It took 5 minutes to show Detroit Pistons that Jaden Ivey has the makings of a star

Detroit Free Press

LAS VEGAS — Let’s get the caveat out of the way: this is Summer League. And what happens in Summer League often stays in Summer League.

And yet?

What Jaden Ivey showed the first five minutes of play Saturday afternoon at the Thomas and Mack Center will travel to the fall and winter and, eventually, the Pistons hope, the spring.

Not without bumps, of course. Not without 1-for-8 nights and five-turnover nights and late-game benchings to clear his mind. But, oh, that speed. And, oh, that burst. And, oh, that vision.

Wait, vision?

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Yeah, vision. Something he didn’t shown much of at Purdue, where he operated on a smaller court with a 7-foot-4 teammate in a system that favored simple dump-in passes. Something he’s shown in the two games here in the desert.

Early in the first quarter Saturday, against the Washington Wizards, Ivey took an outlet pass from Isaiah Stewart, took a slow dribble up the court while surveying the scene, saw a defense in semi-transition, hit the gas, ripped up the seam and whipped a one-handed, right-handed pass off the dribble through traffic to a cutting Braxton Key for a dunk.

It was just that fast. It was just that electric.

Already, he’d scored eight points in the opening four minutes: two free throws after drawing a foul attacking the rim, a step-back 3-pointer and an and-1 on a driving layup. By the time he shot up the court and assisted Key on the dunk, he’d put the building on notice.

Every time he touched the ball the crowd murmured. It ooohed when he raced up the court and ahhhed when he leapt toward the rim.

On the Pistons’ next possession after the assist to Key, he shot a 3 and landed on Isaiah Todd’s foot, rolling his ankle. The refs called a shooting foul. The crowd groaned. Ivey limped to the announcer’s table and slammed his palm on it.

From there, he hobbled toward the Pistons bench and told Summer League coach Jordan Brink, he wanted to shoot the three free throws. He made them and limped into the tunnel with a team trainer. His night was finished.

But not before he’d shown the makings of a star. It took five minutes and eight seconds.

Will he become that star?

That’s up to Ivey. And good health. And serendipity. And the Pistons’ coaching and developmental staffs.

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For example, the off-the-dribble pass to Key was risky. It also created a dunk. Finding the sweet spot between creativity and structure will be his charge. Along with the coaching staff’s.

Think of it this way: Steph Curry would’ve eventually found some form of greatness no matter his path as long as he found health. But what if he’d had a coach who benched him for taking 25-footers off the dribble early in the shot clock? Would that have slowed his progress? Or changed it altogether?

After all, the essence of his greatness challenged basketball orthodoxy about what a good shot was. Just like Steve Nash redefined what a good pass was, slipping one-handed, off-hand bounce passes between defenders on pick-and-rolls.

For the love of air-conditioning in 113-degree heat, I’m not saying Ivey is Curry or Nash. I’m not saying he’s a generational talent.

I am saying his combination of gifts are rare, even by NBA standards, and if he’d shown more shooting and shot creation at Purdue, he’d have been the No. 1 overall pick.

That’s the baseline the Pistons are working with. If he shoots, especially off the dribble, he’ll be a superstar. If he doesn’t, he still has enough to become a star.

The assist to Key was Exhibit A, set up by his otherworldly burst. And while his vision was impressive — and the pass itself was on target through a thicket of defenders — plenty of NBA players can physically execute that pass, and plenty more can see the opening to make it.

Only a handful can create the opening by jet-rushing up the court. That’s the devilish ingredient. That’s why the crowd sagged when he rolled his ankle. It sensed a memorable performance was coming.

Now, that burst can work against Ivey, too. It did a handful of times in his first game, where he sprinted so fast, he almost outran his body, couldn’t slow down, and tumbled to the floor.

“It’s tough,” Brink said. “You don’t want to limit someone’s creativity and what makes them special as a player, but you also want to emphasize the fundamentals and playing off two feet, two-to-one passing, all that is important. But when you’re playing at that pace, a lot of times your instincts take over and that’s what makes Jaden special.”

Ivey will have to learn how to feel his body more acutely with NBA spacing. That will come. He looked more in balance Saturday, and more relaxed.

Again, it’s Summer League. His dominance for those first five minutes came against the Wizards, not the Celtics or the Warriors.

Yet speed and electricity are speed and electricity. This wasn’t a hot bat teeing off on minor-league level pitching in spring training.

This was a bolt of light illuminating the NBA’s summer stage, delivering gifts that will translate to the NBA’s regular-season stage.

It’s only up to him.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.     

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