Cade Cunningham sure looked like the No. 1 overall draft pick all year at Oklahoma State with his fluid game, scoring ability and passing — all in a 6-foot-8 frame.
So it was no surprise the Detroit Pistons would grab the freshman All-American with the top pick as they did to open the draft Thursday night in New York. And it was the start of multiple teams spending high picks on playmakers with size, including Florida State forward Scottie Barnes and Australian teenager Josh Giddey climbing a bit higher than expected as top-six picks.
Cunningham had been widely expected to be the first name called in New York, though Pistons general manager Troy Weaver wouldn’t reveal plans earlier this week and said the team would look at every scenario, including trades. In the end, Detroit stuck with the 19-year-old mentioned as a potential top pick before ever stepping foot on the Oklahoma State campus.
The point guard from Arlington, Texas, lived up to expectations to become a first-team Associated Press All-American. He averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists with a game that allowed him to hit from 3-point range, score off the dribble or find teammates out of traps.
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“It’s still pretty surreal to me,” Cunningham said. “I know how much responsibility comes with being the No. 1 pick. I know how much responsibility a city will put on the guy that they take No. 1. I’m more than excited to take on those tasks and try to deliver to the city of Detroit.”
Barnes had risen mock drafts in recent weeks but offered the first surprise of the night by going to Toronto with the No. 4 pick ahead of Gonzaga freshman point guard Jalen Suggs. Barnes is a long-armed 6-8 forward who ran the Seminoles' offense and has the capability to be an elite defender with his length and ability to chase smaller ball handlers on the perimeter.
That's why Barnes said he felt he could “fit right in doing different things” with the Raptors.
“I didn't really know where but I really didn't just expect anything," Barnes said. “I just came in with the 'I don't know mindset.' ... I just came in trying to live by the moment until I got my name called. It was just a huge bit of excitement that I felt for me and my family."
Two picks later, Oklahoma City grabbed Giddey, who was considered a potential lottery pick as a 6-foot-8 floor leader known for his passing touch. He had played in Australia's National Basketball League and has been part of the NBA Academy program designed to develop elite international prospects.
Cunningham attended the draft wearing a dark suit, shirt and tie with sparkles on his collars and cuffs. When the pick was announced, Cunningham kissed 2-year-old daughter Riley, sitting on his lap, then hugged family members and took the stage alongside NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to don a blue Pistons hat.
Cunningham — the first player in Oklahoma State history to be picked No. 1 overall — joins a Pistons franchise that has won 20 games for two straight seasons and hasn’t finished better than .500 for five straight years.
Houston followed at No. 2 by grabbing preps-to-pros teenager Jalen Green, who bypassed college basketball to play in the G League. The 6-foot-6 Green averaged 17.9 points on 46% shooting 15 games, showing off high-flying dunks, a willingness to attack the rim and a promising shooting touch.
Green is now part of Houston's rebuilding project after the James Harden trade to Brooklyn. The Rockets entered the night with three first-round picks after having a league-low 17 wins.
“They're going to say it's a great choice because the goals I have for myself," Green said. “I plan on reaching them.”
Next up was Southern California freshman big man Evan Mobley, who went to Cleveland at No. 3. The 7-footer has potential as a mobile big man with length and the versatility to switch on switches. He swept Pac-12 individual honors while ranking as one of the nation’s top shot blockers and helped the Trojans reach an NCAA regional final for the first time in 20 years.
Suggs and G League forward Jonathan Kuminga were the other players considered to be in the draft's top tier. Suggs went fifth to Orlando while Kuminga went seven to Golden State.
There was also a tribute to Kentucky freshman guard Terrence Clarke, who was killed in an April car accident after declaring for the draft. Silver announced Clarke as an honorary draft pick at the end of the lottery selections, bringing Clarke's mother, sister and brother to the stage.
The draft is later than its traditional late-June slot for the second straight year due to the COVID-19 pandemic that interrupted the 2019-20 season. Last year's was held in a virtual format in November, but with the 2021-22 season is scheduled to return to its normal schedule, next year’s draft set for June again.