LAS VEGAS — Some guys thrive in the glorified pick-up games that can be NBA Summer League basketball —usually those with an aggressive scorer’s mentality.
That’s not Cade Cunningham. No doubt the No. 1 pick can’t attack and score — he drained his first two threes in his debut in a Pistons uniform at Summer League, plus showed handles and the ability to drive the lane — but his game is more based around setting up teammates and lifting the game of those around him. That’s hard to do after one week of practice with a roster where most of the players will not be in Detroit when the season tips-off.
Cunningham showed flashes of what made him the No. 1 pick in his Summer League debut, scoring 12 points and pulling down six boards, in what was ultimately a 76-72 Pistons loss to the Thunder.
Cade Cunningham gets the steal and the slam!
— NBA (@NBA) August 9, 2021
However, for much of the game he looked like a heavyweight boxer in the first round of a title bout, trying to get a feel for everything. For the night he shot 5-of-17 overall and missed his next five 3-pointers after hitting those first two.
“It was fun….” Cunningham said of his Pistons debut. “We obviously spent the last week going at each other so it was good to play with each other and really try to get this chemistry down. I think we got a lot from this game we can learn from.”
Those two early threes were both assisted by Killian Hayes, a guard pairing the Pistons hope will — and long-term need to — click. When they were on the floor together, Hayes handled more of the initial playmaking (that may have been more of a coaching call), but they showed moments of connection.
“I think more than anything, we are on the same page mentally, where we want this team to be,” Cunningham said of his connection with Hayes. “Now it’s just about having a better feel for each other. We haven’t played a lot together… we have so much time to build this and grow.”
“I think the beauty of having multiple playmakers like Cade and Killian is they can both bring it up, they both can play off the ball, and again, they’re getting a feel for each other,” said Pistons’ Summer League coach J.D. Dubois, adding that it will take time together on the court for their bond to develop. “They’re doing a great job of communicating where the other person likes the ball, which spots they’re going to get to, and they are going grow.”
Cunningham showed the fluid athleticism scouts raved about, and he had moments where he showed off the passing that made him the No. 1 pick. On his first pick-and-roll early in the game, he found the rolling big with a perfect pocket pass, and he made a lot of other smart decisions only to watch his teammates not finish the play. (Welcome to Summer League, it will be different when he hits Pistons teammates with similar passes in November.)
The Pistons are without All-Rookie Second Team big man Isaiah Stewart, who is still recovering from a sprained ankle suffered while with the USA Select Team working with Team USA before the Olympics.
“Great leader at his age,” Bey said of the top pick. “His versatility to play multiple positions, and guard multiple positions, I think we’re going to need that.”
It’s just going to take some time to get there. And Summer League may not be the perfect vehicle for Cunningham to do that.
But it’s a start, and it was a solid debut for the future face of the Pistons’ franchise.