If you haven’t already heard, the Rookie of the Month for March/April was…not Detroit Pistons star rookie and No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham.
Scottie Barnes has been very good during the months of March and April, but the only thing the Toronto Raptors forward did better than Cade during these months is win more games. That will happen when you have two All-Stars playing with you (Cade also did miss some games in March and April which probably played a role in this decision as well).
This piece is not a debate on who should or should not win Rookie of the Year (with Scottie, Cade and Cleveland Cavaliers’ Evan Mobley the official finalists for the award). It is to point out that based on the fact that Cade Cunningham did not win Rookie of the Month after the month that he had, there is no shot that he wins Rookie of the Year, and that is OK. It was already an upward battle for him after struggling at the start of the season, and the fact that his incredible month of March didn’t seem to matter that much just proves that Rookie of the Year is likely not happening.
Individual accolades play a huge role in a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy. When people see Ben Wallace’s numbers, they laugh at his inclusion in the Hall of Fame, but when you look at the accolades (Four Defensive Player of the Year awards and an NBA Championship) and hear from players that played against him, you know exactly why he got in.
However, accolades like Rookie of the Year are not going to matter that much if you win multiple MVPs during your career. Cade Cunningham proved he has the potential to win an MVP sometime down the line based on the things he did during his rookie season. He went toe-to-toe with some of the great players in the league in the clutch and did things that other rookies were not doing (take a look at how many 25-5-5 games he had this season).
MVPs are won by guys who are the focal point of the team and are a threat for a triple-double every time they touch the floor while also contending for the playoffs year after year. The Pistons have a lot more winning to do for Cade Cunningham to enter that conversation, but the groundwork is there.
Yes, he was inefficient and not very good for the first month of his career. Playing on a bad team will do that to you. When players like Kevin Durant and Chris Paul talk about how good you are and you have stats like this to back it up, you are on the right path:
Cade Cunningham in March:
He is the first rookie to put up those numbers (or better) in a month (min 10 games) since Michael Jordan. pic.twitter.com/3BssJi8sRt
— StatMuse (@statmuse) April 1, 2022
Cade Cunningham is a player who plays with a chip on his shoulder, but doesn’t outwardly show it. He works in the shadows, not generating the headlines through the things he says. But when he needs to end your hopes and dreams through a clutch play, he has no issue with doing it.
There have been plenty of great players that have come through the league that have failed to step up when it matters the most. It remains to be seen if Cade Cunningham can come up clutch when a playoff series is on the line, but he at least proved he could come up clutch as a rookie, which is not easy to do.
If the hope is for the Pistons to become contenders led by a Hall of Fame career by Cade Cunningham, losing out on Rookie of the Year is a great way to motivate Cade to get to that level. Say what you will about players like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, but they let every little thing create a chip on their shoulder and they turned it into careers that will go down as some of the best in NBA history. You have to if you want to be great.
He will say things like the Rookie of the Year award doesn’t matter, but behind the scenes you just know he is ready to show everybody why he is the best player from his draft class.
The Pistons haven’t had a Rookie of the Year winner since Grant Hill in 1995. It would be cool to say the number 1 pick that the Pistons are now building their team around was good enough to win the award, and he definitely was. But if the trade off is a motivated Cade Cunningham with a healthy offseason to improve the weaknesses in his game, I will take that trade off every single time.