LAS VEGAS — The Detroit Pistons‘ Summer League roster features plenty of continuity from last season. But their first game in Las Vegas on Sunday still marked a number of notable firsts, and their ability to develop chemistry on-the-fly could be the key to them keeping their summer league championship hopes alive after a disappointing loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 76-72.
The starting lineup featured four players from the 2020-21 roster — Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, Sekou Doumbouya and Tyler Cook. Saben Lee, who recently signed a three-year deal, provided 25 minutes off of the bench. But Sunday was the first Summer League game for every aforementioned player except Doumbouya, who briefly participated in their 2019 version before suffering a hamstring injury.
WHAT TO WATCH: Detroit Pistons’ Summer League: Four burning questions
It was also the first game for Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 pick less than two weeks ago. He started alongside Hayes in the backcourt and had flashes of brilliance along with some struggles, finishing with 12 points on 5 of 17 shooting, six rebounds, two assists, two steals, two blocks and five turnovers.
It’s tough to draw major conclusions from one summer league game, but this much is clear — the Pistons have some work to do. They squandered a 12-point first quarter lead and allowed the Thunder to control the pace through the remaining three quarters, leading to a 76-72 loss.
“Obviously, we wanted a win out of this, but we spent the last week competing against each other,” Cunningham said after the loss. “It’s our first time being able to get together and be with each other and really try to get this chemistry down. We got a lot from this game that we can learn from. That’s the main thing you want out of your first game. Now we’re going to try to keep building off of that.”
There were positives despite the loss. Saddiq Bey showed some off-the-bounce juice as a scorer he didn’t have last season, draining step-back 3-pointers and fadeaway midrange shots en route to team-high 14 points. Hayes had a great all-around game by dishing five assists, grabbing nine rebounds and giving great effort on defense. Luka Garza provided a scoring punch off of the bench at center, and Doumbouya was an effective rim-deterrent with five blocks.
But their offense never clicked. The Pistons committed 20 turnovers opposite of 11 assists, shot 2-for-19 from 3 after the opening quarter and struggled to generate quality looks. Having two floor generals in Cunningham and Hayes wasn’t enough for the Pistons to find a consistent offensive tempo.
Cunningham and Hayes played all of their first-half minutes together, with Hayes operating as the primary playmaker and Cunningham largely working off the ball. Their playing time was more staggered in the second half, with Lee playing a more prominent role. Assistant coach JD DuBois, who is leading the team in Las Vegas, said all three players can function together.
“I think there’s something called experience, and unless you’re out there on the floor for those five games you really can’t substitute experience,” DuBois said. “There are intentional things in practice, obviously getting to work together. But to those guys’ credit, even in practice, I always see them communicating. Cade and Killian and our whole group has embraced having multiple ball-handlers and multiple playmakers.”
There were clear upsides to playing Cunningham and Hayes together, as they were disruptive on the defensive end and showcased some chemistry on offense. Hayes assisted Cunningham’s first two baskets of the night, a spot-up corner 3 and a pull-up 3. They will continue to figure out how to play together.
The point guard duo will continue to evaluate each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and the Pistons will keep experimenting with ways to maximize both of them on the floor. They’re far from the primary reason why the Pistons lost their opening game, but Cunningham said after that they’re on the same page and will figure out how to lead the team together.
“More than anything, I think we’re on the same page mentally on where we want this team to be,” Cunningham said. “And now it’s just about having a better feel for each other. We haven’t played a lot together through our week. We’ve had days where he had to sit out, I had to sit out. And this week that we came together. We haven’t played a lot together but we have so much time to build this and grow from it. We’re not going to hang our heads off this one game.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.