During the draft process, one of the big questions was if the Pistons drafted Cade Cunningham at No. 1 overall, what would they do Killian Hayes, the point guard they selected at No. 7 overall last year?
The thinking was that there can’t be two point guards on the court at the same time and that if they picked Cunningham, it might mean that Hayes would either have to come off the bench or be traded.
That’s not the case at all.
Cunningham and Hayes can complement each other well, and in their first practices in preparation for Summer League, the Pistons already have begun the process of meshing their two talented ball-handlers.
“I’m not going to put a number on Cade and Killian. Both of them are 1A and 1B. Either one of them can bring it up, either one of them can initiate the offense, either one of them can run pick-and-roll,” coach Dwane Casey said Tuesday. “What we want to work to is try to get to positionless basketball with those two guys. I think we get in trouble if we say, ‘He’s a point guard and he’s a (shooting guard).’
“Some of it’s going to be depend on defensive matchups and some of it’s going to be offensively, but we’re not really going to put a number on either one of those guys because both of them have point guard skills but also can play off the ball.”
There’s some evidence to support that notion. At the end of last season, Hayes played off the ball with fellow rookie Saben Lee, and that freedom allowed the Pistons to spread the floor a bit more and attack from either side of the court.
With Cunningham, it shouldn’t be much different. Cunningham facilitated the offense in his one season at Oklahoma State, but he has the versatility to play many different roles on the court. That was his greatest attribute as a draft prospect, and one of his best assets as he transitions to the NBA and gets his indoctrination in Summer League.
“We want them comfortable playing but a little bit of being uncomfortable is good. I like being uncomfortable right now; it’s time to be uncomfortable,” Casey said. “We’re trying to get those guys a rhythm playing together. (Playing together as 1A and 1B) is nothing that hasn’t been done before, but getting our rhythm more than being comfortable I think is the terminology we want to use.”
The point is that they’re not competing for the job at point guard. Instead, they’re collaborating to play whatever role is necessary in the offense at that time. There might be some different configurations where they play with Cory Joseph or Lee, so it’s not all concentrated on them finding a fit while they’re together on the court.
That also doesn’t mean that Casey’s offense won’t revolve around Cunningham. He’ll be a versatile piece of the puzzle, but they won’t pass him the ball and just sit around and wait for him to score. Cunningham seems to understand the importance of fitting in and not trying to do too much.
“I don’t want to come in forcing anything. I want to get a flow for the team, I want to get a feel for everybody on the team,” Cunningham said. “I know what the No. 1 pick perception is coming in, so I think the biggest thing for me is to come in and reassure all the team that I’m about playing winning basketball instead of trying to live up to the hype or whatever.
“I want to be able to blend in, get a good flow in the offense, get the ball moving, things like that, so that we can play basketball and then move forward.”
Casey noted that Hayes has looked good in the early work he’s done but that his year of experience in the NBA will be a building block for his improvement. That’s something that he has that Cunningham will have to learn, and with the time that Hayes missed last season because of his hip injury, there’s an opportunity for more growth.
“One thing where Killian has an advantage right now is he’s had a year under his belt of getting his butt kicked in the NBA, and his physicality and his speed and the force he’s playing with right now is off the charts,” Casey said. “He’s not a finished product but you can just see it, and I think that’s what he’s learned from last year. That’s something Cade and (Luka) Garza and all the other rookies are going to have to pick up is how hard and how physical the NBA is.”