(Editor’s note: As the 2022-23 season approaches, Pistons.com will examine the key storylines for the season ahead and beyond. Today: What is the next step in Saddiq Bey’s evolution and how far can his partnership with Cade Cunningham carry a young Pistons team?)
There’s been a long tradition of NBA players using their off-seasons to identify one or two areas of concentration to sharpen. It usually comes on the advice of coaches and is tailored to meet the needs required to fulfill a destined role within a team framework.
Saddiq Bey eschews that tradition.
“I get that question every year since college,” he said when his second NBA season concluded in April and was asked what he anticipated focusing on over the summer. “I have the same answer. Try to be as complete a game as possible. I don’t try to focus on one thing. I do want to sharpen everything. I just feel like my entire game, I want to sharpen up. If I can have a complete game, I can put myself in a good position.”
With his off-season at the mid-point in July, Bey hadn’t deviated from his plan one iota. Asked what the next step in his evolution might be while in Las Vegas with the Pistons Summer League entry, after going from two-thirds of his shots coming from the 3-point arc as a rookie to a little more than half as a second-year player, Bey again defaulted to his core career blueprint.
“Just continuing to be a three-level scorer and try to be even more a four-level – behind the 4-point line,” he said. “Being as versatile as possible. Being able to play any position, be anywhere on the floor – to have no weaknesses. Every evolution is to be having the most complete game I can possibly have in each and every way.”
That Bey doesn’t get any pushback from Pistons management – heavy-handed guidance on a narrower off-season focus – is a testament to the team’s faith in the work ethic of their 23-year-old forward. They understand that Bey’s hours in the gym will allow him to spend a sufficient amount of time on everything his considerable to-do list contains to show gains across the board.
In fact, the most sternly worded mission statement Pistons management and coaches imparted to Bey for his off-season went to the need to allow his body proper recovery time from the workload he assumes.
So it will be interesting to see what wrinkles Bey puts into evidence for year three, one that begins with a different dynamic for the Pistons and a different spot in the hierarchy for Bey. His first two seasons have seen an offense that catered to Jerami Grant and relied on him to rescue possessions gone awry. It began to change last season when Grant missed nearly two months with a thumb injury and Cade Cunningham began to spread his wings as the team’s primary playmaker, a course the Pistons expect to follow for the foreseeable future.
Bey is the most certain sidekick at Cunningham’s flank. How their partnership plays out will determine how Dwane Casey builds the offense out around them from there.
Bey’s 2021-22 season broke down into approximate thirds. He struggled over his first 25 games, averaging 12.2 points while shooting .348 overall and .305 from the 3-point arc while taking not quite half his shots from distance. Then Grant got hurt and Bey assumed his spot at power forward and had the same plays run for him the Pistons designed for Grant. Over the next several weeks, Bey’s scoring and efficiency both soared – 19.1 points on .424 shooting and .360 from three. His shot attempts went from 12.8 a game to 15.0 though his usage rate rose only slightly, from 19.9 to 21.5.
When Grant returned, Bey’s numbers for the home stretch more closely approximated the middle third but ticked down slightly: 16.9 points on .408 shooting and .359 from three. His shot attempts also settled among the middle at 13.8 a game and his usage stabilized at 21.2 while his efficiency rose to 108.4 from 106.3 in the middle third and 98.0 over the first 25 games.
Was the spike when Grant went out more about issues in meshing with Bey’s more diversified game or coincidental and possibly indicative of Bey merely finding his footing as something beyond a catch-and-shoot specialist, a process accelerated by greater opportunity with Grant out? With Grant now moved on, what will Bey’s niche look like as Cunningham’s sidekick? And how does folding in rookie Jaden Ivey to the mix affect the chemistry of that partnership?
Casey has mentioned a future that includes more of Bey operating as a pick-and-roll ballhandler. Bey flashed vision and passing skills in his second season, going from 2.4 assists in the first third last season to 3.4 by the final chunk of games. One possible course Casey chooses early in the season is to give Cunningham and Bey the space and time they need to let their partnership flourish organically and then slot in everything else around them as the situation warrants.
The basketball IQ and accountability both Cunningham and Bey evince as young players foreshadows a long and prosperous synergy for them. Further, they’re fully aware of the responsibility that now falls on their shoulders and are embracing it head on.
“We talk a lot together every day,” Bey said over the summer. “It’s about our team, our situations, our opportunity. It’s just having to play off each other more – what spots each other wants the ball at, what spots we can help make plays for other people. I think we talk so much, we’re so close, that we have a good feel for each other on the court. At the end of the day, it’s not about me and him, it’s about what we can do with the experience we have to help our team.”