Detroit Pistons’ Saddiq Bey is a Rookie of the Year candidate. Here’s how he’s doing it

Detroit Free Press

As the season has progressed, Detroit Pistons rookie forward Saddiq Bey has reached major 3-point shooting milestones with increasing frequency.

On March 30, he tied Damian Lillard as the third-fastest player in NBA history to hit 100 3-pointers. Bey and Lillard did so in 44 games. (The record-holder, Lauri Markkanen, needed 41.)

On April 6, Bey set the Pistons rookie record by hitting his 106th 3-pointer, breaking Brandon Knight’s record, set in 2011-12. On Monday, Bey knocked down six 3s, giving him five games this season with at least six makes, a new record for NBA rookies.

The only real downside to Bey’s rookie season is what he won’t be able to do. With 132 3-pointers this season — 2.36 per game for him — he’s on pace to finish with 165, assuming he keeps up that pace for the Pistons’ 14 games.

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Given another 10 games — as he’d have in a normal 82-game season — he would be on pace for 189 3s, which would beat Donovan Mitchell’s NBA rookie record of 187 set in 2017-18.

Regardless, Bey has already established himself as one of the NBA’s better shooters. His combination of volume and accuracy sets him apart from nearly every player in league history; with two more 3-point attempts, he’ll be one of 20 rookiesplayers ever to shoot at least 35% while attempting at least 350 3s. And with time left in the season, he isn’t done setting records quite yet. 

While there are plenty of wings in NBA history who were elite 3-point shooters, none have had Bey’s rookie resume. Klay Thompson is a natural starting point, as he shot 41.4% from 3-point range as a rookie, with 111 3s. Bey, meanwhile is shooting 37.9% on 3s (good for 24th all-time on 3s by a rookie) . But Thompson, at 268 attempts, didn’t quite have Bey’s volume.

Though 56 games, Bey is averaging better than 6.2 3s per game. If he continues at his current pace, he’ll end up at 435 3-point attempts. That total would be good for sixth all-time, behind only Mitchell (550 in 2017-18), Luka Doncic (514 in 2018-19), Lillard (503 in 2012-13), Trae Young (482 in 2018-19) and Allen Iverson (455 in 1996-97). And, again, Bey would do it in a 72-game season.

Still, Bey benefits from entering the league in 2020 — a time when the league has fully embraced 3-point shooting — rather than 2011.

Bey is bigger than Thompson, too, standing 6-foot-7 with a 6-11 wingspan. Many of the prolific 3-point shooting rookies in recent years have been guards. Kendrick Nunn, Coby White and Tyler Herro hit the most 3-pointers last season. In 2018-19, it was Luka Doncic, Landry Shamet and Trae Young.

There are some outliers. Doncic, big for a guard, is one. Markannen, a 7-footer who made 145 triples as a rookie in 2017-18, is another. Kristaps Porzingis, Kyle Kuzma and Nikola Mirotic (who led all rookies with 99 3-pointers in 2014-15) ranked in the top three in 3s in their respective classes.

None of them hit as many as Bey has, or is likely to, this season.

When asked who Bey resembles, Pistons head coach Dwane Casey went not with a prolific shooter, but with a star similar to Bey physically: Jimmy Butler. The Heat wing is 6-7, 230 pounds and plays a physical brand of basketball. Bey, listed at 216 pounds, has a chance to get there.

“He’s got a body type that’s big and strong, there’s not a lot of guys like him in the league,” Casey said. “A guy like Jimmy Butler, size-wise — I’m not saying he’s going to be Jimmy Butler or he is Jimmy Butler — but that type of shooter, at the same stage of Butler’s career. Now Butler can put the ball on the floor much, much better right now at this stage in his career, but that body type and that size and shooting ability — not saying he’s Jimmy Butler or better than Jimmy Butler — that’s kind of the body type that he has.”

If nothing else, it illustrates how tough it is to find big wings who can also shoot well. Bey’s shooting this season has actually been a surprise for the Pistons, even though he made 41.8% of his 3-pointers during two seasons at Villanova. His shot has a low release point; Casey said there were questions over how quickly his shot would translate to the NBA.

“I didn’t foresee the efficiency of his 3-point shooting, his ability to get his 3 off with his low release, as he’s doing now,” Casey said.

Bey has been working with veteran Wayne Ellington and Pistons assistant coach D.J. Bakker to quicken his release. He’s seeing that work pay off.

“It’s great to see, I’m happy for him, he’s worked with the coaches and the coaches have done a good job of working with him,” Casey added “Wayne Ellington is his shooting buddy. You notice it’s contagious. He’s getting it off quicker now like Wayne, and that was one of the issues early.”

The Pistons are high on Bey as an all-around player. He’s already a capable defender, and he has steadily improved as a finisher at the rim. Casey believes his playmaking will improve, and he’ll eventually grow into more of an initiator on offense.

But Bey’s 3-point shooting has been the defining element of his rookie season.

“I don’t know if he’ll get Rookie of the Year, but he should be in the conversation,” Casey said.

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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