From Cade Cunningham to Jamorko Pickett, Pistons leave Summer League on a wave of momentum
Garrett Ellwood (NBAE/Getty)
Summer League means different things to different players, so extrapolate based on results at your own risk. But it’s a pretty safe bet that Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey left Las Vegas feeling it was mission accomplished for their 11 days in the desert.
Here’s a look at the significant developments from a Summer League that saw the Pistons go 3-2, get No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham’s toes dipped in NBA waters and provided the 2020 draft class its first taste of a legitimate off-season after their unprecedented welcome to the NBA last year.
- Cunningham confirmed what most everyone assumed: He’ll make the Pistons a better team by walking through the door. His most profound contribution came as a 3-point shooter where he knocked down 50 percent of his attempts on high volume. Given the outsized impact of 3-point shooting on today’s game and the need for the Pistons to improve their perimeter threat, Cunningham is going to get all the minutes and responsibility he can handle as a rookie. The rest of it, he’ll figure out. You can bet the most aggressive part of what remains of Cunningham’s off-season will be dedicated to a conditioning and nutrition profile to help him gain strength. The 3-point threat is already real, but combining that with a more deadly off-the-dribble attack that will benefit from added strength will make the rookie an even more spectacular offensive player.
- Saddiq Bey shot 24 percent from three on more than six attempts a game, which was the only thing that tamped down his overall numbers and should register as no concern at all after proving his 3-point mettle over the breadth of his rookie season. It was obvious Bey had put in a lot of work on other areas of his game and was focused, consciously or not, on becoming less reliant on the 3-point shot to make a mark. He averaged 8.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists, outstanding numbers for a perimeter player who isn’t a primary ballhandler. After taking two-thirds of his shots from the 3-point line as a rookie, Bey took a little less than half his shots from three in Las Vegas. He’ll probably still shoot more than 50 percent of his shots from three in the NBA season, but Bey’s Las Vegas experience underscores everything we’ve learned about his work ethic and capacity for growth since the Pistons somehow landed him with the 19th pick last November.
- Killian Hayes’ week was a mixed bag, but the biggest thing for him after having 41 games of his rookie season wiped out by injury was being healthy and racking up repetitions and experience. The Pistons will get back at it for voluntary team workouts after Labor Day and they’ll have most of three weeks in that mode before training camp opens in late September. Those will be important days for Hayes, too, as he settles in as the expected starting point guard and familiarizes himself with Cunningham. Those two, who’ll play all of the 2021-22 season as 20-year-olds, are central to the future of the Pistons and how they play off of each other will be perhaps the most scrutinized aspect of their season.
- Saben Lee finished Summer League with a flourish when handed the reins in the final two games with both Hayes and Cunningham shut down. The 3-point shot will be a work in progress, but there were clear signs of it for him in that area. Most critically, it was his willingness to let it fly. Lee not only took 4.0 3-point attempts per game – after taking just 1.1 per 36 minutes as a rookie – he hit them at a 40 percent clip. The sample size is still pretty small – that’s only 20 shots over five games – but the biggest thing is Lee not hesitating to pull the trigger. His quickness, strength and athleticism give him the toolkit to be a devastating penetrator – and his vision continues to be a pleasant surprise based on the college scouting reports – but without the threat of a 3-point shot it will be a muted strength. The week in Las Vegas was especially encouraging for Lee. He’s likely going to get time with the Motor City Cruise, a benefit of the decision to acquire a G League franchise and house it in close proximity to the parent Pistons, and that will further hasten Lee’s evolution as an NBA point guard.
- Luka Garza and Jamorko Pickett could not have hoped for better Summer League performances and were rewarded appropriately, Garza reportedly agreeing to a two-way contract and Pickett to an Exhibit 10 deal that means he’ll be part of the 20-player cohort that opens training camp. Garza – fourth on the depth chart at center behind Isaiah Stewart, Kelly Olynyk and Jahlil Okafor – is likely to be a mainstay of the Motor City Cruise roster, but he’ll benefit from the proximity in that he’ll be able to practice with the Pistons while soaking up tons of playing experience with the Cruise. A year to adjust to NBA defensive coverages while adapting to his newly streamlined physique is ideal for Garza, whose offensive skill set gives him a chance to carve out a meaningful NBA career. Pickett was a revelation – a bouncy, athletic player who hit 50 percent of his threes on high volume (3.6 attempts in 23 minutes per game) and can defend multiple positions. The Pistons have a crowded roster at the moment – 15 standard deals and both two-way spots committed with Hamidou Diallo’s restricted free agency still to be resolved – but Pickett has put himself in consideration for a status boost if conditions allow it.