Dissecting Saddiq Bey’s shooting struggles

Detroit Bad Boys

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly has ailed Saddiq Bey this season.

This, after all, is the same guy who scored 51 points against the Orlando Magic last season. It’s not as if the Detroit Pistons forward forgot how to shoot as the first quarter of the NBA season wraps up. Bey has been bad more often than not this season, both his scoring and 3-point numbers down.

His struggles are amplified by the Pistons’ collective malaise — they’re losing games and playing without their do-it-all sophomore, Cade Cunningham. It’s easier to preach patience with Bey when the Pistons are winning. Success makes everything easier to swallow.

But sitting at the bottom of the standings at 7-21, Detroit needs a better Bey.

There’s a legitimate argument that Bey is one of the best 3-point shooters in team history.

So, how is that guy shooting just 29% from downtown this season?

Some would argue that his struggles aren’t all that surprising. Bey’s 3-point shooting has gotten progressively worse since his breakout rookie season when he hit 38% from deep and had a shot at Damian Lillard’s all-time rookie record for makes had COVID not shaved 10 games off the schedule.

But I don’t think it’s that simple.

Memphis Grizzlies v Detroit Pistons

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Bey is still a knockdown shooter from the corners, hitting 39%. That makes sense because he’s always been an outstanding corner 3-point shooter, sitting at 40% for his career.

Even the volume has been good as 29% of his attempts have come from the corners.

The problems are above the break.

Bey is shooting just 22% on above-the-break triples — basically, any 3-pointer that isn’t in the corners — after hitting 34% of them last season and 36% as a rookie. That really limits what Bey can offer as a shooter.

He’s good at the corner stuff, but too good (and the Pistons too bad) to be stuck there.

Another issue is the type of shots Bey is taking.

Nearly a third of his threes are of the catch-and-shoot variety, and he’s hitting 34% on catch-and-shoot triples this season — right around the 35% league average. He’s only making 17% of his pull-up threes, which is clear a sign that those shouldn’t represent 17% of his shots.

He also just isn’t shooting well when he’s open.

Bey’s mark on wide-open threes (no defenders within six feet) is pretty good at 37%, while his 18% mark on threes when a defender is within 4-6 feet is purely bad luck.

It hasn’t all been bad for Saddiq.

He’s worked hard to expand his game inside the arc, working to become a more well-rounded threat offensively. Thus far this season, he’s shown great improvement.

Nearly 42% of his shots are coming from two-point range — 37% of them from within the paint, a big jump from the 25% mark we saw in his first two seasons.

Most of those shots are right around the rim, where he’s hitting 68% which is very good, even his 45% mark from the awkward 3-10 foot range is good when you consider guys like LeBron James and Paul George hover around 38-42% from that area.

Now, it’s a bit of a chicken or the egg situation here.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Detroit Pistons

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Is Bey trying to score more inside the arc because he feels it’s an improved part of his game… or he is going elsewhere because his 3-point shot is coming up empty?

It’s probably a bit of both, but with a heavy lean toward the latter.

Bey has hit 3+ threes in five games this season — most recently in Wednesday’s loss to the Pelicans in New Orleans — and when he’s hitting threes, he’s putting more of them up. His attempts make up 55% of his total shots when he’s seeing those shots drop.

When those triples aren’t falling, that number drops sharply to 43% of his total attempts.

The easiest place to break down the defense and get to the rim is from the top of the key and above the break. I think Bey is thinking threes-first when he gets the ball in those spots above the break, but as the bricks pile up, he’s taking it off the bounce.

And that’s been a smart decision now that he’s scoring so well inside the arc.

I’m not sure there really is a singular thing you can point to with Bey’s struggles… other than the cop out of, “he’s missing shots he normally makes.”

Bey started slowly last season and rebounded nicely. Then, his insistence on flashing his off-the-dribble/inside game, which annoyed many fans (myself included, nicknaming him Saddiq Bryant) was nowhere near as effective then as it is now.

These days, he’s doing more than jab stepping and shooting. With 64% of his two-point makes unassisted, he’s shown he can be an iso-scorer that you can rely on for stretches. He no longer is reliant on being spoon fed buckets as he was as a rookie — though Killian Hayes’ improvement as a creator can only help Bey.

Really, he’s making it happen on his own, and he’s holding it down inside the arc by using his size to navigate tight windows in the paint. The jump shot just needs to fall now.

From Jan. 1, 2022 on, Bey hit 36% from 3-point range after an frigid start to the year. If he can get back to that level of 3-point shooting with his improved inside-the-arc scoring, he’s going to make this team better.

It’s possible, maybe even likely, that Bey is, in fact, an improved scorer this season compared to last. There was a learning curve with Cade out. There was another when it came to sharing the floor (and ball) with a similar player in Bojan Bogdanovic.

It’s been a year of adjustment for Bey. He’s shown offensive improvement. He’s accepted different roles. Now, he just needs some positive regression.

It’s been an up-and-down start, but I think we’ve yet to see the best of Saddiq Bey this season. Hopefully 2023 has better things in store for him.

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