NBA draft history shows surprisingly little needed to get No. 1, but Pistons would want more

Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Cade Cunningham (2). Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Cade Cunningham (2). Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

While much is made of the haul the Detroit Pistons can get for trading the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, history shows it has taken surprisingly little to get the top pick.

While there have been all kinds of speculative stories about what the Detroit Pistons could get if they traded the No. 1 pick, one thing is becoming clear before the draft occurs on July 29.

  1. The Pistons are quite content to ignore the noise and draft first.
  2. Detroit is being offered a lot more than previous NBA teams that traded the first pick.

The fact the Pistons still are holding on to No. 1 goes against historical trends for those willing to give it up. That just further shows they are not looking to trade.

A recent note in an overall draft article from The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor pretty much confirms as such:

"This week there were reports that the Rockets, who hold the no. 2 pick, may want to trade up to no. 1, currently held by the Detroit Pistons. Houston would love to select Cade Cunningham, a 6-foot-8 playmaker from Oklahoma State. But league sources have emphasized in recent days that it’s highly likely the Pistons will just stay put and take Cunningham."

Why Boy Scouts will stop Detroit Pistons from trading No. 1 pick to Houston. light. Related Story

Another interesting section of O’Connor’s article was how few assets are generally needed to vault up into a higher draft pick:

"The basic construction of the deal is a nearby pick, plus another pick or a young player."

The last time the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft was traded came in 2017, when the Boston Celtics, gave it to the Philadelphia 76ers. The price was that year’s No. 3 and a first-rounder of the Sacramento Kings in 2019 (in which they would take Romeo Langford at No. 14, the spot before Detroit got Sekou Doumbouya).

It did not seem much of a return for No. 1, but Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said at the time that was the best offer they received.

Of course, the best known recent deal involving top-five picks came in 2018. Dallas wanted Luka Doncic badly but at No. 5 they had no chance to get him. They gave up their first round pick in 2019 (from which Hawks took Cam Reddish) and the fifth pick. Atlanta then took Trae Young at No. 5.

If it is close, trading the No. 1 pick makes sense

The thread in both deals is that there was not a large chasm in ability between the players, at least in the opinion of the team with the higher pick.

Of course, we now know that Ainge had soured on consensus No. 1 player Markelle Fultz due to a poor workout in Boston, and and was going to take Jayson Tatum even if he stayed at No. 1.

The 2018 trade gave the Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young and Cam Reddish to give up a chance for  Doncic.

No question, Doncic is one of the best players in the NBA, but the Hawks this season made the Eastern Conference finals while the Mavericks lost in the first round. Would the Hawks reverse the trade if given a chance?

Related Story. A history of NBA No. 1 draft choices who were traded. light

Detroit Pistons history in No. 1 draft pick trades

Twice the Pistons have been involved with the trading of the first pick in the NBA Draft. One time they traded for it, the other they gave it up. Neither deal went terribly well.

In 1950, the Boston Celtics had the No. 1 pick but general manager Red Auerbach had a problem signing their draft choice, Charley Share, a rare 6-foot-11 center in that era. The Pistons were having a similar problem getting Bill Sharman inked, a guard they picked in the dispersal draft of the Washington franchise.

Share played in a rival league for a year rather than go to Boston. Pistons owner Fred Zollner thought he could sign Share, so a swap of problem signings was arranged.

Share ended up being a mere role player for the Pistons, and in his third season was traded to the Hawks. Sharman was an eight-time All-Star for the Celtics.

In 1980, the Detroit Pistons had the worst record in the NBA. This was before the creation of the Draft Lottery so they would have had the No.1 pick automatically. However, coach/general manager Dick Vitale (Yes, Dicky V!) had traded Detroit’s first rounder before the season to Boston as part of the Bob McAdoo trade. The Pistons remained awful and McAdoo was gone in a couple of years.

The Celtics’ Auerbach used the No. 1 pick as part of a trade with the Warriors that gave them center Robert Parish and forward Kevin McHale. Combining with Larry Bird, Boston became the top team in the East for the rest of the decade, until the Detroit Pistons’ ‘Bad Boys’ knocked them off that perch.

Next. Dick Vitale and the worst team in Detroit Pistons history. dark

History has shown that it does not take some massive offer of multiple draft picks and players to grab the No. 1 pick (or move up in the top five). The X factor is, does the team with the higher pick actually want to move it.

The fact Pistons GM Troy Weaver is being reportedly offered what would be considered, historically, a huge overpay, is the best indication yet Detroit intends to keep the No. 1 draft pick.