How Detroit Pistons’ Saddiq Bey can improve after historic rookie season

Detroit Free Press

Saddiq Bey entered the NBA with a reputation as a 3-point marksman. He was one of the best shooters in college basketball as a sophomore at Villanova, making 45.1% of his 5.6 attempts per game.

His outside shot translated immediately with the Pistons.

Bey not only had the best 3-point shooting season in team history, but one of the best 3-point shooting seasons of any rookie in NBA history. He finished with 175 makes, the third-highest total among rookies behind Donovan Mitchell (187) and Damian Lillard (185). Had the NBA played a full 82-game season instead of 72, Bey almost certainly would’ve broke the record.

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Bey’s shooting made him one of the league’s best rookies this season, as well as the star of Detroit’s four-player rookie class. He emerged as a full-time starter in February, and started 53 of his 70 games played, often playing like a veteran.

Because of the low release on his jump shot, Dwane Casey said he wasn’t sure if Bey would immediately acclimate to the NBA. But he did as well as any rookie last season, and expectations for him next season have accordingly been raised.

“I just told him this morning I didn’t know him that well of all the draft prospects,” Casey said earlier this year. “Didn’t know if his game would translate into the NBA game. But it did, and so proud and happy for him that he did and he’s just scratching the surface. I think he’s a consistent NBA starter. Next year will be a little bit different because he’ll be expected to take another step.”

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Bey averaged 12.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game this season, knocking down 38% of his 3-pointers and 40.4% of his overall shot attempts. Now that he’s proven he can be an elite shooter and capable defender, the next step for him is round out the rest of his offensive game.

It took some time for him to improve his accuracy inside of the arc. He isn’t the quickest athlete, and relies on strength and footwork to get his shot off when going to the rim. He showed flashes of being able to hit a turnaround jumper over smaller defenders, and improved his feel as the season progressed. Through his first 21 games, he shot just 15-for-47 (31.9%) on 2-pointers. Through his remaining 49 games, that improved to 89-for-184 (48.4%) inside the arc.

For the season, he made 44% of his 2-point attempts — ranking in just the 18th percentile among wings, according to Cleaning The Glass. Bey excels as a catch-and-shooter. He needs to grow more comfortable creating for himself when defenses deny him a clean shot.

“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 last season. “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.”

He also improved outside-the-arc during that stretch, hitting 38.7% of his 3-pointers — an increase from 35.5%. He worked with veteran sharpshooter Wayne Ellington and assistant coach DJ Bakker to quicken and tighten his shooting release, and the efforts bore fruit.

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“He’s worked with the coaches and the coaches have done a good job of working with him,” Casey said. “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.”

Casey wants to see him improve as a playmaker as well. He logged an assist percentage of 7.6 last season, which ranked in the 27th percentile among wing players according to Cleaning The Glass. The coaching staff envisions him being able to run pick-and-rolls down the road, but it wasn’t a strength last season. He only had 59 possessions as a pick-and-roll ballhandler last season and generated 0.80 points per possession on such plays, ranking in the 36.7th percentile according to Synergy. 

As a big-bodied wing, Bey has the tools to be the best two-way scorer and defender the Pistons have had in a long time. He has drawn comparisons to Milwaukee Bucks star, and former Pistons second-round pick, Khris Middleton.

“My whole life, especially starting in college, I try to just play every game and take whatever is there for me and try to just be the best I can be, and whatever comes with that, whatever accolades or not, that’s what I can’t control,” Bey said. “Me coming in, I just try to be the best I can be every day.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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