The story of the season so far for the Pistons has been Cade, delayed. Dwane Casey doesn’t want to get caught up in the narrative that whenever the NBA’s No. 1 pick debuts, the Pistons will automatically do a 180.
“I hope everyone doesn’t come out and put tremendous pressure like this young man’s going to come out and save the day, because he’s not,” Casey said after Friday’s practice. “We’re not oh-and-four because of Cade Cunningham. We’re oh-and-four because of us and things we’ve got to do better.”
Cunningham practiced with the G League affiliate, the Motor City Cruise, while the Pistons were on the road the past several days and went through drills with the Pistons on Friday, Casey said. He’s not ruled out for Saturday but not declaratively set to debut, either.
“We’ll see where he is tomorrow,” Casey said. “We’re not putting a timetable on it. I’m just waiting to see when he’s available. I think he’s ready. He understands what we need to be doing.”
Cunningham sprained his ankle in the opening week of training camp and missed all four preseason games in addition to the first four games of the regular season. It’s been four-plus weeks since the injury – probably long enough that he’ll need to be more gradually introduced to the lineup than had he missed only a week or two.
Whenever Cunningham returns, Frank Jackson expects a noticeable impact on a Pistons offense ranked last by a wide margin. There’s as big a gap between the Pistons offensive rating and the team in 29th place, New Orleans, as there is between the Pelicans and the Miami Heat, rated 16th.
“He’s going to bring some juice right away,” Jackson said. “He’s been working hard. It’ll be fun to get him out here and get rolling. It could take time, but I think he’s willing and ready to do what it takes to help our team excel. I’m excited for him to get out there.”
The Pistons showed embers of offense in Thursday’s fourth quarter at Philadelphia when they hit 7 of 11 triples and sliced a 22-point deficit to five. Jackson thinks that’s due to carry over and Casey called it the best two-way performance of the season.
“I know we have a lot of confidence in a lot of our guys who are great shooters,” Jackson said. “Continue to keep letting ’em fly. When we make the right plays, the ball seems to go in a little more. We’re getting comfortable and feeding off each other.”
“Last night we did the best job all year of trying to accomplish what we’re trying to do offensively and defensively,” Casey said. “There was a sense of urgency in the fourth quarter. We were playing like the desperate team you’ve got to be when you’re young and not understanding what your job is to do each time out. Last night in the fourth quarter, we had attention to detail.”
Cunningham not only had practice time with the Cruise while the Pistons were on the road for nearly a week and three games, he did individual drill work with Cruise coach J.D. Bakker and Pistons player development adviser John Beilein. Cunningham’s all-encompassing offensive package and basketball IQ appear the ideal tonic to make the Pistons a more potent and efficient offense, but given the circumstances he’s endured Casey is mindful of managing expectations that are already outsized as the No. 1 pick.
“He knows what we’re doing. He had time with us before he got hurt. It shouldn’t take him long to come back. Just don’t want to put pressure on him like he’s Superman here to save the day. Him blending in and doing his part is going to be very important to us and we welcome it.”