Film Don’t Lie: Let’s talk about Saddiq Bey’s defense on and off the ball

Detroit Bad Boys

Saddiq Bey has certainly found his offensive game after a slow start. Since the turn of the calendar, he is averaging 17.7 points on 42% from the field, 36% from 3 and 83% from the free-throw line. He is also dishing out 3.1 APG with just over 1 turnover per game. This combined with what looks to be a knack for scoring in big moments, and a love for doing it on the road no less, has to excite you about what he can bring for the future of this Pistons offense.

But Bey was always projected to be a positive on both ends of the floor, and it makes sense to take some time to consider his defense. I, myself, have thrown around the term “3 and D” with Bey quite often without really diving into how good he is on defense.

This is more of a “big picture” breakdown examining where Saddiq excels on the defensive end and his current limitations. My critiques are not so much about him individually as a player as much as what it means for this team moving forward. I think most would agree he is the second most likely player to be here long term after Cade Cunningham.

I will break this down into on-ball defense and off-ball defense. While I do not do a specific breakdown of his rebounding, he has been very solid in that area with some room for growth.

On-Ball Defense

The first thing worth mentioning about Bey’s on-ball defense is how the team tends to assign him matchups. He did not match up with Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown in either game vs the Boston Celtics in the beginning. Instead, Cunningham ended up drawing the Tatum assignment in BOTH games, and in BOTH games had a foul in less than a minute. Saddiq also did not draw the assignment of Terry Rozier OR Miles Bridges against the Charlotte Hornets. Against the Raptors, I think the matchups were a little more cut and dry so it would make sense he would draw Scottie Barnes.

I bring this up because there is occasional talk of playing “big” with Saddiq at the 2. I do not think that works on most nights. I am not saying he is going to be a sieve guarding on the perimeter, but I am not sure we have seen the foot speed and ability to hold up throughout the course of the game guarding those types of perimeter players. And the start of game assignments tends to show that the coaching staff agrees.

Where I do think Bey can be effective in on-ball defense situations is against bigger wings and “4s” who are trying to attack him in the post and midpost. This where he is able to use his strength to hold his ground and the lateral movement does not come into play quite as much. Thinking long term, it is going to be interesting in terms of who Jerami Grant has to guard (if he is still on the roster for 2022-23) or if the Pistons land one of the top-3 picks in the upcoming draft which seems to lean toward big men.

Off-Ball Defense

Now, let’s move off the ball where Bey offers a lot of what you want to see from a team defender. One of the first things that stood out to me watching Bey was his awareness of “scram switching” (thank you, Hal on twitter for the NBA term). ***SIDEBAR: I REALLY need a film session with an NBA coach to go through all the terms used by the NBA compared to my coaching at small school HS or playing D-1 15 years ago. Much had been made about teams taking advantage of Cory Joseph in ball screen switches and so Dwane Casey (and staff) started to scram them and Bey does a very good job of seeing this early and getting the switches before the opposing team can take advantage.

Saddiq is a good “positional”/”team” defender away from the ball and that can be very valuable. As you know by now, I am always looking for areas of improvement even if I feel like players are already above average. There were a couple of switch situations where it looks like the communication fell through. It is hard to decide who was “at fault” in those cases when you don’t know what was supposed to happen and who didn’t communicate effectively so they may not actually be Saddiq’s fault.

I think my biggest “question” about Bey off the ball is his inability to provide any weak side rim protection. Think about Jerami Grant when he is the low man (or even the block by Cade to seal the win over the Raptors on Thursday) and how important that can be in some possessions. I just can’t help but wonder if Bey is going to have the vertical pop to do those same types of things.

I absolutely do not want this breakdown to come off as overly negative because Saddiq Bey has been a great addition from that 2020 NBA draft class and is going to be a major part of the future of this organization. I truly do think there is the potential for him to stick around Detroit as a 10+ year starter. In all honesty, I probably came into the breakdown higher on his defense than I am leaving it but maybe that was just from my irrational Pistons fandom. Just because I do not see an above average perimeter defender does not mean he is going to be a negative on that end. I think he absolutely can still be a positive team defender if not at least neutral. All it means, long term, is that the Pistons and Troy Weaver still have to find that guy to take on the assignment of opponents best perimeter offensive threat.

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