Saddiq Bey Is learning to be more than just an outside threat

Detroit Bad Boys

Troy Weaver is having himself quite the season. His star signing in Jerami Grant is having a nearly All-Star caliber season, Mason Plumlee is notching triple-doubles, and several of his rookies are looking like steals.

Outside of Killian Hayes, who we haven’t seen since the first month of the season, all three rookies have been incredibly impressive—especially the man who has now started 16 of the team’s 33 games — Saddiq Bey.

Bey is the result of the Luke Kennard trade, a trade many Pistons fans were not happy with. Fast forward to March, Bey is playing close to 30 minutes a game as a starter while Kennard is out of the rotation with the Clippers after receiving a four-year, $64 million dollar extension.

In 33 games, Bey is averaging 9.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, while shooting 40% from deep on 5.3 attempts a game. The former Eastern Conference Player of the Week (yes, you read that right) is having himself a great rookie season.

To begin the year, you could see some of the questions marks that saw him fall to No. 19 in the draft. There were worries about his lack of athleticism and not being a threat inside the arc, which would limit his ceiling.

His shooting from outside was elite at 42.6% from deep on 5.6 attempts in the first 11 games of the season. However, the shooting closer to the basket was putrid. Through his first 11 games, Bey was shooting 25% from inside the arc.

His lack of athleticism was instantly apparent. In the first clip against the Boston Celtics, he seems to have gained an edge on Grant Williams on his drive. Once he got there, however, it looks like he had a negative vertical and made what could’ve been a layup, a falling away heave.

In the second clip, you see his lack of touch and hesitancy against Cam Reddish. Bey is able to get where he wanted to go, but he was too hesitant to finish what he started. It resulted in a Matthew Stafford-like dart at the backboard.

This play was especially embarrassing, to be honest. The Pistons get a steal and Blake Griffin outlets to Bey for a fast break opportunity. It may not have been a *smart* decision to go one-on-two, but it’s definitely a play many players can finish. After a eurostep gets him past the defender to his dominant hand, you’d think he will be able to pull it off.

Instead, it looks like Bey has magnets attached to the bottom of his shoes pulling him to the ground. Bey stays ground bound and falls to the floor. Objectively, that might be one of the more embarrassing drives of the season.

While Bey’s strengths (shooting from outside) were great to see, his obvious weaknesses were jumping off the screen. Many Pistons fans were hyping the rookie up, but others saw a player with a low ceiling limited by a lack of athleticism.

But then signs started to emerge, there was more Bey had to offer. If you remove the humiliating fast break against the Phoenix Suns, there was reason to believe that Bey could use an orthodox skillset to be more effective inside the arc without being a great athlete.

Both of these clips end in a miss, but they also intrigued me when I first saw them. Thinking about process instead of result, Bey shows impressive footwork even on his misses. Anyone who plays or studies basketball knows more scoring opportunities come from incredible footwork than from crazy athleticism.

In the first clip, Bey loses Tobias Harris at the top of the key with a convincing jab-step and turns it into an open pull-up. Watch enough NBA basketball and yo’ll see plenty of players try to pull this off and end up getting called for the travel, especially rookies.

In the second clip, not only does Bey show some nice footwork, he shows off his strength to move his defender from the three-point line to the block. The footwork and fadeaway create a ton of room for Bey to get off a clean look.

In the beginning, Bey was missing just about every two-pointer he was taking. While the lack of athleticism was apparent, there were still reasons to be optimistic he could develop within Detroit’s system and maybe someday become an effective player inside the arc.

Well, actually, you just needed to fast forward 21 games.

In Bey’s last 21 games before Wednesday’s win vs. the Toronto Raptors, he is shooting 55% from the two-point range— a 30% increase over where he was in his first 11 games. Bey looks like he’s become more comfortable, more assertive, and, honestly, shown better athleticism in the nearly two dozen games leading into the break.

This clip is eerily similar to the clip earlier against the Celtics. In that play, Bey went away from the rim and didn’t even bother to attempt to finish. He doesn’t make that same mistake against the Orlando Magic.

Once Bey gets a step on his defender on the drive, he uses a jump stop to load up more explosiveness. It works, as he not only loses his defender, he explodes TO the rim instead of AWAY from it. A noticeable improvement and something he wasn’t doing earlier in the season.

Something Bey has started to utilize more and more is his body and strength. He hasn’t been afraid to go at contact and bump a defender away from him, which he is fully capable of doing. He does that against Denzel Valentine. Bey lowers his shoulder into Valentine, which sends the Bull stumbling backward. Bey then rips through from underneath to convert what should’ve been an and-one.

This is from the same game, but highlights something important. If you’ve watched Bey throughout the season, you know he’s learned as the season has progressed that he must utilize what athleticism he possesses, but he has to be smart in how he uses it. It seems as though Bey is a two-foot jumper and that’s when he has his best chance to explode through or over a defender.

You see that example here, as he receives the ball on a cut to the rim. Valentine is waiting for him, but Bey is able to load up off of two and explode over him. To be honest, Bey may not be the most athletic guy you’ve ever seen, but he’s a much better athlete than he seemed at the beginning of the season.

The most noticeable improvement for Bey is his awareness. At the start of the season, he was unsure of himself and performing finishes that he’d maybe get away with in college but had no chance in the NBA.

Not only is Bey attempting to deploy his athleticism on drives more often, he’s also attacking more confidently and using his strong frame to his advantage. He’s becoming more aware of how he can use his tools to succeed inside the arc.

In the clip above, Bey is going downhill off of a screen against Jayson Tatum. Tatum is no slouch, but Bey uses his momentum and strength to completely remove Tatum from the play and finish a wide-open layup.

Lastly, I believe there’s a clear path for Bey to draw a ton of fouls. As has been mentioned, Bey realizes that he has to use his body and strength to create space for himself. He is also not afraid to go straight into the chest of the defender and create contact.

In the clip above, he does exactly that against E’Twaun Moore. This isn’t the first clip that Bey has done this, but he has also shown the knack at ripping through from below defenders to get foul calls— something James Harden made a living with.

There is plenty of reason to believe that, as Bey receives a larger role and more touches, he could be develop a knack for drawing fouls.

Another sign of Bey’s emerging, well-deployed athleticism? Since Jan. 7, Bey has five dunks. Before then, he had zero attempted.

I don’t know if it’s strength training, conditioning or becoming more aware of how to finish at the rim at the NBA level, but he’s not only been just throwing down some hammers but also just straight up dunking on people.

Joe Harris was the victim of one of his posters here.

He doesn’t exactly dunk on anyone here, but there will be two Cavalier players on this poster so I’m counting it.

Grant Williams was blessed to be put on this and-one poster by Bey, who gives a subtle flex and shimmy afterward.

And we can’t forget when he tried to end Juan Hernangomez’s life right here on this poster attempt!

As this season has progressed, Bey is learning how to become more than just an outside threat. He may not be that great inside the arc yet, but he’s already shown massive improvement through his first 30 games. As he gets more experience, an offseason to develop, and learns how to leverage his outside shooting to create inside looks, he’ll get even better.

Somewhere in a dark room, with a ski mask hanging over his desk and black Air Force Ones beneath his desk, Troy Weaver is maniacally laughing—looking for the next trade or young player to steal.

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