Jaden Ivey’s Pistons All-Star weekend highlighted by chats with Dwyane Wade, Allen Iverson

Detroit Free Press

ORLANDO — For fans, NBA All-Star weekend is a showcase of the league’s top talents, both young and old. Jaden Ivey represented the Detroit Pistons in the Rising Stars game Friday night, his first time since college playing on a national stage.

Ivey relished the spotlight, and scored seven points over two games to help Team Pau win the Rising Stars event. He also participated in the Skills Challenge on Saturday night alongside fellow rookies Paolo Banchero and Jabari Smith Jr.

But the biggest highlight of Ivey’s weekend in Salt Lake City happened behind the scenes, away from fans and onlookers watching on TV.

“Being able to see legends, man,” Ivey told the Free Press after shootaround Thursday. “Being able to be around greatness. Really just another opportunity for me for people to recognize my game and being able to showcase my talent.”

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All-Star weekend is a star-studded event, with former players and celebrities taking part in the festivities. It gave Ivey a chance to chat with two of the greatest to ever play the game — two players Ivey shares similar qualities with: Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson. What were those conversations like?

“Just talking about my game,” Ivey said. “Just talking about the game of basketball in general. I was asking them questions about things I can improve on. That open conversation, that open dialogue we had, it was fun being able to meet people like that.

“They set the bar for just basketball players, for a lot of us wanting to be like them. Being able to talk with them and them respecting my game was definitely a blessing.”

It sets the table for a strong finish to the season for Ivey, 21, who has been among the NBA’s best rookies this season. The fifth overall pick is averaging 15.2 points, 4.6 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game. He’s third among rookies in points per game and leads rookies in assists, manning a starting role for the Pistons.

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Cade Cunningham’s shin injury in November has led to Ivey manning a bigger role than expected. He was a Day 1 starter, but has had to take on significantly more playmaking responsibilities. It has been an up and down season. He shot 40% overall and 30.5% from 3 in November, and 40% overall and 31% from 3 in December. He, like all rookies, went through the usual trials of adjusting to the NBA, all while managing a big workload. But he’s currently playing his best basketball.

Ivey has improved as the season has progressed, and February has been his best month. Through seven games, he’s averaging 16.1 points and 5.4 assists while shooting 45.7% overall and 41.9% from 3 — big improvements over his season-long marks of 42% and 33.2%, respectively.

He has improved significantly as a playmaker, and has turned the ball over 17 times in February. It’s the first month of his career he’s averaging more than two assists for every turnover. The coaching staff has placed more trust into him, and he was the defacto starting point guard for six games from Jan. 26 until Feb. 6 when Killian Hayes was replaced in the starting five with sharpshooter Alec Burks.

In a loss against the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 12, Ivey led the Pistons with seven assists and only turned the ball over twice in a game where the Pistons committed 16. In a win over the Charlotte Hornets on Feb. 3, he had seven assists with one turnover. Couple his strides running the offense with his overall improved efficiency — he’s shooting 44.9% overall and 36.8% from 3 in 18 games since Jan. 6 — and Ivey could be positioning himself for a late-season surge.

“I think the Rising Stars is a good step for them to go feel it, smell it, taste what that situation is about and make them hungry to come back the remaining 23 games, next summer and build on that,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said after practice Wednesday. “That should make them hungry.”

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Similar to Wade and Iverson, Ivey is a speedy athlete who likes to get downhill and at his best when the ball is in his hands. He has many more strides to make to get to their tier, of course. Wade is one of the NBA’s all-time great finishers and defenders, and Iverson’s slick handle inspired many.

Ivey is eager to show he’ll eventually become a star in his own right. Perhaps Wade and Iverson gave him a few tricks.

“It was a fun weekend in general just being able to play with great players and knowing that I’m going to be playing against them for years to come,” Ivey said. “Being able to see a different side of it, being in an All-Star environment. Hopefully a couple of years down the line I’ll be able to play in an All-Star game. That’s the main goal. Being able to see that atmosphere was cool.”

Catch our podcast “The Pistons Pulse” every Tuesday morning at 5 and on demand on freep.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. This week’s episode is embedded above. See all of our podcasts and daily voice briefings at freep.com/podcasts.

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