Getting one game and five minutes of another from Jaden Ivey undoubtedly left Pistons fans wanting more, but Ivey did enough in Summer League to whet everyone’s appetite for what comes next.
Here’s a slice of what I wrote before Summer League about what to watch from Ivey: “Flash plays at both ends built off of the electric athleticism that thrust Ivey to the front of his draft class will go a long way toward giving the Pistons a better idea of how he can make an impact while pulling himself up to speed on the finer points of the NBA game.”
Ivey was really good in his debut game and got noticeably better as it went along, finishing with 20 efficient points, six rebounds and six assists. But if he’d only played the five minutes he logged before going down with an ankle sprain against Washington in his second game, that would have been enough. There were enough flash plays in those five minutes to fit the bill if they’d have been stretched out across five full Summer League games.
In those five minutes, Ivey was part of 10 Pistons possessions. All he did was score 11 points without missing a shot and set up six others – an Isaiah Livers 3-pointer and a Braxton Key conventional three-point play with a half-court laser in traffic that led Key to the basket. Seventeen points created in five minutes and 10 possessions.
It’s always advisable to keep Summer League performances in perspective. Taking Summer League by storm doesn’t mean it happens that fast in the NBA. But doing well in Summer League is always more comforting than stumbling to gain any traction. If your lottery pick doesn’t do anything to separate himself from the crowd during Summer League, there will be restless nights before training camp arrives. Ivey’s Summer League play shows the path for him to find NBA success. It might take a minute, but they’ll figure it out.
It was instructive that after Saturday’s game, Pistons Summer League coach Jordan Brink said this: “I thought you saw him a little more comfortable at the start of the game, from game one to game two, just the pace. We wanted to give him a little more space to operate and use his quickness and I thought you already saw the game slowing down a little for him.”
Ivey’s speed makes him unique and as with all such rare types, there’s going to be some trial and error involved all around. Ivey talked after his first game about needing to learn how to throttle down and speed up to catch defenders more off guard, something he never felt he needed to do because his top speed was always enough at other levels.
But it’s also going to take Dwane Casey and his staff some experimentation to figure out how to best utilize Ivey’s speed within the framework of team offense. It’s going to take Cade Cunningham time to apply his basketball genius to maximize his ability to exploit the threat of Ivey’s speed. It will take Saddiq Bey time to learn how, when and where to get to his spots when Ivey is on the move on the other side of the floor and openings are about to be created by his speed stressing defenses. And on it goes.
But make no mistake, they’re all very much looking forward to that journey.
Cunningham’s enthusiasm came through again on Tuesday when he sat in with the NBA TV telecast crew during the Pistons-Indiana Pacers game. It was the first question put to him, which seems fitting given the buzz Ivey created with his dazzling if limited minutes in the desert.
“Definitely excited to play with him,” Cunningham said. “He’s so talented, brings so much to the team. Just the way he plays the game, trying to play the right way, trying to play for his teammates, spread the ball. It’s all exciting. Being able to take the court with him is exciting and it’s coming soon. I’m excited, man.”
Critically for the culture Troy Weaver and Casey preach, Ivey is being embraced by the young veterans – and we’ll use “veterans” advisedly on a team where you could make up a rotation of all 23 and under players – for his character makeup as much as his prodigious ability.
Brink spoke about Ivey’s coachability. Cunningham, Bey and Isaiah Stewart all pointed out in various ways how Ivey came in with the right mix of humility and confidence. Isaiah Livers, who crossed paths with Ivey in the Big Ten, said, “A great player, great kid. Talented, but off the court, he’s a great teammate already. He’s already making that impression like he’s going to be one of the best teammates.”
It’s exciting and it’s coming soon. Like Cade Cunningham, Pistons fans, too, should be excited.