Three quick observations from Saturday night’s 110-103 win over the Orlando Magic at Little Caesars Arena
A DANDY DEBUT – Forty years to the day since Isiah Thomas made his Pistons debut, the most ballyhooed Pistons draft pick since, Cade Cunningham, got his feet wet in the first Pistons win of the season. Even if Cunningham was rusty – he shot just 1 of 8 and missed all five of his 3-point attempts – his impact on the offense was evident in the ball movement, spacing and quality of shots the Pistons got while he was on the court, especially in his first-quarter minutes. Dwane Casey moved Cunningham immediately into the starting lineup, influenced by his desire to keep Cunningham paired with Killian Hayes to share playmaking and ballhandling responsibilities. Cunningham’s first NBA points came at 5:10 of the second quarter when he caught Orlando’s defense on the move and sliced through the paint for a left-handed finish to give the Pistons a 37-30 lead. Cunningham played 14 first-half minutes as the Pistons committed 11 turnovers and were just 5 of 22 from the 3-point line. Cunningham played the first five minutes of the third quarter, pushing him to 19 for the game – nearing his limit of 25 Casey stipulated in his pregame press conference – and never returned as the Pistons bench was outstanding in the second half. The Pistons put a 15-0 run together late in the third quarter to take a 12-point lead with Cunningham on the bench. The run reached 28-6 spanning the third and fourth quarters with the Pistons taking a 15-point lead. Cunningham grabbed six rebounds in his first stint, coming out at 3:27 of the first quarter, and picked up two assists, though he was 0 of 5 from the field and missed all three of his 3-point shots.
RIPPLE EFFECTS – With Cade Cunningham debuting and moving into the starting lineup, it not only gave Dwane Casey his envisioned starting lineup but allowed him to have the second unit he imagined, too. And that bench unit was huge for the Pistons in racking up their first win of the season, outscoring Orlando’s bench 59-38. Veterans Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph were especially good. Olynyk finished with 18 points, five rebounds and four assists on some dazzling passes. Joseph, who played terrific defense in keying the pressure that led to 18 Orlando turnovers, had 11 points and six assists. Casey needed to drop someone from the second unit’s rotation. Hamidou Diallo was the odd man out. Josh Jackson replaced Cunningham but moved to small forward when Frank Jackson entered the game for Saddiq Bey a few minutes later. Trey Lyles held his spot as the second unit’s four man behind Jerami Grant. Cory Joseph and Kelly Olynyk remained the anchors for that unit. Diallo averaged four points in 13 minutes a game over the first four games. With the Pistons struggling to generate much offense and shooting a league-worst 25.8 percent from the 3-point line, Diallo’s lack of 3-point shooting might have been the factor that led to Casey going with Frank Jackson over Diallo. Casey went with a big lineup for a few possessions late in the second quarter with Isaiah Stewart, Olynyk, Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey and Killian Hayes playing together.
STEWART’S STEPS – When Isaiah Stewart went against Orlando’s Mo Bamba last spring, Bamba’s size – the 7-footer has a reported 7-foot-10 wingspan – was an issue for him. Bamba finished with 22 points and 15 boards as the Magic won 119-112 on May 3. But Bamba didn’t have nearly as much impact this time around, finishing with 10 points and three rebounds in 29 minutes. Both of his 3-pointers came with Stewart out of the game. Stewart played only 21 minutes with Kelly Olynyk playing 29, but Stewart contributed 11 points, eight rebounds and physical defense. Orlando played big in its starting lineup with Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr., but went small on its second unit initially with Michigan rookie Franz Wagner, who started at small forward, and 6-foot-6 Chuma Okeke at the two power positions. When the Pistons held a 27-14 rebounding advantage, Orlando began to use Wagner’s older brother Mo Wagner in a bigger lineup. It was the Wagner brothers who caused the Pistons the most trouble. Franz, the No. 8 pick in the July draft, scored a season-high 19 points. Mo finished with 13 and hit 4 of 6 triples. They combined for 19 points in the third quarter.