Las Vegas — Cade Cunningham sat courtside during the Pistons’ opener in Summer League on Thursday night. He had a front-row seat to see first-round picks Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren in their debuts, much like Cunningham did last season.
What Cunningham saw left him impressed with the rookies, but more importantly, how the pieces can all fit together when the season starts in the fall. The Pistons had the No. 5 pick, but general manager Troy Weaver made a trade to get the No. 13 pick, which ended up being Duren, a 6-foot-11 big man who opened some eyes with his strong play, including nine points in 12 minutes.
With those picks, the Pistons ended up with two of the more athletic players in the first round.
“Jalen is obviously another freakish athlete. He’s an elite rim protector and elite lob threat, somebody you can put the ball up wherever and he’ll go get it,” Cunningham said. “It makes me, Killian’s and Ivey’s — all our guards’ job — so much easier to have somebody like that coming in.
“We have (Isaiah Stewart) helping him (learning) the ropes and showing him how we play. I think we’ve got a good group all the way around. I’m more than excited to play with everybody.”
Cunningham and Bey aren’t playing in the Summer League games, but they’re able to practice with the rest of the team, hoping to develop some chemistry before the season starts.
So far, so good.
Duren was just able to begin practicing, as the draft-night trade was completed on Wednesday, but the more work they get, the better it’ll be in establishing some connections between the players on and off the court. Cunningham will take on a bigger leadership role next season, especially after the trade that sent veteran Jerami Grant to Portland.
That’ll put more onus on the young core to jell quickly.
“I think just the mindset is just we’re all hungry, to get the season started, get going together and prove ourselves in the league,” Cunningham said. “We’re a super-young core, so nobody’s going to give us anything, but we’re ready to go and prove ourselves, and I think we’ve got a lot of talent to do it.”
Cunningham is doing his part, working on his fitness and nutrition to help him get in better shape for the long season. He said he’s been in the weight room during the offseason and he’s added some muscle and he now weighs 225 pounds, a level he wants to keep throughout this season. That added bulk will help him absorb contact and be able to stay healthy with everything that goes into the season.
“Just being consistent in the weight room is what really helped me keep that weight on and help it stick,” he said. “I’m like 225; I had some 230 (days). My weight fluctuates a lot, but 225 is pretty consistent now. “I’d love to be consistent at 225.
“I definitely wouldn’t get any lower than like 220. Through 82 games, it’s a lot of moving around. My weight goes up and down a lot. That’s 10 or 15 pounds (more). I probably played a lot of the season around 210 or 215.”
Cunningham said his work in the offseason has been focused on taking care of the ball and reducing his turnovers. More than that, though, he just wants to control things around him and not be so caught up in contact and traffic in the paint.
Although he’s a bit more methodical in how he does things, Cunningham admired Ivey’s speed and athleticism. Seeing it up close and first-hand gave a glimpse to the pairing they could become in the years to come.
“I mean, he’s fast — I’m not fast. Having somebody like that with me spreads the floor out a lot. It can help us push the pace,” Cunningham said. “I like to kick ahead to 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.”
Pistons vs. Wizards
Tipoff: 6 Saturday, Thomas & Mack Arena, Las Vegas
Outlook: The Pistons (1-0) return to Summer League action after an 81-78 victory over Portland on Thursday night. Jaden Ivey had 20 points, six rebounds and six assists in his debut.