Detroit — Cade Cunningham is evolving into one of the most-effective shooters from the mid-range, which has become the forgotten area of the floor in the modern era of the NBA.
It’s only the second year of Cunningham’s career, but he’s managed to use the pick-and-roll to get to his sweet spots more often than not. The former No. 1 overall pick is scoring 23.6% of his points from the mid-range, which is second in the league behind Chicago Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan, who played for Pistons coach Dwane Casey in Toronto.
“He’s already elite (at the mid-range). Knock on wood, keeping up the numbers he has now,” Casey said. “He reminds me a lot of DeRozan at the same stage, so there’s no reason why he can’t be elite at shooting a high percentage in the mid-range.”
Cunningham has already exceeded his rookie year numbers of 17.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists with averages of 21.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 6.4 assists through the first nine games of this season.
The location percentage of Cunningham’s two-pointers has increased as well, with 76% of his field-goal attempts being two-pointers, up from last season’s 65%. He’s converting on 49% of those attempts, including 46% between 3 and 10 feet, 40% from 10-16 feet and 51% from 16 feet to the 3-point line.
As Cunningham continues to control the Pistons’ offense through the mid-range, defenses are bound to trap and double-team to get the ball out of his hands, similar to how Milwaukee limited him on Wednesday to a season-low 10 points on 5-of-13 from the field.
Casey says Cunningham worked on attacking pressure from that area during the offseason, so he’s expecting that Cunningham will be able to adjust when the opportunities are available.
“A lot of teams are influencing the mid-range shot right now, unless you’re shooting it at a high clip,” Casey said. “It’s tough to stop it, but that’s a team’s philosophy: giving the mid-range to take away the rim and take away the 3. One way they can take it out is double-teaming and blitzing (Cunningham). Hopefully, he’s prepared for that. It’s a part of his game he’s worked on this summer, is attacking blitzes and pressure.”
Casey said he hasn’t altered his shot chart based on Cunningham’s excelling in the mid-range game, and he clarified that there is a specific number of mid-range attempts that Cunningham can take. However, the veteran coach did not disclose that number.
“We have a number and we have not exceeded that number, so as long as he’s shooting them and taking them and not going over the number, we’re good,” Casey said. “That’s the misconception of the shot chart. There’s a number of mid-range (shots) you can take, but the efficiency level goes down once you get above a certain number.”
When Cunningham exploded for a career-high 35 points, nine rebounds and eight assists against the Atlanta Hawks last month, most of his damage was done in the first quarter due to a barrage of shots from the mid-range. He compiled a combination of dribble pull-up jumpers or created space for himself with the pick-and-roll with Isaiah Stewart.
Cunningham is aware that defenses are looking to limit his offensive production as much as possible, but he’s also going to continue to look for the best opportunities to score. Luckily for the Pistons, they won’t see Milwaukee’s defense again until late January. By then, Cunningham will have experienced a variety of defenses that are looking to take the ball out of his hands.
“I feel like just being aggressive throughout has really helped me,” Cunningham said, “and my teammates, as far as opening up my reads a little more and opening up my offense as well. I think it’s a balance of just being aggressive and taking whatever they give me and not trying to force the issue. I feel like my aggression opens things up for us.”