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.
The team selected Cunningham with the first pick of Thursday night’s N.B.A. draft, 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.
Cunningham was widely considered the best prospect, 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. He also said that the team would “put ourselves in position to make the right choice for the Pistons” and that Cunningham was a “talented young man.”
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 Houston Rockets, who had the No. 2 pick. 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.