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Pistons are banking on lottery selections to provide immediate help on defense

Ausar Thompson, right, hugs family and friends after being selected fifth overall by the Detroit Pistons during the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 22, 2023, in New York.
John Minchillo/AP
Ausar Thompson, right, hugs family and friends after being selected fifth overall by the Detroit Pistons during the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 22, 2023, in New York.

The Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers used lottery picks on players who should make their biggest early impact on defense while the rest of the Central Division teams sat out the first round of the NBA draft Thursday night.

Detroit selected wing Ausar Thompson of the Overtime Elite developmental program with the fifth overall selection. Indiana took Houston forward Jarace Walker eighth.

“With my size and my quickness, defense has always been a part of me,” Thompson said. “Teams that win championships play defense.”

Later in the first round, the Pistons traded up to select Houston guard Marcus Sasser with the 25th overall pick and the Pacers selected Belmont forward Ben Sheppard at No. 26.

Detroit and Indiana were the only Central Division teams with first-round picks.

The Pistons received some tough luck in the lottery when they got stuck with the fifth pick despite having the NBA’s worst record at 17-65. But they believe they found a keeper in Thompson.

“We think he has a chance to be an elite defender on the perimeter,” Pistons general manager Troy Weaver said.

Detroit selected Thompson one pick after the Houston Rockets used the No. 4 selection on his twin brother, Amen Thompson. They’re the first set of twins to be selected in the top-10 picks in the same draft.

Thompson, 20, showcased his all-around game by averaging 16.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.1 blocks while teaming up with Overtime Elite.

The Pacers began the night with the seventh pick but moved down one spot in a trade with the Washington Wizards. Walker, who is 6-foot-8, was the American Athletic Conference’s freshman of the year last season and averaged 11.2 points and 6.8 rebounds.

“His defense is very good,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "His rebounding is very good. Those are areas we want to improve.

Indiana allowed 119.5 points per game last season to rank 29th in the league in scoring defense. Detroit’s defense also has been in decline in recent years, causing the Pistons to go seven straight seasons without a winning record.

The Pistons and Pacers added shooting later.

Sasser scored 16.8 points per game, shot 38.4% (96 of 250) from 3-point range and also played strong defense last season as an Associated Press All-America first-team selection. Sheppard scored 18.8 points per game and made 41.5% of his 3-point attempts (80 of 193) for Belmont.

Here's a roundup of how each Central Division team fared in the draft.

— Team needs: The Bucks need to add some reinforcements to their bench to build depth with much of their roster entering free agency.

— Draft picks: UConn guard Andre Jackson Jr. at No. 36 as part of a trade with Orlando. Kentucky forward Chris Livingston at No. 58.

— Whose game does Jackson's most compare to: Jackson's reputation as a strong defender and suspect shooter is reminiscent of the label Gary Payton II had when he entered the NBA, though Jackson's a few inches taller.

— Team needs: Wing, shooter, bench depth. After an illuminating exit in the first round of the NBA playoffs, the Cavs also must get tougher after being bullied by the New York Knicks.

— Draft pick: Eastern Michigan forward Emoni Bates at No. 49.

— Whose game does Bates' most compare to: Patrick Baldwin Jr. Once rated as the top prep player in the country, Bates is a prolific scorer. The slender 6-foot-10 Bates is a bit of a project, but the Cavs see his upside.

— Team needs? There’s been some trade chatter involving stars Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. Center Nikola Vucevic is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and guards Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu are due to become restricted free agents.

— Draft pick: The Bulls traded into the second round with Washington to acquire Tennessee forward Julian Phillips at No. 35.

— Whose game does the draft pick most compare to? At 6-foot-7 and with a 6-11 1/2 wingspan, Phillips has drawn comparisons to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Jaden McDaniels.

—Team needs? Improving defensively, finding a consistent power forward, adding depth on the wing

— Draft pick: Walker at No. 8, Sheppard at No. 26.

— Whose game does Walker's most compare to? Aaron Gordon. Both played one season of college basketball. Walker, like Gordon, was a stronger rebounder than scorer coming out of college. Gordon became a better offensive player in time. The Pacers believe Walker can do the same.

— Team needs: Two-way wing and 3-point shooter.

— Draft needs: Ausar Thompson at No. 5, Sasser at No. 25.

— Whose game does Thompson's most compare to? Andre Iguodala. The 6-foot-6, 218-pound Thompson excels on defense and is a capable scorer much like the 39-year-old Iguodala was for much of his career.


AP Sports Writers Larry Lage, Mike Marot, Andrew Seligman and Tom Withers contributed to this report.

The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
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