After much anticipation for the Detroit Pistons to open up their 2021 NBA Summer League campaign, fans finally got to see the first overall pick Cade Cunningham and other key young pieces of the Pistons play on Sunday night. While Detroit ending up dropping a disappointing game to the Oklahoma City Thunder 76-72, there are still some takeaways from last night’s showing.
The first thing that jumps out is the chemistry Cunningham has already developed with the Sumer League team in a short amount of time. Leadership was one of his strengths in the pre-draft process and it was on full display as soon as the game started. Cunningham started out by pointing to the ground, positioning guys to be in the right spots. Along with Bey, which fans got to see more of through ESPN’s “wired” segments, they both were able to huddle the team together and lead their teammates. In his very first game, Cunningham’s leadership seemed to be on full display and should continue to be as he plays more and more with this group. Fans also got to see Bey showcasing signs of leadership, an emphasis head coach Dwane Casey placed on the forward early in the offseason.
Skeptics wondered how two ball dominant guards in Killian Hayes and Cade Cunningham could fit together? Well as far as communication goes they seem to have already formed a nice bond. There’s a lot of communication on the floor and a nice division of on ball and off ball duties. They swarmed the Thunder’s guards above the key and forced numerous turnovers that lead to transition baskets.
On the actual basketball side, Cunningham is transferring to NBA play about as expected. His offensive prowess shined through as he drained his first two shot attempts of the game, both 3-pointers, early in the first quarter. Where his weaknesses came through was in his defense, and there were some cases of tunnel vision on offense that resulted in numerous turnovers.
Saddiq Bey, Killian Hayes, and Saben Lee showed off their NBA experience with Bey recording 14 PTS on 6-13 shooting and grabbing 12 rebounds. Hayes put up six points, five asists, and nine rebounds on top of a nice defensive performance. Lee ended the night with 9 points, two assists, and two rebounds.
Two players who are worth noting were third year man Sekou Doumbouya, and 2nd round pick Luka Garza. Doumbouya is in an interesting position with the franchise as a player who desperately needs to develop decent skills in any facet of the game to stand out and Sunday seemed to be a positive development for the forward. He played remarkably well on the post on both sides of the floor while scoring five field goals in the paint and recording five blocks and four rebounds. Even though he struggled from the 3-point line, it was still refreshing to see some development in his game and hopefully it can be continued for the rest of summer league and furthermore beyond.
The other unexpected stand out Luka Garza, was doing all the dirty work such as getting rebounds and extending plays. There were multiple times where Garza was surrounded by multiple OKC players and was still able to come down with the rebound and kick it out to a sharpshooter.
Garza ended the night with nine points including a nice 3-pointer and four rebounds. The only real disappointment was recently waived Tyler Cook. Despite putting up 11 points and 5 rebounds for the night, Cook had some costly turnovers and looked lost on the floor. So far it looks like GM Troy Weaver made the correct move by waiving Cook, but there is still time for him to turn it around.
Overall this team looked ready to play and connected as a unit. There’s undoubtedly rust that needs to be shaken off but with a player like Cade Cunningham, the veteran leadership of the young core, and the Pistons developmental staff that shouldn’t be too difficult. These guys still fought hard, had a 12 point lead early on and even rallied in the 4th quarter to keep it competitive. As for what we can expect from the rest of summer league, don’t be too surprised if this team makes some serious noise for the rest of the league, and be careful of overreactions. These players are young and no one knows what any of them will turn into. The next game is August 10th versus the 2nd overall pick Jalen Green and the Houston Rockets.