Find Buddy: Boeheim’s heroics are a product of his development in Detroit

Detroit Bad Boys

Tie game with less than one second remaining. The Motor City Cruise are set to inbound the ball on their end of the floor. Their best plan to end the game in regulation is simple: find Buddy.

Tosan Evbuomwan inbounds the ball after he sees Buddy Boeheim run off of a screen, who creates an inch of room for himself to get one last 3-point shot up during regulation. Off the catch, Boeheim shifts his body to align with the hoop and pushes the ball up with one arm toward the general area of the rim.

It floats through the net, he sprints toward the opposite baseline with a wide smile, shocked as anyone that the ball went in. His teammates swarmed, they jumped up and down to celebrate a miraculous 119-116 victory over the Westchester Knicks. A big win as the Cruise hunt for a spot in the NBA G League playoffs.

In the end, the Cruise did what they intended. They found Buddy.

“It’s the ultimate luxury,” Jared Rhoden, Motor City’s leading scorer, said when asked about playing alongside Boeheim. “We have a play that’s literally called ‘find Buddy’ where we try to get him shots. It’s such a luxury, it’s a pleasure to play with somebody that can shoot the ball like that. Takes so much pressure off of me as a scorer, as someone looking to get people going and get myself going too. He does a great job of alleviating that.”

His season isn’t defined by Sunday’s shining moment, though.

Boeheim has made 87 total 3-pointers so far through the G League’s regular season schedule, which is second in the entire league behind only Antoine Davis. He’s draining threes efficiently, at a 44.6% clip on 7.8 attempts per game.

He averages 15.8 points, while also contributing 3.9 rebounds and two assists per game. He focused on getting stronger this year, allowing him to score in different ways at the professional level.

As a shooter, he has worked to get his shot off quicker and increase his range from deep. That’s a product of focusing on every rep, he says. Going at game speed, moving with and without the ball and holding his follow through on every shot. No matter when and where he gets each shot up.

“I think it’s easy to get a little lackadaisical or go through the motions per se on some off days or game day shots because you think you’re going to make them in the game,” Boeheim said. “But you have to focus on every rep you take and that’s really been a huge focus for me. It gets repetitive, but you have to be obsessed with it and focus on every shot you take every day.”

It’s easy to focus on what he does as a shooter. He makes putting the ball through the hoop look effortless. But his development with the Cruise has centered on improving in other areas, mainly on the opposite side of the floor.

Throughout Detroit’s organization, both at the NBA and G League level, defense is a priority. Boeheim has made noticeable strides as a defender this season to evolve his game.

“It’s something I took the most pride in this offseason,” Boeheim said of his defensive play. “Not being a liability for our team, not hurting our team on defense, getting called in pick-and-rolls. I think I really pride myself on that this year and I’ve really improved in that.”

He credits offseason and practice reps, lateral movement drills, lifting and film for that improvement. He focused on footwork, making sure he doesn’t hop as much into players he’s guarding while moving his feet better.

“Doing whatever I can to help us on defense,” He continued. “I think that’s honestly where I’ve made the most growth, as much as anything.”

Working on rounding out his game recently paid off, signing a two-way contract with the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 23. He played on a two-way last season, which was his first as a professional.

This past offseason, he signed an Exhibit 10 deal to compete in the team’s training camp. He spent time in Detroit over the summer to train and played with the Pistons’ Summer League team before his season ultimately started with the Cruise.

Going from a two-way spot one year to not having that security the next is difficult for anyone. But Boeheim focused on his craft, finding ways to get better and work his way up the NBA ladder. He knew that was going to be a process.

After shining in the G League, a couple other teams were interested in his services. Any team could have signed him to an NBA contract off of the Cruise’s roster. But an opportunity opened in Detroit. For Boeheim, it made sense and rewarded the work he put in within the organization’s walls.

“I wanted to stay in Detroit, I love it here,” He said. “After being on a two-way last year, then being in the G League this year, I was fighting and having a good year. Just facing adversity and proving a lot, knowing I had to get better. I feel like I put myself in a good spot the last couple of months taking advantage of my time.

“I signed (the two-way deal) the second day I got back after All-Star break. It was a pretty awesome and proud moment for me.”

Since signing the new contract, he has continued to serve as a primary option for the Cruise. He continues to shoot at a high rate and works to impact the game in more ways than that.

As one of the few players on the Cruise who has been around for more than just this season, he’s a constant, veteran-like presence for the group. The consistency of working in the same facilities and having relationships with the coaching staff helps his individual development.

But it also helps his teammates, especially through the ever-changing nature of life in the G League. Players can receive NBA call-ups or become a part of roster adjustments that quickly shift a group’s personnel.

Nate Knight, who was acquired by the Cruise earlier this season, has waited his whole life to play with Boeheim. Both are from Syracuse, New York, but they haven’t had the chance to play together until this year in the Motor City.

Knight mentioned that Boeheim welcomed him to the team with open arms and helped instill confidence to have a strong season himself, including shooting the 3-ball at a high rate. He also appreciates having the ability to get the ball to a guy like Boeheim who can knock down a shot from anywhere.

“We’re very like basketball minds,” Knight said. “One part of my game I’ve really locked in on is being that guy who can help players get open, help players get into their shots. That’s one of the things that I genuinely enjoy doing.

“Buddy’s one of those guys where if he catches it and he has airspace, he’s going to shoot it. Being able to work with a guy like that and kind of have that Bam (Adebayo) and Duncan Robinson connection has been really fun.”

Boeheim is showing no signs of slowing down for the Cruise, especially after his game-winning heroics on Sunday. He’ll continue to focus on every rep and score at will. Fresh off of signing the two-way contract, he has a chance to compete at the NBA level this season. That gives him the ability to show off the improvements to his game which he prides himself on.

On the court, he’ll hunt for the right shot while his teammates help him do the same.

Sooner or later, they’ll find Buddy.

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