Detroit Pistons: Do top-5 picks lead to NBA championships?

Cade Cunningham #2 of the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
Cade Cunningham #2 of the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Pistons have a young, up-and-coming roster but will once again not be favored to make the playoffs heading into next season.

This has led to discussions of whether the Pistons should even be trying to win next season, and it makes sense, as there is a potential generational talent coming out of the draft in forward Victor Wembanyama and the idea of getting a shot at him is pretty enticing.

The Detroit Pistons already have three top-5 picks on the roster in Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Marvin Bagley III, so it’s fair to debate whether tanking again and adding another one would get them one step closer to sustained success and eventually an NBA championship.

Building through the draft is obviously the right play for a team like the Detroit Pistons, as they have had a hard time drawing top free agents in recent years, and there is proof all over the league that having a homegrown roster is a path to success, just ask the Golden State Warriors.

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But is tanking for top-5 picks really the way to become one of the NBA’s elite teams?

Detroit Pistons: The top-10 teams and their top-5 picks

If you look around the league, the answer to that question is a mixed bag, as some of the top teams don’t feature any top-5 picks at all. Here are ten of the best teams in the NBA and the number of top-5 picks they have on their roster:

  • Miami Heat (1)-Victor Oladipo
  • Boston Celtics (2)-Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown
  • Milwaukee Bucks (0)
  • Philadelphia 76ers (2)- James Harden, Joel Embiid
  • Toronto Raptors (1)-Scottie Barnes

As you can see, all of the top teams in the Eastern Conference have at least one top-5 pick except for the Milwaukee Bucks, who obviously hit the jackpot when they got Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick.

The Miami Heat didn’t draft Oladipo, same for the 76ers and James Harden. In fact, Embiid is the only player left from the infamous “Process,” as Jahlil Okafor is out of the league, and Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons are playing for other teams.

Of the top teams in the East, only Boston has two top-5 picks that they drafted themselves. It’s not a whole lot different in the Western Conference.

  • Phoenix Suns (2)-Deandre Ayton, Chris Paul
  • Memphis Grizzlies (2)- Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr.
  • Golden State Warriors (1)- James Wiseman
  • Dallas Mavericks (1)- Luka Doncic
  • Los Angeles Clippers (0)

The West also features only one top team that drafted both of their top-5 picks in the Memphis Grizzlies and one team in the Clippers that doesn’t have a top-5 pick on the roster.

The Golden State Warriors have managed to build a dynasty without any top-5 picks, though their roster does feature one, James Wiseman, who didn’t play last season while his teammates were winning a title.

There is a lot you can take away from this data, but the most obvious thing is that you need a superstar to compete for title and drafting a player in the top-5 is still the best way to get one.

Six of the top 10 teams in the NBA drafted their best player in the top-5, and the Detroit Pistons hope they will join this list soon after drafting Cade Cunningham number one overall.

Detroit was able to add another top-5 player in Jaden Ivey, giving them three overall when you include Marvin Bagley III.

This already gives them more top-5 picks than any of the teams above, so the Pistons already have the foundation of a good team and now just need to keep building around them. Another top-5 pick would be great (though another season of losing definitely wouldn’t be) but it’s not necessary to have a whole team of them to compete for a title.

Superstars win titles, there is no doubt, but drafting well is probably more important than drafting in the top-5, and you can build a contender without having a roster full of top draft picks.

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