Subsequent to an offseason fueled by enticing roster changes, the Detroit Pistons enter the 2022-23 campaign with arguably the franchise’s most talented core in a decade. The man charged with spearheading the highly anticipated crusade is last year’s first overall draft selection Cade Cunningham.
An offseason ankle sprain hindered the early portion of Cunningham’s rookie season. However, the 21-year-old improved his play with each month of his inaugural NBA stint, concluding the year leading his rookie peers in scoring with 17.4 points, to go along with 5.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists.
Cunningham’s enhanced play to close the season caught the eye of many, with ESPN ranking Detroit’s prized sophomore as the 35th player in their annual Top 100 NBA Rankings. Placing ahead of rookie duo Scottie Barnes (39th) and Evan Mobley (36th), the respective winner and runners-up in Rookie of the Year voting.
Fresh off a healthy summer, a more chiseled Cunningham appears set to lead Detroit from Ground Zero and back to NBA relevance. Below are three goals the play-making maestro could aim for entering his second season.
Know Your Role, Cade Cunningham
Utilize added offseason muscle
Following a successful rookie showing, Cunningham spent the ensuing summer focused on adding additional bulk to his lean frame. An offseason schedule crammed with weights, food, more food and sleep resulted in the Detroit guard packing on a solid 10 pounds of muscle, with Cunningham now reportedly weighing a sturdy 228 pounds.
A primary focus for the Oklahoma product was to build muscle across the shoulders and chest regions. The added width in these areas should bode well for the crafty wing in situations where he’s double teamed, something he faced a lot as a rookie. In addition to this, the hope is Cunningham can garner a more friendly whistle, boosting his outrageously low 2.6 free throw attempts per game despite an enormous usage rate of 27.5%.
More bulk should improve his conversion rate at the rim. While the Texas-native was a frequent visitor of the painted area, he placed in the 28th percentile for finishing at the basket shooting 58%, per Cleaning the Glass.
Coach Casey also emphasized at Pistons Media Day that the offensive will feature frequent post up looks for Cunningham:
Dwane Casey said Cade Cunningham did a good job establishing deep post position during open practice today. Pistons are going to run more post-ups for Cunningham this season.
— Omari Sankofa II (@omarisankofa) October 2, 2022
As a rookie, Cunningham only partook in 19 such possessions, equating to 1.4% of his total play types per Synergy Sports. Interestingly, he shot 50% (8-of-16) when operating with his back to the basket.
Though the sample size is minute, Cunningham demonstrated a smooth post hook with either hand across various outings. In his lone season with Oklahoma State, the 6-foot-6 guard often elected to back smaller opponents down, before launching a sweet turnaround jumper.
The reintroduction of a post game slides perfectly with Cunningham’s methodical approach to the game, further adding to an already abundant shot diet.
Rediscover and enhance three point stroke
During his lone season at Oklahoma State, Cunningham shot a scintillating 40% on 5.7 attempts from distance. Naturally, many predicted the sweet shooting wing’s perimeter brilliance to translate to the pros. And while he shot an encouraging 50% (13-of-26) from beyond the arc at Summer League, Cunningham struggled to convert with any consistency from three point land.
Across 64 total outings, the 21-year-old closed his rookie stint shooting a less than desirable 31.4 % from 3-point distance. Though the raw numbers reflect an underwhelming result, between altering his release point, recovering with an ankle sprain and adjusting to an extended three-point line, there were a variety of contributing factors to Cunningham’s poor shooting.
When envisioning the peak version of Cunningham, it’s easy to visualize the cerebral ball handler taking folks off the bounce for step-back treys. However, for the sophomore version of Detroits lead ball-handler its imperative he dials-up his efficiency off the catch:
3-Point Looks by the Numbers
|3-Point Shot Type||Catch & Shoot||Ungaurded||Guarded|
|3-Point Shot Type||Catch & Shoot||Ungaurded||Guarded|
|Total||75 / 159||38 / 81||37 / 78|
With the arrival of Jaden Ivey, Cunningham should expect to find himself open on the perimeter more frequently. In the early goings of preseason, the fifth overall selection has already demonstrated a knack for collapsing a defense en route to the paint. Hence, if Cunningham can improve upon his 32.1% catch-and-shoot rate, expect his scoring figures and Detroit’s offense to receive a major boost.
While efficiency is certainly a major focus of Cunningham’s perimeter attack entering year two, it’s important he remains confident in his shot through down patches:
In his debut season, Cunningham showed he’s capable of knocking down three-point attempts in bunches, totaling 18 games in which he connected on three triples or more. He also showed his youth, shooting 19.5% on outside looks in match-ups where he hit two or less threes. Reminding fans the of inconsistencies that come with rookie prospects.
There’s plenty of reason to believe a player with Cunningham’s mental fortitude can improve upon his three point attack. Improvement to his catch and shoot looks will be the driving force in Cunningham eclipsing the 20 point per game mark and perhaps granting him an All Star berth.
Continue to build overall scoring efficiency within the arc
Throughout the first few months of his NBA career, Cunningham flashed star potential during numerous stretches, but it was after the All-Star break where the first overall selection put together his best basketball.
Returning from the league’s annual showcase, Cunningham averaged 21.6 points, shooting 45.6% from the floor. The 21-year-old made it a point of emphasis to attack at all costs, trading jump shots for forays to the basket.
Per NBA.com, in 20 games post the All-Star break, Cunningham drove to the basket 18.5 times per contest, scoring 10.7 points from such intent. A considerable improvement from his prior 43 outings, where he careened towards the paint only 12.7 times for 6.4 points.
On top of the relentless driving, Cunningham returned with a more refined mid-range jumper. The combination of a deadly 16ft pull-up jumper and steady drive game unlocked a more wily version of the Texas native, often holding the defense hostage with his manipulative qualities:
Nothing gives me more joy than watching Cade Cunningham methodically shake and bake his way downhill for a pull-up jumper, lay in or dish to a teammate.
Manipulation at its finest. pic.twitter.com/i6lsoU3UGR
— Jack Kelly (@jack_kelly_313) July 19, 2022
Considering many pegged the lead guard to struggle inside the arc, the strides Cunningham made in the back half of the season as a more diverse scorer predict to hold him in good stead for his sophomore year.
If Detroit’s franchise centre piece is able to return with a refined perimeter stroke, as well as continue to improve inside the arc, there’s every reason to believe Cunningham could be on the precipice of his first All Star selection.