A few minutes before the halftime buzzer, Cade Cunningham and Marvin Bagley III pulled off one of the best fastbreaks of the season for the Detroit Pistons. Cunningham lost Cleveland Cavaliers guard Rajon Rondo with a behind-the-back dribble and lobbed the ball to Bagley, who completed the play with a left-handed dunk.
The play stood out not just because it was highlight-worthy, but because of how it ended. Until the trade deadline, the Pistons had just one reliable alley-oop threat, Hamidou Diallo. Bagley’s athleticism at 6 feet 11 gives Detroit a new dimension on the court.
Thursday’s 106-103 win over the Cavaliers was Bagley’s third game in a Pistons uniform — and his best. He and his new teammates are still getting acclimated to each other, but Bagley is finding his groove.
“That was a great pass,” Bagley said after the game. “He threw it hot, I had to go get it. He threw it a little high, but I wanted to get up there and finish it for him. That goes to show how unselfish this team is. We make the right plays. Every play is not perfect but that’s basketball. Not everything is going to be perfect. As I continue to learn how to play with these guys and see what each guy likes to do as each game goes on, we’ll only get better from here.”
Bagley gave the Pistons a significant energy boost off the bench and finished with 16 points and four rebounds in 27 minutes. He made eight of his 13 shot attempts, six of which were assisted. He finished lobs from Cunningham and Kelly Olynyk, saw his cuts to the rim rewarded by Killian Hayes and Saddiq Bey and even created his own offense by tipping in a missed layup by Diallo and knocking down a midrange shot and and a hook at the rim.
After just two appearances with the Pistons before the All-Star break, Bagley looked significantly more comfortable against Cleveland. The coaching staff gave him a video playbook to review during the break.
“I’m way more comfortable,” Bagley said. “The first couple of days, it was a lot for me to take in. It’s pretty much the same stuff I ran over in Sacramento. But, like you said, it’s different. There’s different terms for certain things that you have to catch on to, but I think I’m doing a pretty good job getting the playbook, watching the videos of the playbook. It’s coming, it’s coming. I’m continuing to build and continuing to grow, and I just want to keep that up for the last few weeks of the season, and going into the offseason continuing to build on it.
“We ran some plays for him, a couple of lob plays to try to get him going,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey added. “Killian did a good job of getting it up there. We haven’t ran too many of them this year, but they’re looking for him. He is a lob threat, where you can put the ball on the floor from out there. We’re really pleased with the way he’s playing. He’s doing a lot of this without really understanding what to do.”
Casey noted his guards benefit from having an “escape route” on the floor. Bagley’s ability to finish lobs and pressure the rim, possession after possession, is something the Pistons just haven’t had this season. Isaiah Stewart is the team’s best screener and post defender, but he scores most of his points below the rim. Olynyk is the best shooter and passer among Detroit’s bigs, but also isn’t blessed with an above-average vertical jump.
The Pistons now have three big men with different skill sets to deploy. It’ll continue to be a work-in-progress to get Bagley acclimated, but Thursday provided numerous examples of why the Pistons wanted him in Detroit.
“I was in his position last year, came here midway through and understanding how hard it is to play well,” said Diallo, who arrived in Detroit right before the trade deadline in 2021. “But, those good players find ways, and he’s finding ways to just affect winning. He’s doing a great job, it’s great to have him. I can’t stop thinking about what the future looks like with him, so it’s great to have him here and can’t wait to see what all of that looks like. We just got to keep developing together and keep building together.”