Detroit Pistons select Cade Cunningham with 2021 NBA draft's No. 1 overall pick

·5-min read

The Detroit Pistons selected Cade Cunningham No. 1 overall in the 2021 NBA draft on Thursday night.

After much internal debate within a robust power structure, including vice chairman Arn Tellem, general manager Troy Weaver, senior adviser Ed Stefanski and head coach Dwane Casey, the Pistons opted for the consensus top prospect over the draft's two other high-ceiling options, Jalen Green and Evan Mobley.

The Houston Rockets drafted Green second. The Cleveland Cavaliers took Mobley third.

Cunningham is a 6-foot-8, 220-pound lead guard who possesses all the skills necessary to dominate the modern NBA. The 19-year-old can create for himself and others, play on the ball or off it, score from all three levels and defend across multiple positions. Cunningham may not be a truly explosive athlete, but his vision and command of the game have drawn comparisons to 22-year-old MVP candidate Luka Doncic.

“I love Detroit,” Cunningham told reporters after his recent workout with the Pistons, his lone pre-draft visit with any team. "I’ve already been listening to Detroit music and things like that, way before the draft lottery. ... I was already hip to the culture in Detroit. It’s a city that has a lot of things going on, and I feel like getting the sports team rolling again would be huge for the city. Detroit fits me. That’s the main thing I’m going to try to do is step in and embody the swag that people from Detroit walk with, the people from Michigan in general. They have an underdog, go-get-what-you-want feel to them, and I like that about the city. "

Cunningham averaged 20.1 points (on 44/40/85 shooting splits), 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.4 combined steals and blocks in 35.4 minutes per game as a freshman at Oklahoma State this past season. He led the Cowboys to a 21-9 record and the NCAA tournament's second round, where his 24 points, five steals, four rebounds and three assists were not enough in an upset loss to 12th-seeded Oregon State.

Green is the explosive athlete, a highlight reel wrapped in a 6-foot-5, 180-pound frame. The 19-year-old faced professional competition for the G League Ignite last season, averaging 17.9 points (46/37/83 splits), 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.8 steals/blocks in 32 minutes over 15 games inside an Orlando bubble.

Mobley is to modern bigs what Cunningham is to modern wings. The 7-footer has the athleticism to defend in space, pick-and-roll to the rim or pop into a jumper, and even orchestrate offense himself. He averaged 16.4 points (58/30/69 splits), 8.7 rebounds, 2.9 blocks and 2.4 assists in 33.9 minutes per game as a freshman for USC last season. He led the Trojans to a 25-8 record and a berth in the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight, where he collected 17 points, five rebounds and three assists in a loss to top-seeded Gonzaga.

Gonzaga freshman Jalen Suggs was the fourth option of a clear top tier in this draft. He is as polished a 19-year-old player as you will find, completely commanding a Bulldogs team that took a 31-0 record into their loss to Baylor in the national championship game. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound guard averaged 14.4 points (50/34/75 splits), 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.2 steals/blocks in 28.9 minutes per game as a freshman.

Only, the Toronto Raptors surprised everyone by selecting Scottie Barnes, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound hard-nosed defender who played point guard as a freshman at Florida State. He averaged 10.3 points (50/28/62 splits), 4.1 assists, four rebounds and two steals/blocks in 24.8 minutes per game for the Seminoles.

The complete first-round draft order:

1. Detroit Pistons: Cade Cunningham

2. Houston Rockets: Jalen Green

3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Evan Mobley

4. Toronto Raptors: Scottie Barnes

5. Orlando Magic: Jalen Suggs

6. Oklahoma City Thunder: Josh Giddey

7. Golden State Warriors (from Minnesota): Jonathan Kuminga

8. Orlando Magic (from Chicago): Franz Wagner

9. Sacramento Kings: Davion Mitchell

10. Memphis Grizzlies (via New Orleans): Ziaire Williams

11. Charlotte Hornets: James Bouknight

12. San Antonio Spurs: Josh Primo

13. Indiana Pacers: Chris Duarte

14. Golden State Warriors: Moses Moody

15. Washington Wizards: Corey Kispert

16. Houston Rockets (from Boston via Oklahoma City): Alperen Sengun

17. New Orleans Pelicans (via Memphis): Trey Murphy

18. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Miami via the L.A. Clippers, Philadelphia and Phoenix): Tre Mann

19. Charlotte Hornets (from New York): Kai Jones

20. Atlanta Hawks: Jalen Johnson

21. Los Angeles Clippers (from Dallas via New York): Keon Johnson

22. Indiana Pacers (from the L.A. Lakers via Washington): Isaiah Jackson

23. Houston Rockets (from Portland): Usman Garuba

24. Houston Rockets (from Milwaukee): Josh Christopher

25. New York Knicks (from L.A. Clippers): Quentin Grimes

26. Denver Nuggets: Nah'Shon "Bones" Hyland

27. Brooklyn Nets: Cameron Thomas

28. Philadelphia 76ers: Jaden Springer

29. Brooklyn Nets (from Phoenix): Day'Ron Sharpe

30. Memphis Grizzlies (from Utah): Santi Aldama

Cade Cunningham is standing on top of the basketball world at the 2021 NBA draft in New York City. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust)
Cade Cunningham is standing on top of the basketball world at the 2021 NBA draft in New York City. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust)

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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