Cade Cunningham is back, so how will Detroit Pistons’ other guards fit in with him?

Detroit Free Press
Anthony L. Schulte |  Detroit Free Press

Last season, the Detroit Pistons‘ season was largely derailed with Cade Cunningham’s season-ending shin surgery.

But Cunningham has reportedly fully recovered, and the third-year guard will play for the USA Select Team in Vegas next month. Clips have emerged on social media of Cunningham playing with other pros this summer.

What does the return of Cunningham, the Pistons’ lead guard, from injury mean for the logjam in the backcourt on the roster?

There is a nice mix of veterans with Monte Morris and Alec Burks, and youngsters Jaden Ivey, Killian Hayes and Marcus Sasser.

Both Burks and Morris provide savvy and experience. Burks shot 41.4% from beyond the 3-point line last season, averaging 12.8 points per game. His role off the bench won’t change.

Morris was acquired this offseason in a trade with the Washington Wizards. The Flint native averaged 10.3 points along with 5.3 assists last season. Morris will fit nicely as the backup to Cunningham.

But how can the young guards adjust to Cunningham being back in the lineup?

Jaden Ivey

2022-23 averages: 74 games, 31.1 minutes, 16.2 points, 5.2 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 41.6% overall, 34.3% from 3

Ivey provides an explosive punch to the starting lineup. When Cunningham opted for surgery last season, the then-rookie out of Purdue became the de facto top playmaker, and he showed flashes with his quick first step.

His spark and energy next to the calm and collected Cunningham could work gracefully.

With Cunningham back, Ivey could see more of a score-first role, opening more opportunities for basket cuts and open jumpers.

“Our guys work,” Pistons head coach Monty Williams said during a Bally Sports Detroit interview in June after his introductory news conference. “Jaden may as well have his mail sent here … Cade is a guy that is in the gym a ton.”

Cunningham and Ivey will likely start games together, but there will be times where Ivey and Morris take on ball-handling responsibilities.

Killian Hayes

2022-23 averages: 76 games, 28.3 minutes, 10.3 points, 6.2 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 37.7% overall, 28% from 3

Hayes, 22, is entering his fourth season, and has struggled with his shooting. But he has also shown glimpses of potential, especially when was Cunningham out last season.

The first first-round pick of the Troy Weaver regime remains a defensive nuisance. He was the Pistons’ main playmaker off the bench at times last season.

December, when Cunningham began his long stretch out, may have been Hayes’ best month last season, as he averaged 12.1 points and 6.6 assists while shooting 42.2% overall and 33.9% from 3. That stretch included a 25-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound performance in a win at Charlotte — in which Hayes made five 3-pointers — and a 22-point, eight-assist performance in a win over Dallas at Little Caesars Arena. That game included a pair of 3s in overtime to seal the win.

After an impressive December, Hayes cooled off, averaging 11.5 points on 37.4% overall shooting and 24.7% 3-point shooting for the rest of the season.

The left-hander struggles driving right and ranks at or near the bottom of virtually every shooting statistic and metric. With the additions of Morris and Sasser, plus a healthy Cunningham, Hayes could see a lessened role.

Although a change of scenery could be beneficial for Hayes, and a trade is possible, he is still a young playmaker with size, defense, and potential.

The Pistons called the Mavericks to gauge their interest in trading for Hayes, according to longtime NBA reporter Marc Stein. Talks were ignited by the Pistons’ determination to unclog their guard spot, but the talks gained “little traction,” according to the report.

Marcus Sasser

2022-23 college averages: 36 games, 16.8 points, 3.1 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 43.8% overall, 38.4% from 3

Playing alongside lottery pick Jarace Walker at Houston, Sasser impressed as a senior for one of the best teams in nation last season. His skill set made him a top priority for Weaver near the end of the first round. Weaver traded the 31st overall pick in the draft and a conditional second-round pick to Boston for the 25th pick and selected Sasser.

“He’s steady and brings it every game,” Weaver said during his post-draft news conference. “You never have to worry about where he is going to be or what he is going to do. He’s rock solid. We wanted to add this stabilizing player and personality to the restoration.”

The rookie out of Houston scored 40 points in a win against the Pacers in the Summer League finale, hitting nearly two-thirds of his shots from the field.

With Burks likely ahead of him going into training camp, the Pistons may decide to give the 6-foot-2 Sasser a chance to develop in the G League throughout this upcoming season. But no Pistons first-round pick has played a game for the Motor City Cruise. An injury would create more available minutes for the rookie.

Sasser, one of the better perimeter defenders in college last season, is also a solid all-around scorer who would benefit playing next to Cunningham, a 6-6 playmaker.

Anthony L. Schulte, a recent graduate of Lake Orion High School, is a 2023 Free Press summer apprentice.

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