Edwards: What I’m hearing regarding the Pistons and 2022 NBA Draft prospects

Tuesday, the pistons learned where they would be picking during next month’s NBA draft. For a team that is amid a rebuild and just completed a 23-win season, the fifth pick evoked an unsettling feeling for many. However, moments like this are why general manager Troy Weaver was hired in 2020. Anyone can spot Cade Cunningham. Not everyone can find value when the obvious isn’t available.

Weaver, once more, will get a chance to flex his eye for talent.

Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paolo Banchero will likely be off the board when Detroit is on the clock. One of the draft’s top perimeter players, Jaden Ivey (Purdue) or Shaedon Sharpe (Kentucky), will probably be gone too. Both guards might be available when the Pistons pick if a team selects Iowa’s Keegan Murray. It also wouldn’t be a complete surprise if Holmgren falls out of the top four.

This draft is expected to be unpredictable. League sources think there will be a surprise or two within the top five picks. Assuming Smith, Banchero and Holmgren are off the board, sources say the Pistons are focusing on four prospects: Murray, Sharpe, Ivey and Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin. Each player intrigues Detroit. That’s why the Pistons’ decision-makers will do their due diligence over the next month and slowly refine their big board as the draft approaches.

Let’s look at all four prospects and why Detroit might be interested. Also included is some intel I gathered on the prospects during a few days in Chicago.

Keegan Murray (age 21), F, Iowa

The oldest of the bunch, Murray is considered the most well-rounded prospect, according to a few league sources. Some say he doesn’t have a high ceiling because of his age, but Murray was a late bloomer and has improved dramatically every year since his freshman season in high school. As a sophomore, Murray was 5-foot-10 and 145 pounds. Now he’s 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds and was one of the best players in college. After high school, Murray went to a prep school in Florida to get Division I offers, and after one season in college, he turned into arguably the best and most versatile scorer in college.

So, what does Murray say when asked about the notion that he doesn’t have as high of a ceiling as some other prospects in his class?

“I say I’m a 21-year-old in an 18-year-old’s body,” Murray told The Athletic on Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. “For me, I’m young. I feel young. I don’t get dinged up at all. My body is fresh. If you’re comparing me (to others) because of age and not what’s on the court, that’s another conversation. It’s whatever I do on the court. I can’t control my age.

“I feel like my ceiling is as high as anybody’s. I’m a late bloomer. I haven’t really grown into my body yet. You can see the progress from prep school to my freshman year to my sophomore year. I’m still adding weight.”

Murray has connections to Michigan. His father, Kenyon, was a former Michigan Mr. Basketball out of Battle Creek. Murray said he grew up traveling to Michigan once or twice a year to see family. He’s also close with Luca Garzawhom the Pistons drafted in the second round last season, and has leaned on him during the pre-draft process.

But the Pistons aren’t considering Murray because of his Michigan ties. They’re interested because he’s a long, athletic wing who can score at all three levels. He can create his own shot. He was lethal in transition. Hey what an elite cutter. Detroit could use more of all of that. Murray’s size and ability compare favorably to Tobias Harris. The best-case scenario would be Khris Middleton. Everyone I talked to around the league at the combine insisted Murray would, at the very least, be a good NBA player.

Murray said he had interviews with the Pistons.

Shaedon Sharpe (18), W, Kentucky

The mystery surrounding Sharpe, who didn’t play last season at Kentucky, only intensified this past week in Chicago, as the 18-year-old didn’t participate in the on-court activities and skipped his media session at the combine. However, Sharpe did take part in a private group workout earlier this week, and The Athletic learned that members of the Pistons front office were in attendance.

Sharpe is a 6-foot-5 wing with a 6-foot-11 wingspan. His length and athleticism compare favorably to a good majority of the league’s elite wings.

Sharpe is a high-upside gamble, one of the Pistons should consider making as they build around Cunningham. Ideally, Sharpe would be a great pairing alongside last year’s No. 1 pick Detroit needs to get more athletic and could use another wing who can create offense. But because he missed all of last season, it’s hard for evaluators to gauge how his skill set will translate to the NBA. It’s something to seriously ponder, especially since Detroit is in its current predicament because it has spent the better part of the past decade whiffing in the draft.

Over the next month, the Pistons will do their homework and weigh the risk versus reward of drafting Sharpe, just like they’ll do with a more NBA-ready prospect like Murray. Yes, Detroit could use a surefire pick. However, it could also use a good player at a low cost for a few seasons. The Pistons will have to figure out whether Sharpe will at least become a valuable NBA player.

There are pros and cons.

Jaden Ivey (20), G, Purdue

Opinions about Ivey varied more drastically than any other prospect I discussed with league sources this past week.

Some league sources adore his game and believe he should be drafted in the top three. It’s easy to understand why. Ivey is the best athlete in the 2022 class. He blends force and speed in a way that is reminiscent of peak John Wall. Ivey is a good spot up shooter. He could become an effortless fit next to Cunningham and on the Pistons roster, especially if he evolves as a playmaker. Others I talked to had concerns about his passing ability and were higher on Sharpe’s upside and Mathurin’s consistency. A few even mentioned Ivey’s questionable body language at times while at Purdue. Others said that is overblown and he’s just a fierce competitor. This is why interviews and background checks are pivotal at this stage of the pre-draft process.

Regardless, Ivey is an interesting prospect who has one of the highest ceilings in this class and could add elements that are missing in Detroit.

Bennedict Mathurin (19), W, Arizona

Similar to Murray, Mathurin is considered a ready-now wing who still has some upside. A few league sources believe Mathurin is the best wing in this class.

The Canadian-born 19-year-old, who was the Pac-12 player of the year last season as a sophomore, measured at 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan. He spent last season impressing pro evaluators as a 3-point shooter with effortless athleticism in the half court and in transition. If Mathurin improves as a ballhandler, his ceiling would rise to another level. His playmaking doesn’t get enough attention, and he said it has come up during his meetings with NBA executives.

“Teams have been asking me what I want to showcase a little bit more, and (playmaking) was definitely one thing,” Mathurin said. “After the USC game, I think people started to notice that I could pass the ball. We played in a different kind of system where we had guards already. One of my biggest strengths was scoring the ball, and I just did what the team needed me to do in order for us to win.”

Mathurin said he has not yet talked to the Pistons in Chicago, but the combine doesn’t end until Sunday.

(Photo of Shaedon Sharpe: Chet White / UK Athletics)

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