LAS VEGAS — A smile crept across Cade Cunningham’s face when he was asked about the Detroit Pistons‘ 2022 draft haul.
“It was a great night for sure,” Cunningham said after the Pistons practiced at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas during NBA Summer League. “No complaints, I’m happy. We got two big time talents. I don’t know how. Troy worked some type of magic. I think it all worked out perfect.”
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Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, fittingly, were the highlights of Detroit’s first Summer League game on Thursday, an 81-78 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. Their athleticism will give the Pistons a new look next season. And Cunningham is eager to share the floor with his new teammates.
The 2021 No. 1 pick was unexpectedly listed on the Pistons’ roster for Vegas. But he isn’t expected to play and was a courtside spectator during Thursday’s win. He and the Pistons’ 2020 draft class have been practicing in Vegas this week. He’s encouraged by what he’s seen so far.
Cunningham and Ivey, in many ways, have differing approaches to the game. Cunningham is methodical, and plays like a true point guard. He breaks down defenders with a variety of moves, is comfortable with his back to the basket and knows where everyone is on the floor. His 3-point percentage wasn’t great last season (31.4% on 5.7 attempts per game), but he projects to be an accurate high-volume outside shooter.
Ivey is a cannon, blessed with a lightning-quick first step, elite open floor speed and is always a threat to dunk on a defender. He doesn’t lean on a deep bag of dribble moves because he doesn’t have to. His athleticism was on display against the Blazers, exploding to the rim for a pair of dunks in the third quarter and dusting opposing players on the way there. Ivey will likely score a significant number of points in the paint and at the free-throw line.
There will be a feeling-out process between the two, but Cunningham sees the upside. This week is the first time they’ve shared a floor together, having never faced each other in high school or college.
“He’s fast,” Cunningham said. “I’m not fast. Having somebody like that with me spreads the floor out a lot. It can help us push the pace. I like to kick ahead and push the pace and he can literally sprint ahead. It’s going to be fun. We both have a good feel for getting teammates involved and things like that. It should be fun.
“I think it’s just important to be confident in my game and not try to accommodate to him to allow him to get going,” he continued. “Just encourage him to be aggressive and let him know I’m going to be aggressive too, and then we figure it out going 100 miles an hour rather than catering to each other and trying to figure each other out slowly. We’ve done pretty well in the practices that we’ve been able to play together so far, and I think with more time I think we’re going to get better and better.”
Duren only played 12 minutes on Thursday due to a minutes restriction after being unable to practice until the trade with the New York Knicks was cleared by the league . But he’s physically gifted at 6 foot 11 and 250 pounds, can catch lobs from all angles and has the tools to be a skilled rim protector.
Cunningham is looking forward to taking advantage of the vertical spacing Duren will provide.
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“Jalen is obviously another freakish athlete, elite rim protector, elite lob threat, somebody who you can put the ball up wherever and he’ll go get it,” Cunningham said. “Makes me, (Killian Hayes), Ivey, all our guards’ jobs so much easier to have somebody like that coming in. We have (Isaiah Stewart) helping him with the ropes and showing him how to play. I think we have a good group all the way around. More than excited to play with everybody for sure.”
It’s been a busy offseason for Cunningham, who has been working to capitalize on a strong rookie season. He was named to the 2021-22 All-Rookie first team and placed third in the Rookie of the Year race after averaging 17.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.2 steals.
Following the Pistons’ trade of Jerami Grant, Cunningham is positioned to take over as Detroit’s leader next season. He was noticeably bigger during practice on Friday, and he said he’s currently 225 pounds — roughly 10 to 15 pounds heavier than his playing weight last season. He plans to maintain his weight going into next season.
“I think just the mindset is we’re all hungry to get the season started, get going together and prove ourselves in the league,” Cunningham said. “Like you said, super young core. Nobody’s going to give us anything but we’re ready to go out and prove ourselves. I think we have a lot of talent to do it.”