Yes, I’m biased, immensely biased. But I can add some objectiveness to my stance by relying on film. What is my stance? Well, if you ask me, that Detroit Pistons top pick Cade Cunningham bested the No. 2 overall selection Jalen Green in their first clash at the professional level on Tuesday.
Generally, there were 17 possessions when the two matched up against each other. Cade stopped Green six times. He beat him in all seven possessions he was guarded by Rockets guard (in other words, Green wasn’t able to stop Cade a single time). Four times Cade was beaten by his adversary. So the math is simple and overwhelmingly in favor of Cade.
Turning to the details now.
In the first clip, Cade’s basketball smarts are on display. The Pistons rookie position himself in such a way that forces Green to go to the baseline, where he doesn’t have neither an open driving lane to the hoop nor a clean passing lane. As a result, he turns the ball over. The second clip shows Cunningham working on two fronts in transition defense. On the one hand, he helps with covering the ball. On the other hand, he’s able to cut off Green’s way to the basket when he receives the ball. The Rockets guard needs to withdraw and give away the ball. Next, three clips exhibit the OSU alum’s very good ability (sometimes with a little help from his teammates) to defend on-ball. Green is again helpless in the face of his challenge. The last clip is a cherry on top of these plays. Cade dies a little on the screen, but is persistent, recovers and using his nimbleness and length blocks Green’s pullup attempt.
In this section we can find desirable variety. Cade is able to easily shake off Green playing both on and off the ball. The first two clips of the second film are off-ball plays. First, Cunningham mercilessly takes advantage of his opponents mistake. While Houston’s guard goes under the screen, he pulls up after a couple of dribbles coming off of handoff and fires a long gun. Second, Cade again abuses Green’s bad positioning on the screen, goes to the open spot and shoots an open long ball. The next clip shows the Pistons rookie mercilessly taking advantage of Green this time in the post. The latter is left with nothing but fouling to stop Cade. Cade shows his ability to use his strength also in the following clip. He brings the ball in transition, strongly drives through Green and passes to Sekou Doumbouya who is open on the other side of the basket because his defender needs to help on Cade. The next two clips display Cade’s creativity and ease to outplay an opponent with the ball in his hands (other than this, that is; I told you already in January that Josh Christopher’s defense is part of what makes him a very intriguing prospect).
And lastly, there’s another cherry on top: an off-the-dribble triple with an ankle-breaker.
Until recently, I thought of Cade as a capable defensive player who’ll be able to make some winning defensive plays, but due to his offensive load will make them only sporadically.
I mean, I wish that maybe Dwane Casey will try to dose his output on offensive end in such a way that he’ll be able to play more on the other end. But it seemed less likely. However, the two Summer League games points that this might be very likely. And this is great, for Cunningham would be able to develop into a full two-way franchise player.
But to do this, in the defensive department he’ll need to start by eliminating mental mistakes as those we can see in third film. First, there’s the missed assignment; second, bad navigation through screen (I like the effective foul, though); third, lack of awareness in transition; fourth, officiousness to provide help at the expense of leaving his man too much room on perimeter.
These are mental mistakes, so it shouldn’t be a big problem to fix them. And to be honest, I’m not mad at Cade for them, because despite them, with all that stuff from the first film, he seems to be way ahead of the schedule on defense. (As you can see, even broadcaster couldn’t take full notice of those mistakes – that’s how not so worrisome they are at this stage of Cade’s development.)
So maybe the Detroit Pistons lost the game against Houston Rockets. But the individual matchup between their top picks makes them still the winners.