Hunter came off the bench this time around, something he had gotten used to during his three years with other teams. The Pistons won the 2004 NBA Championship, Hunter’s second. Over the next four seasons Hunter spent in Detroit, the Pistons made an additional Finals appearance and made the Conference Finals each year.
Detroit moved down one spot after the draft lottery. After taking Hunter with the 10th pick, the Pistons took Tennessee shooting guard Allan Houston with the 11th pick.
Houston only spent three seasons with the Pistons. He improved his numbers in each of the first three seasons of his career. It was not until year three that he was a permanent fixture in the starting lineup. During his tenure with the Pistons, Houston averaged 14.3 points, 2.2 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game.
After his rookie contract expired in 1996, Houston signed with the New York Knicks where he would spend the rest of his career. In New York, Houston was a two-time All-Star selection and a Finals appearance. Ultimately, knee injuries cut Houston’s career short and he retired in 2005.
The Pistons originally held the second spot in the draft before the 1994 lottery. With the Bucks moving up three spots to land the top selection, the Pistons moved down to the third spot after the lottery. With that pick, the Pistons drafted Grant Hill from Duke.
Hill was a superstar for the Pistons. As a rookie, Hill was named to the All-Star team, and he was named the 1995 Rookie of the Year. In six seasons with Detroit, Hill averaged 21.6 points, 6.3 assists and 7.9 rebounds per contest. Five of his seven All-Star appearances came with Detroit, and all five of his All-NBA nods came as a Piston as well.
In the 1999-00 season, Hill suffered an ankle injury late into the year. He attempted to play on it during the playoffs but was forced to sit after it got worse in the first round. With his contract expiring after the season, Hill left Detroit after the season ended.
The Hall of Famer spent the next seven years with the Magic. It was in Orlando where the star forward made his other two All-Star appearances. After Orlando, Hill spent five seasons with the Phoenix Suns and one season with the Los Angeles Clippers. Injuries were a constant for Hill after leaving Detroit. He missed the entirety of the 2003-04 season due to injury. He played in over 50 games in just six of the final 13 seasons of his career.
For the first time in the team’s lottery history, the Pistons did not move down in the draft. With the 11th pick in the 1998 draft, the Pistons selected Bonzi Wells from Ball State. Wells never played for the Pistons as his draft rights were traded to the Portland Trailblazers. Wells played for a total of five teams in his 10-year career.
The Pistons held their positioning at the ninth pick after the 2001 lottery. With that pick, the Pistons drafted Rodney White out of North Carolina Charlotte.
Despite such a high draft pick, White never stuck on in the NBA. He appeared in only 16 games with the Pistons averaging just 8.1 minutes per game. After just one season in Detroit, White was traded to the Denver Nuggets. His NBA career lasted just four seasons before White moved on to play overseas.
The worst part, All-Star guard Joe Johnson was selected just one pick later by the Boston Celtics.
Pick No. 2 (via Memphis Grizzlies): Darko Miličić
The 2003 NBA Draft was filled with Hall of Fame talent at the top of the board. Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were all selected in the top five. With the rights to the Memphis Grizzlies pick, the Pistons moved up four spots in the lottery to land the second overall pick. The Cleveland Cavaliers were sure to take the hometown hero in James. That left three other superstar talents available for the Pistons at two.
Of course, every Pistons fan knows what happens next.
With the second pick in the 2003 draft, Detroit passed on the future All-Stars in favor of Darko Miličić from Serbia. What does it say about a player when his nickname is “the human victory cigar”? Miličić did not see much action with the Pistons. He appeared in 96 games with Detroit, mostly in garbage time. He did not even last three seasons with the Pistons before he was shipped off to Orlando. In Detroit, the big man averaged just 1.6 points and 1.2 rebounds per game.
Miličić was not absolutely terrible outside of Detroit. He had some okay years in Orlando, Memphis and Minnesota. However, he never lived up to the number two pick billing. It is no surprise he is viewed as one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history.
At least he has one more finals victory than Anthony.
The 2009-10 season was the first in eight years that the Pistons missed the playoffs. With their first lottery appearance since the disaster that was Miličić, the Pistons drafted Greg Monroe out of Georgetown with the seventh pick.
Monroe was part of the worst frontcourt trio in franchise history. With three non-shooters in Josh Smith, Monroe and Andre Drummond (more on him later), the Pistons played archaic basketball during the three-point revolution.
Monroe was named to the All-Rookie second team in his debut season with the Pistons. His numbers improved in his first three seasons, but the arrival of Drummond signaled the inevitable departure of the Georgetown product. In the 2015 offseason, Monroe left Detroit after signing with the Bucks.
Since leaving the Pistons, Monroe has bounced around the league, playing for a total of nine different teams in his career.
Feb 28, 2020; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Knight (20) drives against Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the second half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
The Cavaliers owned the Clippers’ first-round pick in the 2011 draft. With only a 2.8 percent chance of winning the lottery, Cleveland jumped up seven spots to land Kyrie Irving with the first overall pick. The Pistons slid down a spot to the eighth overall pick, where the Cavaliers were originally slotted to select.
