Remember that Killian Hayes bowling ball pass with the hook from the other side of half court that put it right in the 1-3 pocket for Saddiq Bey’s layup? That was a metaphor for where the two Pistons rookies are at on the risk-aversion spectrum.
Where Hayes is very much an impressionist artist, motivated by spontaneity, Bey is a paint-by-numbers type.
“He’s efficient in his play,” Dwane Casey said Sunday, the day after Hayes pushed Steph Curry and Allen Iverson from the NBA record books with his 3-point exploits. “It’s kind of like you want him to be a little more reckless, more aggressive. But he’s such a conscientious player, a conscientious kid that he doesn’t want to make mistakes – and doesn’t.”
That’s pretty much true. In fact, as a rookie in a prominent role – Bey is third and closing fast on second, behind only Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee, in minutes per game at 26 – Bey has the lowest turnover rate on the team.
Those minutes per game have ticked up steadily, nearly doubling from the 17 a game in December to the 31 in March and April, which speaks to how quickly he’s become an indispensable part of the Pistons future. In the only May game played to date, Bey logged 40 minutes in Saturday’s 22-point outing at Charlotte in which he hit 5 of 12 from the 3-point arc. That gave him 10 games this season with at least five made threes, breaking the tie with Curry and Iverson for the most ever by an NBA rookie.
“To be honest, I don’t even realize or really think about it until somebody tells me,” Bey said of his season-long assault on team and league 3-point records. “I’m like, ‘Oh.’ That’s an honor and a blessing to be part of that type of company.”
That’s about as close as you’ll get to a boast from Bey, who has exceeded all reasonable expectations for someone taken 19th in the draft and thrown into the NBA without benefit of the typical rookie orientation mechanisms of Summer League followed by more than two months of tailored individual work under the direction of team staffers. “Unassuming” doesn’t begin to describe his essence.
Is he aware of his name being tossed around in the Rookie of the Year conversation?
“I just try to control what I can control. I don’t really know too much about other rookies – except the ones on my team. I try to just control what I can control and I just try to get better every day.”
That “try to get better every day” rote response is one Bey has given at least a dozen times since being drafted in November, but for him it’s an abiding principle more than just something to parrot. One common refrain from draft analysts last fall was that Bey was a solid choice but was probably close to a fully realized form already – another way of saying others with lesser resumes drafted ahead of him had greater potential.
That filter applies to many but not to all and, the Pistons are firmly convinced, not to this player especially. Already, the Pistons have witnessed in-season gains made by Bey that typically aren’t realized until they’re made possible by an off-season’s devotion to skills development.
And Casey knows what’s next for Bey.
“The good thing is the defense has a hard time speeding him up,” he said. “What he’s got to continue to work on is when they do get into him like they were last night, go ahead and blow by him, attack the paint, try to get an angle to the rim. Once I get in there, be ready to kick it out and make a play. That’s his next evolution as a player.”
“We’ll probably talk about that more after the season,” Bey said. “For now, just continue to do the things and just continue to work. They know how serious I am about my craft and how much I want to get better – just be the best I can be.”
He might not ever wind up and throw a bowling ball pass from the other side of half court with spin, but Saddiq Bey is going to produce the most sublime paint-by-numbers artwork imaginable.
“I love him as a player,” Casey said. “He’s just such a conscientious and efficient player. It’s great for our team.”