DETROIT (AP) — Cade Cunningham was one of the only players on the court more than an hour before a recent game, dribbling at different paces to practice moves to his right and left while searching for jump shots from different distances.
Even though Cunningham’s future with the Detroit Pistons is secure as the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft and the leading candidate to win NBA Rookie of the Year, he was sweating like he was trying to keep his job.
Clearly, the 6-foot-6 guard knows he has a lot of work to do.
The three-time champion franchise does too.
Detroit went 23-59 this season, finishing ahead of Houston and Orlando at the bottom of the league standings. While the Pistons are in the midst of a rebuilding project that has lasted more than a decade, picking Cunningham was a pick that paid off and provided at least a reason for hope.
He overcame an ankle injury that stunted his early career and averaged 17.4 points to lead all rookies, ranked second in his class with 5.6 assists per game and fifth with 5.5 rebounds in 64 games. .
Cunningham, 20, became the sixth NBA player to have at least 1,114 points, 356 assists and 354 rebounds in 64 games, joining a short list that includes LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Luka Doncic, Oscar Robertson and Alvan Adams.
Cunningham’s coach, Dwane Casey, promised the former Oklahoma State star wouldn’t be a bust before the season began. The smart freshman proved his coach right, and surprised him, too.
“I knew he was a basketball addict, but I didn’t know he knew what everyone was supposed to do on the court,” Casey said.
Cunningham had a simple explanation when asked about the compliment, saying it was a relatively easy accomplishment compared to playing football.
“As a quarterback, you have to know what 10 guys are doing,” he said.
A GOOD SOURCE
Dallas Mavericks coach and former NBA point guard Jason Kidd marveled at the season Cunningham had in Detroit.
“He’s done an amazing job in his first year,” Kidd said. “He’s probably the favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Being a point guard and doing what he does every night is awesome.”
Jerami Grant scored 19.2 points per game, leading the team in scoring for the second straight season. However, the 28-year-old striker was limited by injuries to just 47 games.
Grant is eligible for a contract extension, entering the final season of his three-year, $60 million deal. If the Pistons don’t give Grant a new contract, they may want to trade him.
MAKING A BRAND
Saddiq Bey, in his second year, broke a single-season franchise record with 211 three-pointers. The 6-8 forward made 20 shots beyond the arc than Allan Houston during the 1995-96 season. Bey was also the only player on the team to play in all 82 games, 11 more than center Isaiah Stewart.
TAKING A STEERING WHEEL
The Pistons were pleased with Marvin Bagley III in all 18 games he played after acquiring him from Sacramento in a four-team trade two months ago. The former Duke star averaged 14.6 points for the Pistons, below his career high since his rookie year three years ago, along with 6.8 rebounds.
Detroit can make Bagley a restricted free agent by giving him a qualifying offer, and it sounds like Casey wants the 6-11 forward to stay.
“He’s a talent,” Casey said. “He was drafted No. 2 (overall) for a reason and he showed all of that for us. His ability to score in the low post is amazing.”
The Pistons won just 28% of their games, barely improving on last year’s result, but they were better in the final two months of the season. After starting 12-45, Detroit was 11-14 and that included a three-game losing streak late in the season.
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