With the eighth pick in the 2011 draft, the Pistons took Brandon Knight out of Kentucky. Knight flashed at times, at others he was on the wrong end of highlight-reel plays. There is the time Irving broke Knight’s ankles in the 2013 Rising Stars Challenge. Most notably is the time Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan put the young point guard on a poster with a slam dunk.
Knight was part of the trade package that landed the Pistons Brandon Jennings from Milwaukee. Over the years, injuries and less opportunity led to the gradual decline of the Kentucky product. The Pistons passed on Kemba Walker, who went one pick later to the then Charlotte Bobcats in favor of Knight.
Pick No. 9: Andre Drummond
The Pistons did not move in the 2012 draft lottery. With the ninth pick in the draft, the team selected Andre Drummond out of UConn.
Of Detroit’s lottery picks in the 21st century, Drummond is the most successful pick they have made. Cade Cunningham is on track to unseat him, but that has not happened just yet.
Drummond was a beast on the boards. He led the NBA in rebounds in four of his eight seasons in Detroit. He is a two-time All-Star and was named to the 2015-16 All-NBA Third Team.
Drummond was good, but he never developed into a dominant interior presence. Unfortunately, the Pistons were paying him as if he were. Since leaving Detroit, Drummond has filled in mostly as a big man off the bench. He has been serviceable in this role.
The Washington Wizards were the biggest risers in the 2013 lottery. The Wizards moved up five spots to the third overall pick. The Pistons fell to the eighth pick as a result. With that pick, Detroit selected Kentavious Caldwell-Pope out of Georgia.
Caldwell-Pope had his moments in Detroit. He was the Pistons’ best perimeter defender for the majority of his tenure with the team. He was never the most consistent shooter in Detroit, but he had the makings of a really good three-and-D player. Ultimately, the Pistons’ front office elected not to re-sign Caldwell-Pope when his rookie contract expired. The team instead opted to pursue veteran guard Avery Bradley via trade.
Caldwell-Pope signed with the Lakers, where he eventually won a championship in 2020.
Only two teams moved positions in the 2015 lottery. The Lakers and Knicks swapped positions at two and four. The Pistons held firm at the eighth pick. Future All-Star and Michigan native Devin Booker was available, but the Pistons instead drafted Arizona wing Stanley Johnson.
Johnson was always a pesky defender, but his offensive game, especially his shooting, never developed. In his career, Johnson has averaged better than 40 percent shooting from the floor only once. He has never shot over 33 percent from three. In Detroit, Johnson never became a full-time starter, and he was shipped off before his rookie contract expired.
This season, Johnson made a positive impact on a Los Angeles Lakers roster that severely lacked perimeter defense. He has never lived up to his draft position, but maybe he can stick around as a depth piece.
The Pistons held onto the 12th pick after the 2017 lottery. With that pick, Detroit selected Duke guard Luke Kennard, one pick before Donovan Mitchell and two before Bam Adebayo.
Kennard was a reliable shooter in Detroit. He shot above league average in each of his three seasons with the team. Kennard’s role in the Pistons’ offense grew in each season. However, the arrival of Troy Weaver as the Pistons GM led to a firesale of talent. Kennard was moved before the 2020 NBA Draft.
Kennard was traded to the Clippers where he was immediately extended. In two seasons in Los Angeles, the guard has provided solid three-point shooting off the bench.
With the Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls both moving up after the 2020 lottery, the Pistons fell two spots to the seventh overall pick. With the seventh selection, the team drafted Killian Hayes.
Hayes has been inconsistent, frustrating at times and downright painful to watch at others. Yet, he has his moments where he flashes a lot of potential. The 20-year-old needs to work on his outside shooting and finishing through contact. Defensively, Hayes is Detroit’s best perimeter defender. He is the team’s most talented passer as well.
At the end of the 2021-22 season, Hayes started to find his footing. If he can become a more consistent scoring threat, the young point guard could be a mainstay in the Pistons’ core. If not, he might be finding a new team soon enough. 2022-23 could be a make-or-break season for Hayes.
Pick no. 1: Cade Cunningham
For the first time in franchise history, the Pistons moved up in the lottery with their own pick. The only other time the team had moved up was with the Memphis pick in 2003. After jumping the Houston Rockets for the top pick, the Pistons selected Cade Cunningham out of Oklahoma State.
What is there to say about Cunningham? In just one season in Detroit, he has established himself as the face of the franchise. He is literally The Guy. Yes, he needs to cut down on his turnovers, and yes, he needs to become a more efficient scorer, but Detroit finally has a guy to build around. That matters.
Besides the Grant Hill pick in 1994, Cunningham is the only homerun selection the Pistons have made in the lottery. It is tough to say if any of the options in this year’s draft have that same potential, but the top seven all appear to be NBA quality guys. Come Tuesday night, the Pistons will find out if they are selecting in the top three or if they will fall in the lottery.
(Featured Image Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)