Why Detroit Pistons’ Saddiq Bey already looks different compared to his rookie season

Detroit Free Press

As a rookie, Saddiq Bey delivered as expectedfor the Detroit Pistons.

The No. 19 overall pick was regarded as one of the best shooters in the 2020 draft after knocking down 41.8% of his 3-point attempts at Villanova, including 45.1% as a sophomore. That was also his ticket to success last year, hitting 38% of his 3-pointers to earn an first-team All-Rookie berth.

Entering the offseason, Bey said his goal was to work on “everything.” He was true to his word, because Bey looked like a different player in the first game of his second NBA season, against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday. He knocked down six of his 15 shot attempts, but was 6-for-11 inside the arc and 0-for-4 outside of it. And he scored his points in a variety of ways — stepbacks, post-ups and chained-together dribble moves.

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Bey also showcased his improved vision, leading the team with four assists. It was a big stride forward for him on offense, considering the majority of his points last season were catch-and-shoot 3’s. The Bulls made a point to drive him off the 3-point line; that will likely be a recurring theme this season as teams attempt to deny Bey his strength. Wednesday showed he can adapt, though.

“He’s mixing his game up,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said Thursday. “I think the difference from last year to this year, he’s not surprising teams. Their closeouts are game-planned. They’re very aware of him and his game. Now he’s going to Plan B, which he should do now. He still has the green light to shoot those and knock those down. Like I told the guys today, the difference in exhibition and regular season, those close-outs are there.”

Last season, Bey took 63% of his non-garbage-time shots from beyond the arc according to Cleaning The Glass — one of the highest rates in the league among wings — and knocked them down at an above-average rate. But he only made 54% of his near-rim shots and 32% of his midrange shots, two of the lowest percentages in the league among wings. While he was occasionally able to bully smaller defenders and maneuver around bigger players, he didn’t have the footwork and ball-handling to do either consistently.

But Bey looked more comfortable in both areas during Summer League, and it also worked out for him against the Bulls. He euro-stepped around Nikola Vucevic, posted-up Lonzo Ball, iso’d DeMar Derozan, hit a spinning layup and, finally,  knocked down a pair of stepback jumpers from midrange. None of those were go-to moves a year ago.

Three of Bey’s assists went to Isaiah Stewart — a deft entry pass after Stewart established good positioning against Vucevic, a transition pass and then a similar pass out of the pick-and-roll not long after. Bey wasn’t a strong playmaker last season, but Wednesday suggested he could have some upside as a secondary option.

“I thought Saddiq last night was one of our best pick-and-roll players,” Casey said. “We don’t want to get it twisted, he’s a scorer. Not only is he a 3-point shooter, but he can come off pick-and-rolls, post up with his size and strength. And that’s his progression as an offensive player. I love Saddiq, he’s one of our most consistent players.”

Bey still had to prove he can consistently impact the game beyond his shooting, but Wednesday continued his summer trend. And the coaching staff is comfortable letting him show what he’s added.

“He definitely works on his game,” Stewart said after Wednesday’s loss. “He tries to work on every single piece. Tonight it showed. We all know Saddiq can shoot the ball, but tonight he showed what he can do. Post-ups, taking advantage of mismatches, put the ball on the ground, stepbacks, everything. He showed that tonight.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. 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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