Detroit Pistons’ Saddiq Bey showing Luke Kennard trade with Clippers was a worthy gamble

Detroit Free Press

It wasn’t a big surprise when Detroit Pistons general manager Troy Weaver decided to trade Luke Kennard last November.

Kennard, the 12th overall pick of the 2017 NBA draft, had become a productive, sweet-shooting starting wing. But knee tendinitis limited him to 28 of 66 games the previous season, and he was set to enter free agency — and potentially receive a big pay-day — this summer.

What did surprise was the nature of the deal, which saw the Pistons also send four second-round picks with Kennard to the Los Angeles Clippers in a three-team trade with the Brooklyn Nets. In return, the Pistons received a veteran guard in Rodney McGruder and the 19th pick of the 2020 draft, Saddiq Bey.

Bey was projected by some to be picked higher than he went, and his status as one of the best shooters in the draft made the pick a popular one for draft pundits. But there was some risk involved, too. Kennard had proven himself to be a player worth building around, knocking down at least 39% of his 3-pointers in all three of his NBA seasons, and having success as a ball-handler. Moving four future second-round picks along with Kennard for Bey, an unproven rookie, had a chance to backfire.

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The Pistons faced Kennard on Sunday for the first time since the trade. In December, he signed a three-year extension for $41 million with a team option for a fourth year. He has been good for the Clippers this season. But the early returns on the trade look very good for Detroit as well.

Bey is having one of the the best shooting seasons of any Pistons rookie ever. He set the franchise rookie record for made 3s in a season last week when he knocked down six in a 25-point performance in a loss to the Nuggets on April 6. Bey has been a full-time starter since Feb. 14, and his consistent outside shooting, versatile perimeter defense and improving finishing at the rim has enabled him to have the most productive season of Detroit’s four 2020 draft picks so far.

It’s too soon to say if the Pistons won or lost the Kennard trade. But they certainly feel good about Bey’s performance this season, and his future trajectory.

“He’s a keeper,” Casey said last week. “He’s an NBA starter for us, he’s a part of our building blocks and a great kid. That’s something that you’re happy to see him achieve in his rookie year.”

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Through 51 games entering Sunday, Bey is averaging 10.9 points, four rebounds and 1.3 assists on 40.4% shooting, 37.6% from 3 and 87.9% at the foul line. Kennard is averaging 7.8 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists on 48.1/46.6/84.2% splits, respectively. Their averages don’t tell the full story, as Kennard in 48 games is playing fewer minutes than Bey on a much more talented team.

Kennard has been a more efficient scorer, but the Pistons wanted Bey because of the player he can become. Bey was an elite shooter as a sophomore at Villanova last season, and showed he could create with the ball in his hands and set up teammates. Standing 6 feet 7 with a 6-11 wingspan, he has great size for both wing positions, and could become a plus defender in time.

Bey has improved as a scorer inside the arc after a rough start in that area. During his first 21 games of the season, he shot 34.4% overall. In his 30 games played since Feb. 7, he’s shooting 43.2% overall, including 53.7% (51-for-95) on 2s.He’s learning how to attack space and use his body and strength to create scoring opportunities, Casey said in March.

“He’s strong as an ox and he’s learning how to get low with the ball, coaches are doing a great job of working with him,” Casey said. “He’s a sponge. You almost have to keep him out of the gym as far as working on his game and penetration, which he did some of that in college but not against the size and length that you see in the NBA.”

The Pistons haven’t had many scorers in recent memories with Bey’s versatility. It was worth the gamble for Weaver in November, and the franchise sees a bright future for the rookie.

“He’s just beginning,” Casey said. “He’s scratching the surface. I can foresee him putting the ball on the floor, running pick and rolls. He’s an excellent passer. He’s a guy that triggers the ball out of bounds in clutch situations, which he did at Villanova. He’s just a solid, solid pro and he’s going to be a star in this league or a long, long time.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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