2020-21 Rewind: Saddiq Bey’s rookie season one for Pistons, NBA record books

Even with three first-round draft picks, the Pistons didn’t anticipate Saddiq Bey becoming one of their own on draft night last fall. The scouting department had done its due diligence and figured Bey would be gone somewhere in the lottery. A popular landing spot in mock drafts for Bey was to the San Antonio Spurs, who had the 11th pick.

Pistons general manager Troy Weaver maneuvered to pick up the 16th and 19th picks in trades in the days and hours before the Nov. 18 draft and, it’s now clear, he had zeroed in on Washington big man Isaiah Stewart with one of those picks. But when Bey was still available three picks later?

“We were shocked,” Dwane Casey said a few months afterward with Bey firmly in the rotation as a Pistons rookie. “He’s one player we did not meet with because we didn’t think he was going to be there where we were trying to get the pick. Luckily, he was and we jumped on it. Troy had a good feel for him. Our scouts had a good feel for him. It was a no-brainer, but we were surprised he was available where he was.”

Here’s a look at Bey’s 2020-21 season with the Pistons:

PROFILE: 6-foot-8 forward, 22 years old, 1 NBA season2020-21 STATS: 12.2 points, 4.5 rebounds on 38 percent 3-point shooting in 27 minutes a gameSTATUS: As a first-round draft pick in 2020, Bey still has three years remaining on his rookie contract

A LOOK BACK: Saddiq Bey originally committed to North Carolina State, but opened his recruitment up and was released from his letter of intent when the Wolfpack added two transfers that resulted in a scholarship crunch. Villanova was the happy beneficiary of the Washington, D.C., native’s decision, though Bey arrived on campus as the lowest-rated of Jay Wright’s four-man class. Bey quickly rose to No. 1 among them, though, averaging more minutes per game (30) than his three fellow freshmen combined while finishing fourth in scoring on a veteran team that finished 26-10 and won the Big East title. Bey was even better as a sophomore, leading Villanova in scoring at 16.1 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the 3-point arc for a team that again won the Big East and went 24-7 before the season was canceled amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Bey was one of three players – along with seniors Markus Howard of Marquette and Myles Powell of Seton Hall – to win unanimous acclaim on the All-Big East team. Bey declared for the draft and was considered a likely late lottery pick, but he was still available when the Pistons – who traded Luke Kennard to the Los Angeles Clippers to pick up a third first-round selection – went on the clock with the No. 19 pick.

THE SEASON THAT WAS: Bey very quickly impressed Dwane Casey as the rare rookie ready to play in the NBA from both a physical and mental standpoint. With an especially sturdy frame and a highly developed feel for the game – perhaps derived from his days as a point guard before a growth spurt saw Bey go from a 5-foot-8 freshman in high school to a 6-foot-6 junior – Bey quickly forced his way into the rotation. He wasn’t used in the season-opening loss at Minnesota and played only six minutes in a double-overtime home opener, but after that Bey became a rotation staple. In a Feb. 12 win at Boston, a passing of the torch occurred even if it wasn’t known in real time. Bey scored a season-high 30 points, hitting 7 of 7 3-point shots, on a night that would prove to be Blake Griffin’s final game in a Pistons uniform. Bey moved into the starting lineup full-time after that and went on to a historic rookie season. He led all rookies in 3-pointers with 175, four more than No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards despite 60 fewer attempts. Bey made five or more 3-pointers in a game a record 13 times for a rookie, breaking the record of 10 shared by a couple of guys named Allen Iverson and Steph Curry. If it had been a typical 82-game season, Bey was on course to break Donovan Mitchell’s NBA rookie record of 187 triples made.

A LOOK AHEAD: While Bey’s 3-point shooting – both his ability to make them at a high rate, especially for a rookie given the adjustment to the greater NBA distance, and to get them off in volume (8.7 attempts per 36 minutes representing two-thirds of Bey’s shots) – proved his calling card, there’s plenty more to Bey’s game to come, the Pistons feel. Casey wants to put Bey in situations as the pick-and-roll ballhandler. His strength and ballhandling give him the toolkit to be a force as an off-the-dribble playmaker. Bey made strides over the course of his rookie season in his ability to get to the rim and to take advantage of smaller defenders switching on to him. While not an explosive athlete, Bey’s sound footwork, IQ and strength make him a solid defender. The distinction between small forward and power forward isn’t what it was a decade ago, but Bey would have been able to play either spot then and especially so today. Bey will go into his second season as the presumptive starter opposite Jerami Grant and as much a part of the Pistons future as anyone on the roster.

MONEY QUOTE: “He’s a sponge. You almost have to keep him out of the gym as far as working on his game. He’s just a solid pro and he’s going to be a star in this league for a long, long time.” – Dwane Casey on Saddiq Bey