To be clear, there would be nothing wrong with Saddiq Bey taking what he did last year – shoot 3-pointers, well and often, and play defense responsibly – and sharpening those tools as the seasons of his career unfold. He did it well enough last season, after all, to be named to the NBA’s All-Rookie first team and earn an invitation to USA Basketball’s Select Team to help the Olympians prepare for their gold-medal turn in Tokyo.
But the Pistons see broader possibilities for Bey and if there’s a player on their roster certain to wring every ounce of potential from his being, it’s the earnest second-year product of Villanova and the hotbed that is Washington, D.C., grass-roots basketball from where Pistons general manager Troy Weaver sprung.
Bey took about five minutes off after his rookie season concluded and got back to work with a concentration on … well, everything. He’s willing to play anywhere and fill any role he’s asked and one way to accomplish that is to be proficient at all tasks.
“I just want to be out there, to be honest,” Bey said as training camp got under way. “Whatever way I can help, perimeter or inside. Whatever they need me to do, I’m comfortable doing it.”
That comes from a player who now stands 6-foot-7 on a thoroughly sturdy 215-pound frame but who not that long ago – in his early high school days – was a pint-sized point guard with the accompanying skills before a growth spurt altered his horizons.
Two years under Villanova’s Jay Wright, a coach Dwane Casey often lauds for the preparedness with which his pupils arrive to the NBA, further honed Bey’s already keen instincts. The Pistons didn’t do a lot of digging on Bey prior to the 2020 NBA draft because they didn’t feel Bey was a realistic possibility to be available with the draft picks Weaver felt were gettable – which wound up being at 16 and 19 – but when Bey was still there after the Pistons grabbed Isaiah Stewart at 16 their eyes got a little wider.
Bey exceeded Casey’s expectations as a rookie, going from not playing in the season opener to 30 minutes in the season’s third game and never looking back. When Blake Griffin was shelved in early February, Bey moved into the starting lineup. He won’t be dislodged until sometime in the late 2030s, smart money says.
In Wednesday’s preseason opener, Bey put on display a full off-season’s focus on expanding his impact. In 24 minutes, he put up 13 points, five rebounds and three assists, taking only four of his 11 shots from the 3-point line. Casey isn’t looking for Bey to cut down on the 6.6 3-point shots he took per game last season by any means – only to be better prepared with a counter when teams begin prioritizing taking the 3-point shot away from him, as Casey is certain will happen.
“They’re going to run him off the line,” Casey said after the win over San Antonio. “They’re not going to sit out there and let him line ’em up the way he has been. He’s going to have to be able to put it on the floor if they switch like they did tonight. He’s going to be able to make the threes when he has them in rhythm, but nine times out of 10 in scouting reports, he’s going to have to play with people running him off the line.”
“My role is just trying to help the team as much as possible in different ways,” Bey said. “Get in the paint and be able to create for others. But if my shot is there, they definitely encourage me to go play my game.”
Bey first got a chance to take on that role in Summer League, an event he wasn’t able to experience prior to his rookie season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it was good to build with the young core we had and to be able to be versatile,” he said. “Play off ball screens, playmaking, getting my teammates open. It was good to be able to practice that a little bit.”
Because of his past as a point guard, because of his basketball IQ and because of his comfort in moving from one role to the next, Bey fits nicely with a core that is certain to include 20-year-old teammates Cade Cunningham, Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes for the foreseeable future. He pairs well with Jerami Grant, too, complementing him when Grant starts at power forward and able to slide into his spot if the Pistons want to get Cunningham in lineups with two other guards.
Nobody expected Bey to lead all rookies in 3-pointers made last season and be an easy call for All-Rookie honors. So nobody is putting any caps on what year two for Bey might yield.
“Just to have a year under my belt is great, being able to see and know what we want to do in the system and as a team, it’s great to build off of that,” he said. “We’ll see what coach Casey wants. I’m prepared for anything.”