Pistons observations: Don’t draw conclusions from Cunningham’s underwhelming debut

Detroit News

Detroit — It’s not always going to be a storybook ending. Or even a storybook beginning. Pistons rookie Cade Cunningham didn’t have an auspicious debut in the NBA on Saturday night, going just 1-of-8 from the field and missing all five of his 3-point attempts.

The numbers weren’t eye-popping, either: two points, seven rebounds and two assists.

In some ways, it wasn’t about the numbers at all. It was about getting Cunningham on the court for any kind of game action, proving to himself, the medical staff and to everyone else that he was ready to play in full-contact games without any issues.

Mission accomplished there.

“I feel like my ankle is fine, just putting it to the test more and putting it in more situations will help it out more,” Cunningham said. “I’m confident in my ankle and I’m confident in me.”

Pistons coach Dwane Casey said Cunningham was restricted to about 20-25 minutes, and they did well to keep him to only 19 minutes, without having to bring him back late in the game because of the lopsided score.

Having sat out for almost a month because of an ankle injury and working his way back, including spending this week with the G League affiliate, the Motor City Cruise, helped get some of the rust off.

“You can’t go a month (without playing) and come out and expect to play the way you want to play, I liked the effort and the intensity he played and the way he pushed the ball and moved the ball,” Casey said. “He tried to make the right decisions, and that’s what we needed, the ball movement.”

Here are some other observations from the Pistons’ first win:

►Cade Cunningham will be fine. He’s not going to set the world on fire with 30 points every night. At this point, 10 would be an improvement. The comfort level and getting the jitters out are more important as he gets his feet wet. He said he tried to focus on the game and not the exterior things going on, but with almost all of the season remaining, a slow start in the first game isn’t much to worry about. With the back-to-back Sunday at Brooklyn, it’s unlikely that Cunningham will play, but it’s possible, because he only played 19 minutes on Saturday. His shot selection looked fine and he took just a couple of poor shots. Give it a few more games before making any over-arching conclusions.

►Kelly Olynyk and Trey Lyles are better than expected. They aren’t dominant big men, but they have done well in their roles off the bench. Olynyk (18 points, six rebounds and four assists) and Lyles (12 points) helped spark the bench effort of 59 total points, but they outplayed the smaller Magic second unit with their attacking. Olynyk has scored in double figures in all five games this season and he’s averaging an impressive 14.6 points.

Lyles is posting nine points per game and he’s been a solid backup for leading scorer Jerami Grant. Casey noted the inside-outside presence that Olynyk brings and Lyles has done some of that as well.

►Hamidou Diallo didn’t play. With Cunningham’s return, there was going to be a domino effect in the playing rotation, and at least on Saturday, that was Diallo not being in the second unit. Josh Jackson and Frank Jackson were the starting wings, with the usual group of Cory Joseph, Lyles and Olynyk. That rotation likely could change, Casey noted, because no one has stepped up and grabbed the reins. Cunningham is on a minutes restriction, and as that gets stretched out, there could be another ripple effect with someone else losing minutes. Casey said he’d like to make it a nine-player rotation, so how that shakes out remains to be seen.

►The starting group needs to jell. Obviously, with adding Cunningham, there are going to be some growing pains, but the starters seemed to struggle in finding their rhythm and getting good shots. Killian Hayes (three points and three assists) didn’t follow up his past two good offensive outings with another one. It’s a progression, and as Cunningham starts to handle the ball a little more, it will take some of the pressure off Hayes in bringing the ball upcourt and initiating the offense. Isaiah Stewart (11 points and eight rebounds) is finding his baskets from pure hustle and they’re not running a ton of plays for him, so any offensive contributions are gravy, at this point.

Pistons at Nets

Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Barclays Center, New York

TV/radio: BSD/97.1

Outlook: The Pistons (1-4) continue their difficult schedule to start the season, with a back-to-back on the road against the Nets (3-3).

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