Beard: Despite another disappointing season, Pistons build towards positive future

Detroit News

If someone said at the beginning of the season that Marvin Bagley III, Isaiah Livers and Braxton Key would be getting playing time in the final weeks of the season, it would have been a hot take.

Cade Cunningham, yes. That would be an assumption for the No. 1 overall pick.

The Pistons are hurtling toward another bottom-three finish in the league standings, but there are some positives to take away from this season. Cunningham being firmly in the discussion for NBA Rookie of the Year is one of those key takeaways, as well as assembling some pieces for the future.

Cunningham had another show-stopping performance last week, with 34 points and six assists in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets. On a night when Kevin Durant dropped 41 points and dominated the game, Cunningham shared the stage and looked every bit as dominant.

“They’ve been playing solid the last two weeks. I know their record isn’t good, but they still have pros over there,” Durant said. “When you have a 6-foot-7 point guard (Cunningham), that’s a good start, somebody that can wreck a whole defensive game plan. I can see this team being a force to be reckoned with in the future.”

That’s high praise from Durant, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Cunningham had a slow start to the season because of injury, but he’s picked things up, especially toward the end of the season.

Is it too late? There’s significant momentum for the Cavs’ Evan Mobley as the Rookie of the Year — and make no mistake, he’s had a very good season — but it’ll likely come down to the final game before some award voters make their final decisions.

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The numbers in comparison to other rookies are there: 17.3 points (first), 5.5 rebounds (fifth), 5.5 assists (second) and 1.2 steals (fourth). The key will be whether the early-season slump made a negative impression, or whether people have made up their minds about who the top rookie is.

Cunningham is flashy in a different type of way, and it’s something that isn’t always noticeable in the box score.

“People have always tried to downplay me just because I’m not going between my legs and dunking,” Cunningham said this week. “Maybe my style of play is not their favorite style of play, but with the whole Rookie of the Year thing, people downplayed me early on and I never let it get to my head. It’s ROY, not Rookie of the First Three Weeks.”

Continue to compete, play hard

The Pistons have been out of playoff contention for a while, but they continue to give some teams fit down the stretch. They had a surprising win over the Sixers, and they took the Nets down to the wire.

It’s a point of pride that they’re still playing tough down the stretch.

Killian Hayes had a career-high 26 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Livers (17 points) and Key (10 points) also had career-high games in scoring. There’s a lot to like about the end of the season, even if it leads to another losing record.

“The guys could have easily packed it in once (we were eliminated) but our guys are pros,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We’ve got a team full of high-character guys. They are continuing to compete, play hard and play the right way.

“I told them, ‘You’re going to get the minutes, but the most important thing is playing the right way. We’re building for next year. We’re building for the future. So, what you’re doing now is going to tell us what you’re going to do in the future.

“So, play that way, handle yourself in the right way — and for the most part, we have. We have a few more games to go, but so far, so good.”

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Pistons add Carsen Edwards

The Pistons added Carsen Edwards to the roster on Sunday, ahead of their matchup against the Indiana Pacers. Casey said that Edwards arrived about two hours before tipoff and they’re excited to add have him.

“He can shoot it — that’s the first thing that comes out,” Casey said. “He’s a proven scorer, and that’s something we’re looking to see.”

Edwards, a 5-foot-11 guard, posted 26.7 points and 4.1 assists in 31 games with the Salt Lake City Stars in the G League this season. Edwards was the 33rd overall pick in the 2019 draft and was traded to the Boston Celtics.

In two seasons with the Celtics, Edwards averaged 3.6 points and shot 30% on 3-pointers in 68 games.

Edwards was a two-time All-America selection at Purdue.

Smith sustained an ACL injury and Key was on a 10-day contract, which expired on Sunday. Key has averaged 6.8 points and 5.2 rebounds in five games with the Pistons. @detnewsRodBeard

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