Cade Cunningham isn’t playing number one right now, but the Pistons need to be patient with their talented newcomer.
It’s natural for Detroit Pistons fans to be frustrated with Cade Cunningham’s early struggles. Detroit chose him as the cornerstone of their reconstruction. Instead of looking like a franchise savior, he has been heavily involved in their ugly 3-10 early.
To be honest, for the former Oklahoma State star, he has played in only eight of his team’s first 13 races. Lack of time right at the gate is one reason why patience is the right way to work for Dwane Casey and her coaching team. There are many other reasons why Cunningham’s future still looks bright in Motor City.
Cunningham’s biggest struggle right now is directly related to his jump shooting. Interestingly, his ability to actually hit the ball from all over the floor was arguably one of his greatest strengths in the 2021 draft. Cunningham fired 40 percent of the three in a single college term, but shoots only 27.6 percent to begin his professional career.
It’s reasonable to expect his shots to normalize as he gets more reps at the NBA level. Yes, there is a difference between a professional and a college three-point line, but it is not steep enough to explain such a steep difference in his performance. It’s very likely that Cunningham’s struggles for 3 are more the result of a small sample size than any problem that plagues him throughout his career.
If Cunningham can force opponents to close his perimeter shot, it will work wonders to open up the rest of his game. Getting on the line in particular would really improve his attacking power. Cunningham throws in just 1.8 free throws per night, but he succeeds in 92.9 per cent of his attempts. If he can start driving past defenders flying at him to prevent him from taking a perimeter shot, it will really improve his stat line.
Cade Cunningham looks better as the Pistons add talent
The Pistons organization must also acknowledge its failure to surround Cunningham with talent that could facilitate his transition to the NBA’s number one option. Playing next to Killian Hayes on the starting field is a serious problem. Hayes turns the ball way too often and has no speed to threaten the defenders to bounce. Combine that with his reluctance to shoot three-pointers, and it’s easy to see why Cunningham is struggling to find space on the perimeter.
Saddiq Bey gives Cunningham momentum with his willingness and ability to shoot the ball deep, but the Pistons starting field duo, Jerami Grant and Isaiah Stewart, are doing nothing to open up options for the talented beginner. In theory, Stewart should be able to act as a high-quality screener for Cunningham’s pick-and-roll options, but that’s not something Detroit felt comfortable working on the attack earlier this year. Grant can also act as a quality pick-and-roll partner in a vacuum, but Stewart’s lack of free offensive play exacerbates the team’s midfield problem when using this tactic.
Nothing is more important to Pistons ’current season than helping Cunningham reach his full potential as quickly as possible. All the dreams of the Detroit front office getting into the playoffs this season were always silly. This is probably the biggest reason why the Pistons have to give Cunningham all the space he needs to learn in his work. If Detroit wants to even consider noise at the Eastern Conference next season, they need Cunningham to play somewhere near the All-Star level. The only chance for him to advance to this level is if the Pistons continue to feed him and live with the mixed results of this season.