No, the Detroit Pistons aren’t all that good this year. Yes, they’ll likely finish with one of the worst records in the NBA, again. You don’t need to convince Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant about the long-term potential of the Pistons, though.
Durant and the Nets found that out on their own, as Cade Cunningham and Detroit went toe-to-toe with Brooklyn (a squad that could win the Eastern Conference) in a 130-123 loss that was much closer than the final score indicated.
After the game, Durant gave props where they were due. He can see what the Pistons are building.
Cade Cunningham and the Detroit Pistons showed their potentail against Brooklyn
It has been easy to disrespect the Pistons as of late. The “Bad Boys” era seems like forever ago, and the “Going to Work” team that brought Detroit its 2004 NBA Championship are now elder statesmans in the NBA.
It has been a while since the Pistons have had sustained succeess, but hope arrived in the form of the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft, and that netted Detroit its guy in Cunningham.
He hasn’t been perfect (which rookie is?) but Cunningham has been the face of the franchise both on and off the court. He’s also proven to be not just one of the best rookies in the NBA over the last few weeks, but one of the best overall players.
Cunningham has averaged 22.5 points, 7.1 assists, and 6.2 rebounds per game since the calendar hit March, and his game against the Nets was the high point.
He missed much of the second quarter due to a lower back injury, but Cunningham roared back in the second half to score 29 of his 34 points. At one point in the fourth quarter, for every big shot that Durant took to try to ice the game for Brooklyn, Cunningham would respond with an equally as impressive play with Durant guarding him.
It was likely the magnum opus of Cunningham’s rookie season and it was his statement to the league that even though he had a slow start to the season, he should be the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.
Kevin Durant gives props to Cunningham and the Pistons
Though Cleveland’s Evan Mobley and Toronto’s Scottie Barnes both have legitimate cases to make as well, neither has appeared to be an equal of players like Durant and Kyrie Irving to this point in their young careers.
Cunningham, though? He belonged amongst the superstars, and it was clear that he had earned their respect after the game. Both Durant and Irving took time to seek out the rookie and give him some props on the court.
“They told me, ‘Stay healthy. Keep working.’… It’s all love and respect at the end of the game,” Cunningham said of the interactions, according to the Detroit News.
Durant took it even further in the postgame. He was asked about Detroit’s core of young players moving forward and gushed about what the team could be.
“When you’ve got a 6-foot-7 point guard, I mean s***, that’s a good start….somebody who can wreck a whole defensive game plan with his size, his talent, his skill…. so that’s a great start,” he said of Cunningham (h/t Pistons Powered}. “Then you go down the line and see Saddiq Bey, Marvin Bagley, Jerami Grant and Isaiah Stewart, I mean, they have length and toughness down the line, and a coaching staff that’s going to get the best out of their players, I could see this team being something, a force to be reckoned with in the future.”
Detroit could be building something special
As the No. 1 overall pick and one of the best young players in the game, Cunningham is going to get much of the attention surrounding the Pistons, and that’s both earned and deserved.
Considering that, it’s almost easy to forget that Detroit has two second-year players in Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, who made the All-Rookie team last season.
Bey recently put up a 51-point performance against the Orlando Magic and is averaging 16.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game for Detroit.
Stewart is still raw, but he’s one of the toughest big men in the league and is averaging a near double-double with 8.4 points and 8.7 rebounds a game. If he continues to develop his three-point shot, look out because his potential as a scorer is sky-high. Stewart went 2-of-3 from downtown against the Nets.
That’s not even mentioning Marvin Bagley III, the former No. 2 overall pick who has seemingly found a home in Detroit and has rejuvenated his potential. There’s also Detroit’s No. 7 pick from last year, Killian Hayes.
Hayes isn’t the dynamic scorer that the Pistons hoped he would be, just yet but he’s a 6-foot-5 point guard who plays great defense and is arguably the best passer and play-maker on the team. He’s also starting to show signs of offensive growth and aggressiveness, and keep in mind; he’s only 20-years-old.
It’s a young but exciting core, and it will get even more young and exciting when Detroit adds a likely top-five pick in the upcoming 2022 NBA Draft.
So yes, the Pistons are building something. They finally have their franchise superstar in Cunningham, and who knows, they may even be able to add another one in this year’s draft.
With a young core, some draft capital, and money to spend, Durant is right: The Pistons could be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
Hop aboard, the hype train is leaving the station.
Stats courtesy of ESPN.