Jaden Ivey’s NBA Summer League debut shows Detroit Pistons he was worth the wait

Detroit Free Press

LAS VEGAS — It took two quarters of basketball for Jaden Ivey to find his rhythm. Once he did, he provided a strong reminder for why the Detroit Pistons might’ve gotten one of the best value picks in the 2022 draft by selecting him fifth overall.

In his  debut, Ivey scored 20 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished six assists in his NBA Summer League debut Thursday night to lead the Pistons to an 81-78 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. He tallied 12 of his 20 points in the second half, including six straight points at the end of the third quarter that showcased his electric athleticism.

He finished a lob from Braxton Key for the first dunk of his career, finished a second dunk in transition following a steal by Saben Lee, and used his speed to burst past two Portland players and make a gliding layup through the teeth of the Blazers’ defense.

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Ivey, lightning-quick with the ball in his hands and a gifted leaper, possesses skills that can’t be taught. And he was Detroit’s best player Thursday, teasing the potential that could one day lead to him becoming an offensive focal point — if not more — and defensive standout.

“Once he gets out in the open floor, that’s when you see his game at its best,” summer league head coach and Pistons player development coach Jordan Brink said after the game. “You see that extra burst that he has when he gets to the rim. He had a big layup down the stretch. I think getting out in the open floor brings his confidence up, and it was nice to see him make two 3’s as well. You saw a little bit of what he can bring, he does a little bit of everything. He’s a menace on the ball as well.”

After Ivey’s dunks in the second half, he appeared to relax a little. He still made an impact in the first half, knocking down two-pointers and a deep 3 several feet behind the 3-point line that officials ruled off. But he attacked the rim with more precision in the second half and his playmaking was sharp.

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The Pistons are working with Ivey on changing speeds when he drives to the rim. Right now, he plays at one speed — fast — which makes him easier to predict. Ivey wasn’t able to consistently separate himself from his defenders in the first half, but the game appeared to come much easier for him in the second half as he took advantage of transition opportunities. By changing his pace of play with the ball in his hands, he’ll have an easier time catching defenders off-balance.

“Yeah, I feel like college I just tried to lead by my speed, and I would just go 100% fast all the time,” Ivey said. “In this league, great defenders, you have to change your speeds a little bit to get in a rhythm offensively. I kinda felt that in the first half. Once I started to get into a rhythm, you could tell I started to get open looks.”

“We’re already trying to work on that with him, because he’s got that burst,” Brink added. “Now if he can slow down, slow his defender and then get to that burst I think he’ll be really hard to guard.”

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It has been two weeks since Ivey was drafted, and he’ll need additional time to acclimate himself to his new team. But his speed and ability to pressure the rim give the Pistons something they didn’t have previously in a guard. We didn’t get to see Ivey and Cade Cunningham practice this week, and it’s hard to say how the two will complement each other. Cunningham is unlikely to play in Las Vegas. But Ivey’s assertive, fast play will likely provide a fun contrast to Cunningham’s more methodical approach to the game.

Brink is confident Ivey will continue to acclimate himself.

“That’s to be expected with a new group. It’s his first time playing with this much space,” Brink said. “It’s a different game than college. We’re trying to get him acclimated and he’s done a really good job of it the last week of training camp. Really nice to get him in a game setting because that’s when you know it’s different.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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