Niyo: Even with changing role, Bey relishes time with Pistons: ‘I love it here’

Detroit News

Detroit — Technically speaking, Saddiq Bey already has been traded once in his young NBA career.

That’s how he ended up here, in fact, on the ground floor of Troy Weaver’s “restoration” effort in Detroit back in November 2020. Bey joined the Pistons as one of the final pieces of that byzantine, three-team trade that sent his draft rights from Brooklyn to Detroit, Luke Kennard to the Clippers, Bruce Brown to the Nets, and a bunch of future second-round picks scattered into the wind.

But now, here he is two years later, an established 23-year-old pro with 200-plus games under his belt, NBA All-Rookie honors on his resume, and a franchise record or two in his back pocket. And in the surest sign yet that Bey has made it in this league, he’s hearing his name swirling in the trade winds this week ahead of Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline.

While a move involving the 6-foot-7 forward seems unlikely — and the same may be true for Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks, assuming Weaver and the Pistons hold firm on their high asking price in the final 48 hours — he knows the rumors probably will linger right up until the deadline. New York, Miami, Washington and the Clippers are teams that have been mentioned as possible suitors for Bey in various reports over the last month or two.

“But, I just stay in my own lane,” Bey said Monday night, following the Pistons’ 111-99 loss to Boston at Little Caesars Arena. “When you try to worry about that other stuff, it can kind of cloud your mind. The only thing I can do is try to control what I can. …

“I’m excited to be here. I love it here. I would love to be here the rest of my career. But, I know that this is part of it.”

And as head coach Dwane Casey says he told his team recently, “If your name is involved, that means you’re respected around the league. Young players don’t understand that, but older players do.”

Bey, though, seems wise beyond his years, and he arrived in Detroit with a maturity that Casey has come to rely on — much like he does with some of the few veterans he can count on the Pistons’ roster.

Take Bey’s on-again, off-again role in Casey’s lineup, for example. The starting job he’d earned early in his rookie year was taken away a month into this season, as Bey struggled to find his game and Casey opted to juggle his rotation, turning to a bigger lineup in mid-November. Marvin Bagley III was in, sending Bey to the second unit, and though Bey has gone back and forth since then, Casey has been fairly transparent about the plan going forward.

As long as Bogdanovich is on this team, Bey’s probably coming off the bench. Because along with the obvious problems that frontcourt pairing causes defensively, there’s too much overlap in their games on the offensive end, “and it’s very difficult for both of them to kind of get that rhythm,” Casey says.

Besides, while this lost season without Cade Cunningham has shifted the Pistons’ focus to the future once more, that’s also where his current coach sees Bey’s future.

“I think he’s found a niche with the second unit,” Casey said Monday. “And once we’re ready to play for playoff position and championships or whatever you want to call it, I probably feel like that’s going to be his role with us. And there’s no shame to that. You gotta have a dynamic bench.”

He’s quick to add that there’s nothing stopping Bey from altering that plan or shifting that projection here. And given his work ethic, not to mention the growth he has shown already in 2½ seasons as a pro, selling Bey short seems like a bad idea. So does shipping him off to another team for future draft compensation or another unproven talent, for that matter, unless that capital can facilitate a bigger trade to land an All-Star this summer. Bey’s still a solid value here, and though he and the rest of that 2020 class — Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart — are extension-eligible this summer, Bey’s on the books for $4.5 million next season.

And in the meantime, it’s worth noting that Bey’s game has come around this winter after that painfully slow start. He shot just 27.2% from 3-point range in October and November, but 38.1% in December and 40.2% at higher volume (6.4 attempts per game) since Jan. 1. Bey is averaging 17.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and nearly 2 assists per night over that last 16-game span.

His splits as a starter and a reserve don’t look markedly different, with slightly reduced minutes (30.8 to 26.4) offset by a higher usage rate. And if he’s upset about the bench role, he’s not letting it show, on or off the court.

“I mean, I’ve played different roles my whole career, since I first started playing basketball,” he said. “And I think you’ve got to have the same mentality coming into every game. Hopefully, I play the same, no matter if I start or come off the bench. I try to just be aggressive whenever I can be, and try to be a spark.”

And though this is obviously a trying time, with the Pistons (14-41) only a half-game clear of Houston (13-41) for the NBA’s worst record, Bey insists he can still see the progress here in Detroit.

“I really do,” he said. “I see it from the rookies, and even the second- and third-year guys. We’re missing a couple pieces, and we could use that as an excuse. But, other guys are getting a chance in bigger roles and getting more experience. And when we all come together, I feel real confident about our group.”

A group he’d like to stay a part of, he adds, and help finish the job he started.

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