Detroit Pistons’ Saddiq Bey is embracing his sophomore season of adversity

Detroit Free Press

After the Detroit Pistons finished practicing on Tuesday, Saddiq Bey hung around afterward to get up additional shots. He eventually went through a 3-point shooting drill with members of the coaching and training staff. Bey was perfect from his final two spots on the floor, knocking down five 3-pointers from the left wing, and five from the left corner.

His exuberant scream after hitting his last shot told the story.

After a strong first NBA season that saw him earn first-team All-Rookie honors, his shooting percentages this season are down across the board. It’s the classic definition of a “sophomore slump”. Bey’s usage is slightly higher this season. His shot profile includes more shots inside the perimeter compared to the volume 3-point shooting role he enjoyed the last two seasons, including his sophomore year at Villanova.

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Bey hasn’t played with the comfort level he enjoyed last season, but it doesn’t fully explain why he’s struggling to hit the shots he made with regularity as a rookie. Pistons coach Dwane Casey isn’t making a big deal of it. As Casey often says, shooters don’t forget how to shoot. The likely cure to Bey’s woes is more time and more reps.

“It’s just like everything else in sports, whether it’s baseball, a baseball hitter going through a slump, whatever it is,” Casey said. “You can’t put your finger on it. It’s just going to click. He works on it incessantly, comes back at night to work on his shooting. It’s something that he’s continuing working on. It’s just going to have to click.

“It’s hurtful because he’s come off such a great season last year,” Casey continued. “It’s the same offense for him, same sets for him, same spacing for him, and I think the young man just needs to see it go through the hole.”

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Bey was one of the Pistons’ most-consistent offensive players last season and was historically good as a shooter for a rookie. He averaged 12.2 points and knocked down 38% of his outside shots. His 175 made 3-pointers were 12 short of the rookie record Donovan Mitchell set in 2017-18. If the Pistons played the standard 82 games instead of 72, Bey might’ve set a new record.

Through 26 games this season, Bey is shooting 29.6% from 3. His catch-and-shoot percentage has declined, and occasionally second-guessed open attempts by either pump-faking or side-stepping before releasing the ball. He has been given more offensive freedom this season, is taking difficult step back mid-range shots and making a greater effort to get to the rim when teams run him off of the line.

His 2-point percentage (39.1%) is also down; he shot 45% from inside the 3-point line last year.

The Pistons want Bey to be able to make those shots with regularity. Bey worked on those parts of his game during the offseason, and will continue to. He isn’t quite there as a player yet, though, and it appears to be impacting the shots he usually makes.

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“He worked hard on different parts of his game, whether it was attacking the rim. I don’t know what his finishing is at the rim,” Casey said. “But he’s worked on different parts of it, to become better, which is great. I just think it’s a baseball slump, hitting slump. He’s going to pop out of it. Shooters don’t forget how to shoot.”

When asked on Monday, Casey didn’t ruled out the possibility of Bey spending time with the Motor City Cruise to settle into a rhythm. That’s not an indictment on Bey or on the G League. The Pistons are using the Cruise as a player development tool. As good as Bey was last season, he’s still early in his NBA career. Sophomore slumps aren’t uncommon. Casey said it’s an option for any young player on the roster, regardless of their draft position.

“That’s a very fair question for all of our young players, not just Saddiq,” Casey said. “Guys want to go down there and get reps, we welcome that. That’s something we think about with some of our players, I don’t know about Saddiq, specifically, but it’s never a demotion for guys who go down and play.”

Bey had a measured and optimistic response about his slump when asked about it on Tuesday. He shot 41.8% from 3 at Villanova, including a 45.1% clip as a sophomore. He knows he can shoot the ball.

“It’s good for me,” Bey said. “I try to work hard every day, as much as I can, on every part of my game. When adversity hits, it brings out the character in people. For me, I work harder and enjoy it because when I look back in my career down the line, you look back at this year and these moments where I haven’t shot the ball well, what did I do to get myself out of it? It’s just a part of the journey and I embrace it.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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