The Detroit Pistons, a franchise that spent most of the last decade in the N.B.A. wilderness, will rest their hopes for a rescue on Cade Cunningham, the 19-year-old Oklahoma State standout guard.
Detroit selected Cunningham with the first pick of Thursday night’s N.B.A. draft in Brooklyn, hoping that he will help lead the team out of one of the most difficult stretches in its history. The Pistons have made the playoffs only twice in the last 12 seasons and have not won a playoff series since 2008.
There’s already a nickname gaining steam for Cunningham in Detroit: “Motor Cade.” After getting drafted, Cunningham, during an on-air interview with ESPN, looked directly into the camera and said: “Detroit Pistons, I’m all the way in. Let’s do it.”
Cunningham was widely considered the best prospect available, but Detroit General Manager Troy Weaver would not publicly reveal his hand in the days leading up to the draft beyond saying that the team was considering five players. After the pick, Weaver told reporters that the team had finalized its decision to select Cunningham on Thursday and said that the draft was “a great night for the Pistons.”
“He’s a human connector on the floor, off the floor,” Weaver said of Cunningham. “Along with his advanced skill set, the winning basketball that he plays and has always played, landing on him was a tremendous honor for us to be able to bring in such a young, accomplished player.”
After Cunningham went off the board, the Houston Rockets drafted Jalen Green of the G League Ignite with the No. 2 pick, and the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Southern California’s Evan Mobley at No. 3. The first surprise of the night came when the Toronto Raptors picked Florida State’s Scottie Barnes at No. 4 instead of Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs, who fell to the Orlando Magic at No. 5.
A native of Arlington, Texas, Cunningham played one year at Oklahoma State, averaging 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. He won the Big 12 Player of the Year Award, having led the conference in scoring, and won plaudits for his versatility on offense and defense. Cunningham’s No. 4-seeded Cowboys were upset in the second round of the N.C.A.A. tournament by No. 12-seeded Oregon State. At Montverde Academy in Florida, Cunningham won Naismith High School Player of the Year honors.
Last week, Cunningham — listed at 6 feet, 8 inches — said that he modeled his game after those of Penny Hardaway, Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd, guards known for their all-around skill. He also comes from a family of athletes: His brother Cannen played basketball at Southern Methodist, and as an assistant coach for Oklahoma State helped recruit him. This spring, Cannen stepped down as assistant coach to manage his brother’s N.B.A. career. Their father, Keith, played football at Texas Tech.
If there was any uncertainty as to where Cunningham would land, it didn’t seem to exist with the player himself. Cunningham told reporters that he did not take a meeting with the Rockets. In addition to meeting with the Pistons brass, Cunningham attended a Detroit Tigers home game, where fans chanted, “We want Cade!”
“I wanted to meet with the team that had the No. 1 pick because I feel like I’m the No. 1 pick,” Cunningham said last week. “So I met with Detroit. They’re the ones that have the pick. If the Rockets go get the No. 1 pick, then, you know, maybe I’ll meet with them if there’s enough time.”
Cunningham will join a Pistons team that finished last season 20-52, the second worst record in the league. But there were some bright spots, like the play of the 27-year-old forward Jerami Grant, who had a career year, and Killian Hayes, the 20-year-old Pistons lottery pick from last year, who showed spurts of star potential as a point guard.
The Knicks had two first-round picks entering the draft, but traded both. The first came at No. 19, when the team selected forward Kai Jones, who played two college seasons at Texas. The Knicks traded Jones’s rights to the Charlotte Hornets for a future first rounder.
Two picks later, the Knicks selected guard Keon Johnson, who played one year at Tennessee. The team sent his rights to the Los Angeles Clippers for guard Quentin Grimes from the University of Houston, as well as a future second rounder. The 21-year-old Grimes played two years in Houston, as well as a season at the University of Kansas.
The Nets had the 27th pick, which they used to select guard Cameron Thomas, who spent one season at Louisiana State.
Halfway through the first round, Commissioner Adam Silver paid tribute to Terrence Clarke, the 19-year-old University of Kentucky basketball star who was killed in a car crash in April. He was expected to be drafted in the first round. Silver announced that Clarke was being drafted to the league with an honorary first-round pick. Members of Clarke’s family appeared onstage with Silver while the crowd at Barclays Center chanted Clarke’s name.