Cade Cunningham got disrespected on national TV. Was it more Detroit vs. Everybody?

Detroit Free Press

Evan Mobley got the love first, and still does, and this isn’t about Evan Mobley so why are we still talking about him?

Because the talented rookie forward has helped turn the Cleveland Cavaliers into a likely playoff team and one of the best stories of the NBA this season.

But what about Scottie Barnes, who got the love next? Or Franz Wagner? Who got it after Barnes? And Jalen Suggs? Who is getting love now?

All of them are good rookies, and could turn into great players. They deserve some love. Everyone does — rookie NBA players or not.

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Still, have any of them dropped a stat line — 34 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and four blocks — like Cade Cunningham did Tuesday?

Of course not; the only other rookie with a game like that — ever — was Michael Jordan (on Jan. 26, 1985, against the Atlanta Hawks). Though it’s safe to assume that when Jordan busted out that stat line and a television station replayed the game’s highlights, they probably included, you know, Jordan.

But Cunningham was missing from TNT’s Tuesday highlights of the Denver Nuggets’ win over the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena. A sign of disrespect? Shade toward Detroit? The continuing hangover from Cunningham’s slow start?

You can go there if you like. It fits into our psyche here. Especially for those who love the Pistons, like Isiah Thomas, who can still be found defending his title teams on Twitter, more than three decades after the parades.

Thomas is right about the way those championship squads are remembered. They don’t get their due. They remain an afterthought in a way, almost a placeholder while the league transitioned from Larry Bird and Magic Johnson to Jordan.

So, yes, the sense of disrespect runs deep, and when TNT didn’t include a single clip of Cunningham’s historic effort — his best game of the season — well, it’s Everybody vs. Detroit. The evidence was right there on national television.

But wait.

Candace Parker, an NBA analyst for the network and an all-timer herself as a player, immediately lit into her producers when the highlight package finished airing.

“We didn’t show one Cade Cunningham make,” she said incredulously, “just not one.”

She continued: “He had 34. One of two rookies to have … 34, 8 and 8 and 4. Him and Michael Jordan.”

Then she leaned back to emphasize the diss. Do better, her expression said.

You can bet the next time Cunningham goes off on an “Inside the NBA” night, he will be included. He should have been Tuesday, even though the Pistons lost, and even though Nikola Jokic had a similarly spectacular stat line.

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Besides, Cunningham isn’t just making open jumpers. He is creating shots with a combination of skill and deception that is making folks look silly.

A behind-the-back dribble step back 3-pointer sent Jokic stumbling into the paint. And while the reigning MVP isn’t the best example of a perimeter defender, the move sent a jolt through LCA. This move was obviously worthy of a highlight package.

Did its absence suggest an anti-Detroit conspiracy?

No, it didn’t. It had more to do with the Pistons’ win total — 11. Which is also why Cunningham’s play hasn’t quite gotten the airtime or words it deserves the last month.

The Pistons aren’t winning. If they were, even a little, he’d be the runaway favorite for rookie of the year.

As it is, he may get there anyway. His play has been that good lately. His latest effort is a reminder of the numbers he has put up since returning from the NBA’s health and safety protocols on Jan. 3.

Over a 13-game stretch, he’s averaging 17.9 points, 5.4 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals a game, while shooting 45.5% overall and 38.2% on 3-pointers. His past four games have been even better: 22.5 points on 50% overall shooting and 45% from beyond the 3-point line.

He’s doing this while playing point guard and playing solid defense every night, too. No, he isn’t defending like Mobley. But then, few are.

Nor is he dunking like Suggs or slipping Magic-type passes to teammates like Barnes or surprising some like Wagner. But he is showing he can lead a team, scoring when he wants and slowing the tempo when he desires.

In short, he is showing serious star power. So what if the recognition is a little slow to arrive?

If he keeps playing like this, the attention will arrive soon enough. Even Detroit vs. Everybody won’t stop that much longer.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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