o/u 29.5 – OVER
For the first time since Detroit chose Rodney Stuckey over Chauncey Billups in 2008, Pistons’ fans have reason to be excited. After three straight 20-win seasons, they are poised to take a leap out of the torments of the league on the shoulders of the 2021 No. 1 pick, Cade Cunningham.
Detroit has 10 players under the age of 24. Third year players Saddiq Bey, Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart are the longest tenured players. This offseason, they added two more pups to the group via the draft: Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren.
Cunningham, 21, is taking on more of a leadership role this year. Cade told Marc Spears for Andscape, leadership is one of his qualities he thought played a role in him being the number one pick.
“There are a lot of different reasons why I was picked No. 1, but I think it is just who I am as a person. One of the main reasons is the Pistons are confident that I can be good in any room and can communicate with people. That’s something you really want. And the first pick is somebody that can turn into a leader for your team and be a franchise guy.”
Zach Lowe asked Cunningham ahead of his second season if he felt he was living up to the high standards he set for a No. 1, “That’s something I’ve always taken seriously. I think I’m living up to it – I’m still growing in my role every day. I’m trying to figure out my game, the team’s game – how we can be better, but it all works together. We’re growing each day.”
Mirin Fader of The Ringer confirmed Cade’s claims in her Detroit profile while detailing the inseparable nature of Cunningham and Ivey’s relationship. “When you find one of them, you can usually find the other,” she writes about the rookie-sophomore backcourt duo who rebound one another’s free throws every day after practice. Even with only one season under his belt, Cunningham understands the importance of building rapport in the locker room.
“I try to learn where guys are coming from – whoever I’m playing with – because it’s a long season. You gotta have a connection with whoever you’re playing with because through the season it starts to feel like you’re going to war with these guys.”
Having a “big brother” in Cunningham, Detroit hopes will return dividends for Ivey. The combination of the two will create opportunities for each to accel in aspects other than dominating the ball.
The Pistons experimented with Cunningham playing off-ball last season, but tended to revert to him initiating offense in times of trouble. With Ivey, Cunningham will have more opportunities to catch the ball off of a pin-down screen and look to turn the corner quickly with or without a ball screen. This, along with his veteran-like patience in the paint, will give Cunningham more chances to spoon feed the bigs and increase trips to the free throw line. In his rookie campaign, he shot 42% from the field and a large part of his efficiency concerns came from him attempting only 2.6 free throws a game.
Ivey, the fifth pick in the draft, is already facing hefty comparisons. The son of Nielle Ivey, 2001 NCAA Champion with Notre Dame and Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award winner, Jaden doesn’t just bear his mother’s last name, he also has that dog in him. In a post-draft interview with Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks, he credited his mom with instilling him with that mentality.
Before accepting the head coaching position at her alma mater in 2020, where Nielle Ivey spent 12 years on staff as an assistant, she served as an assistant with the Memphis Grizzles in 2019. This allowed future Rookie of the Year, Ja Morant, to get on the Jaden Ivey train early. The connection between the two off the court is just as close as the similarities in their play style. While being compared to someone who received MVP votes in their third season puts pressure on a young player, Ivey finds himself in a good situation as a rookie: on a team looking to maximize the season.
After three straight 20-something win seasons, the Pistons’ time to see what they have in the room is now. They spent the offseason looking to add veteran talent to help the kids on and off the floor while giving the front office a truer assessment of what they can do with flexible players like Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks.
Even though the Deandre Ayton talks with Phoenix stalled out after Duren fell to them in the draft, the negotiations show that Detroit’s front office isn’t just excited about their core, they’re excited about the now.
Can Bey become a more efficient shooter off the dribble? Is Stewart’s three-point shooting for real? Can Hayes add to this team as a pressure point in an offense so they can utilize his ability as an on-ball defender? Detroit is putting the pieces around them to give them the best chance of getting answers to those questions – while supplementing a Cade Cunnigham jump.
By comparison to the other teams with low o/u projections, the Pistons are one of the few who have shown they want to go for it. With a top-heavy draft coming up in 2023, many bottom tier teams will guiltlessly tank – don’t expect the Pistons to be amongst that bunch. On the shoulders of Cunningham’s talent alone, this team will push for 30 wins.
Talks around Detroit is play-in tournament. Cade said they aren’t shying away from it, “That’s the whole goal – nothing but the playoffs.” While they may be a year away, due to lack of experience and questionable depth – before the Bagley injury – the talent in the room and desire to not tank will be enough for Detroit to hit their over and continue fanning the fire of excitement around the city.