Jaden Ivey put his head down after the Sacramento Kings selected Keegan Murray fourth overall. There was no way he’d fall past five, he thought to himself. Ivey has family in Detroit, and the city felt like home when the Detroit Pistons hosted him for a predraft workout.
Ivey, of course, got his wish. And instead of spending time back home with his mom, Niele, in South Bend, Indiana, he stayed in Detroit to work out.
The Pistons’ summer league roster reported to the practice facility late last week, and Ivey has been acclimating himself with his new teammates. On Tuesday, they’ll fly to Las Vegas and prepare for their first summer league game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday.
“I see myself fitting in well,” Ivey said during the Pistons’ pre-summer league media availability on Sunday. “I feel like we’re connected. In the first two days I feel like we were all connected as a group, we were talking to each other and building that team chemistry. I think that’s the biggest thing. I love that these guys are ready, they’re so fun to play with. I’m looking forward to playing in summer league.”
After a breakout season at Purdue, Ivey was widely projected to be the fourth pick. Draft analysts were surprised to see him fall to the Pistons, and he and Cade Cunningham could form one of the most electric young backcourts in the NBA next season. Ivey is a gifted athlete with an elite first step and leaping ability, and will give the team the speed it has lacked.
“He has elite speed, and just like any young player he has to learn how to switch gears and understand when there’s a traffic jam, do I go in there at 100 miles an hour or do I go in and change speeds?” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said Sunday. “Which is a good problem to have because that means he’s got elite speed. Those are the little things he has to learn, and he will. But you can just see the difference in his speed in our practices or work with him pushing the ball up the floor.”
But for Ivey to reach his ceiling, he’ll have to improve the other aspects of his game. Both general manager Troy Weaver and Casey have challenged him to lock in on defense. Standing 6 feet 4 with a 6-9 wingspan, Ivey has the size and strength to defend multiple positions. He made some highlight defensive plays in college, but has room to grow.
Casey said during the Pistons’ practice Saturday, Ivey gambled for a steal in the backcourt, fell down, but recovered and used his speed to force a steal on the other end of the floor. Casey was happy to see him recover.
“I always say I don’t care if you make a mistake,” Casey said. “Make it hard, and he did with his speed.”
“Definitely to be an impact defender,” Ivey said of his goal. “That’s what I’m working on. In practice, I feel like I’m being really aggressive. Just that Pistons mindset, that Bad Boys mindset that you’ve go out there every day and get back on the defensive end. I feel like I’m really improved in that aspect.”
The Pistons are bringing all of their recent draft picks to summer league, including Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. Even if they don’t appear in every game, they will be present during practices in Las Vegas, giving Ivey the opportunity to develop chemistry with Cunningham.
It remains to be seen how the two players will fit next to each other, but there’s obvious upside. They’re both big guards, as Cunningham is 6-6 with a 7-foot wingspan. Ivey’s explosiveness and rim pressure will make an interesting contrast to Cunningham’s methodical approach. And Cunningham is Detroit’s best playmaker, which will take pressure off of Ivey to create for others.
“I’m just trying to learn, most importantly, what he goes to and how I can help benefit his game,” Ivey said of Cunningham. “We’re just there for each other. We’re still a work in progress, still learning. We’re not going to get it on the same day, so it’s going to take some practices to get used to that. I feel like as a team, we’re coming together and we’re trying to build something here. We just have to keep working as partners.”
Defensively, the Pistons hope Ivey will be able to handle guarding quick guards to relieve pressure off Cunningham. Detroit frequently switched on defense last season, and Casey anticipates they will do so next season as well. Ivey has the size to be a plus on defense and handle multiple assignments. Summer league will be his first test.
“Being able to guard multiple positions, he’s able to do that with his size and his strength,” Casey said. “And he’s not a finished product with his body, he’ll grow into that too in the weight room and that type of thing too. He’s got a bright future with us, like our first- and second-year guys, we still have growing to do.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has a digital subscription model. Here’s how you can access our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.