Exit Interview: Saddiq Bey was ready from the jump, but he still has work to do

Detroit Bad Boys

The Detroit Pistons’ acquisition of the Brooklyn Nets’ pick that landed them Saddiq Bey left many within the fanbase scratching their heads. Detroit parted ways with a young sharpshooter in Luke Kennard on a team in desperate need of shooting as well as four second-round picks. In return, they got a second-year player from Villanova people liked but few loved.

But as Bey kept falling the value of grabbing him was undeniable, and after the draft many said he might be the “steal of the draft” as someone who could contribute on both ends right away. Talk is cheap, though, and would have met nothing if he was unable to produce in his rookie season. Detroit has a checkered past with first-round picks, after all.

At the time, the trade felt rushed, like Troy Weaver was trying too hard to wipe the slate clean and build the roster in his image no matter the consequences. Did the Pistons give up on Kennard too early? Since the Los Angeles Clippers promptly re-signed Kennard to a healthy four-year contract, why did they have to incentivize the trade with a multitude of second-round picks? These were all fair questions.

But as things currently stand, after witnessing Bey’s historic rookie season, which was highlighted by a First Team All-Rookie selection and an invite to USA Basketball’s exhibition team, those questions are nothing but a fleeting memory.

The Good

Bey was touted as a three-point specialist coming out of college, and boy did he deliver on that front in his rookie season. He finished the year with 175 made three-pointers, which is a franchise record for a rookie, and the third-highest total by a rookie in league history. Mind you, this season was shortened by 10 games so there’s certainly an alternate universe out there where he snaps that record; Donavan Mitchell’s 187 made threes ranks highest.

He hit four or more three-pointers 21 times last year, but it wasn’t just the amount of threes that was most impressive, it was how efficient he was while shooting them, and the ways in which he found daylight for that shot. He shot a remarkable 40.2% on catch and shoot threes and those looks accounted for 54% of his total shots last season. FIFTY FOUR PERCENT of his TOTAL SHOTS.

Below, you’ll see a play that you’ve seen countless times – Bey finding himself as the primary recipient from three-point territory.

Detroit relied heavily on these types of looks all season. They weren’t a great three-point shooting team, finishing 21st overall, so having Bey regularly knock down these shots was vital for the Pistons to keep pace in the scoring column and to space the floor for the Jerami Grants, Hamidou Diallos and Josh Jacksons of the world.

He also had a knack for relocating around the arc once defenses were concentrated on the ball, making it easier for the ballhandler to find him open, while simultaneously causing stress and confusion from opposing defenses.

Bey certainly won’t be sneaking up on teams this upcoming season. How could he? He shot 38% from three on 6.6 attempts per game. So he will have to continue to find ways to get open. Yes, it helps that he’s 6-foot-7 and has a lightning-quick release, but just because he was one of the best rookie sharpshooters of all time, that doesn’t mean there are not areas where he can concentrate on moving forward.

Whether that be one-two dribble moves, off the pick n’ roll, or coming off of pindowns, these are all areas where I expect Bey to focus on as he continues to improve his game, and he’ll most likely have to as defenses will hone in on him more closely next year.

The Bad

While Bey was an outstanding three-point shooter, he struggled mightily once he got inside the arc. This criticism should come with a grain of salt as Bey will never be asked to rely on two-point shooting as the primary source of his scoring; he only shot 33% of his field goals from two-point territory. However, there are times where one can rightfully expect more from him throughout the course of a game, or season, for that matter.

The closer he gets to the rim, the more of a concern it is that he’ll actually score. As a big-bodied forward, Bey was only able to knock down 33% of his drives (which includes a troublesome 43% on layups) and managed to get to the line just 2.1 times per game. That’s…. not efficient.

There’s a reason the term “layup” is used to describe something simple — they’re supposed to be easy (relatively, of course). Unfortunately for Bey, that wasn’t the case. No game illustrated his struggles more than an early-May matchup against the Charlotte Hornets where he missed (or was blocked) a whopping SIX times near the basket.

His lack of explosion was noted prior to his selection in the draft, and you shouldn’t expect him to suddenly gain an additional 5 inches in his vertical, but the hope is he’ll use his frame more strategically to clear out space when he goes hard towards the basket.

Now Bey was never projected to be a quick or even shifty player, nor was his handle highly regarded, but he’s big and strong, and was able to move players through contact and generate shots near the rim that you should expect to fall more regularly. Here you’ll see him using his size to get into the paint, and failing to convert. This happened often enough that it should cause some concern.

With that being said, it’s reasonable to believe that Bey will be able to eventually knock down these looks as his career continues. He’s got the hard part down, you either have the strength to move grown men when contact is closest, or you don’t, and he has that strength. He just has to work on his footwork and finesse once he has the opportunity to score in the trenches.

Will He Stay or Will He Go?

Has Saddiq Bey already reached his ceiling? No. However, that doesn’t mean that he’ll dramatically alter his game next season, nor should he. He was a highly effective floor spacer, and while his shot mechanics may not be textbook, they’re simple and were proven to be easily replicable. Last season’s near record-breaking performance was no fluke.

You should still expect him to see the majority of his looks from beyond the arc, off catch and shoot situations, but as mentioned, there are avenues to expand his opportunities from deep. He’ll also have to improve his shot-making once he gets deep into the paint, even though it will probably never be a staple of his game. That area should come with more coaching and a better understanding of the league, and that’ll make him more lethal as a long-range shooter if he’s able to be a threat when he puts the ball on the floor.

One would hope that Bey gets even more shot opportunities next year, as he only averaged 10 field goal attempts last season, but with a full season under his belt, and having proven to be Detroit’s best long-distance shooter, there’s no reason that he shouldn’t average near 15 FGA next year.

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