The hottest player in the NBA right now dons navy blue.
No, it isn’t Ja Morant (though he has a case) or Luka Doncic (though you would expect his name). It isn’t LeBron James in the Lakers’ Crenshaw jerseys.
Why, it is Saddiq Bey of course. Just like everyone thought!
The Pistons, at the time of this writing, are 2-0 in 2022 – in large part to the second-year wing out of Villanova. While the roster has been ravaged by injuries and COVID-19, Bey has been given the keys to the car so to speak. That car has no bumper, it’s out of gas, and the heat does not work, but it still gets from point A to point B. The Pistons are making do with what they have, and what they have is a surprising start to the calendar year. But more importantly, Saddiq Bey looks like a much-improved player compared to his slow start to the season.
Last season, Bey was the prototypical spot-up shooter. He was even, arguably, one-dimensional. He was not a big playmaking threat (7.6% assist rate), he did not get to the rim very often (21%), and he relied on others setting him up (77% of his shots were assisted). The three-pointer appeared to be a weapon, whether it was from the corner or not, but there appeared to be an offensive cap.
This season, the script is flipped in some interesting and encouraging ways. Bey is showing off more playmaking skills, a dramatically higher assist rate of 12.8% (78th percentile), and improving his assists/usage rate from paltry (18th percentile) to passable (50th percentile). Playmaking is not only flashy skip passes or nutmegs in a pick and roll, it is also just making the right read,. Pocket passes on rolls, adjusting to closing passing lanes and not forcing things, and hitting the open man in stride off a curl are included as “playmaking”. Bey has gotten better at it, and the Pistons have benefited too.
But Bey is not some point forward overnight, just a smart passer. What Saddiq is, however, is an offensive weapon and relied upon scorer. At the beginning of the season, his shot was gone. The first 25 games of the season were discouraging, to say the least. He slashed 33/29/70, with around half of all of his shots coming from deep. He attempted 41 free throws in those games, which did not correlate well to his increased rim shot attempts.
Then something changed. In the nine games following, Bey made a concerted effort to get to the rim and draw contact. He attempted 54 free throws in those nine contests, knocking down 50 of them. He also slashed 45/40/92, a much better line in really every category. The big outlier? Getting to the rim. Shooters need to see the ball go through the net. It is what gets the adrenaline going and raises confidence. And drawing contact, shooting (and making) free throws is maybe just what the doctor ordered. Keep in mind that much of this was done with the Pistons flailing in COVID protocols, with multiple key players out of the rotation – including Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes. Reintroducing their playmaking skills will this improved shot diet for Saddiq will be fun to watch moving forward.
On paper, it looks like Saddiq has turned a corner. It seemed inevitable in some ways, based on how dramatically worse he was shooting this season compared to last. Regressing upward to the mean (shooting-wise) was likely to happen, and it has. But there has been some growth as well, like the improved decision-making in the passing game and getting to the rim to generate free throws. The latter has opened up his game in ways that Pistons fans should expect to continue this season and beyond.
(All stats from Cleaning the Glass unless otherwise specified)