Over the course of the past few seasons, the Detroit Pistons have rolled out one of the most uninspired wing rotations in the NBA. Whether they be undersized, like Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown, Reggie Bullock, and Wayne Ellington (who were often asked to play out of position), under-skilled like Glenn Robinson III and Stanley Johnson, or just some guys who maxed out at “hey, maybe they can hold their own” like James Ennis and Tony Snell.
Troy Weaver refused to allow that trend to continue. In one of his first, and perhaps most polarizing moves as general manager, he traded away Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown (and four second-round picks) in a three-team trade that netted the rights to the 19th overall pick in the 2020 draft that turned into Saddiq Bey (as well as the now-waived Dzanan Musa, Rodney McGruder and a bad second-round pick).
Bey had come off an excellent sophomore season at Villanova, so excellent, in fact, that it netted him the 2019-20 Julius Erving Award (the nation’s top Small Forward in college hoops), in case you haven’t already heard that fun fact from the GOAT George Blaha. Last season at Nova, Bey put up an impressive stat-line, having averaged 16.1 points, 4.7 boards and 2.5 assists in 34 minutes per game.
But it wasn’t simply his production that made him a first-round pick in the draft, it was his combination of size and shooting. Bey is listed at 6-foot-8 and 216 pounds with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, and showed an ability to competently guard one through five at the college level. He also shot the lights out in both his freshman and sophomore seasons — good enough for 42% from three on 4.6 attempts per game during his college career. He’s tailor-made for the 3 and D role in the NBA off the jump.
Bey will enter this season coming off the bench, playing behind Jerami Grant at the three, and possibly Blake Griffin at the four, if Detroit elects for a small-ball lineup. You may also see him check-in in relief of Svi Mykhailiuk, since Bey’s role will most likely mirror Mykhailiuk on the offensive side of the floor.
Now Mykhailiuk is a proven sharpshooter in the league, but a primary reason Bey was drafted because of the elite-level shooting he displayed while at Villanova - he ranked in the 98th percentile in both spot-up shooting and in catch-and-shoot opportunities last season. Expect Detroit to put Bey in similar situations as a three-point threat.
Here’s a snippet of some of the spot-up looks Bey had throughout the preseason so far.
While the Pistons have primarily used Bey in spot-up situations, they’ll likely use him in the catch-and-shoot as well. He’s an intelligent player who navigates screens effectively, and his shooting form, although unique, is rock solid and should remain consistent off motion.
He may also see a good percentage of his shots at the rim, both off cuts and in transition. He was an effective cutter in college, and was strong enough to finish through contact in a clogged paint, but it wasn’t a staple of his game. One would hope with Killian Hayes at helm, that he’ll be able to find Bey in favorable situations towards the basket. Hayes will also look to advance the ball quickly and Bey is more than capable at finishing above the rim in the fast-break.
Bey won’t be tasked with handling the ball all that often. One of his biggest knocks entering the draft was his slow first step, and inability to create separation off the dribble. Those issues would only be magnified at the NBA level. Should he continue to improve throughout the season, his role may expand, but entering this season expect the majority of his looks to be off the ball.
Defensive versatility - it’s the name of the game for modern wings in the NBA, and Bey has that in strides. He didn’t post gaudy counting stats last season, as he averaged just 0.8 steals and 0.4 blocks per game. But he was able to guard opposing point guards down to the center spot, and was regularly asked to do so by head coach Jay Wright last season.
Wright has touted Bey for his basketball acumen, having stated:
That on-court intelligence, coupled with his physical tools could allow him to see significant minutes in his rookie season under Dwane Casey - a coach that values defensive effort first and foremost. Bey physically matches up with some of the best wings in the game, again - he’s 6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-11 wing span and is a couple cheat meals away from being 220lbs.
Detroit already has a dynamite defensive wing in Jerami Grant, which should make for an improved defensive unit - Detroit ranked 22nd in overall defense last season. You’re now in position to have a more switch-friendly defense when you trot out a few multi-positional defensive wings and a 6-foot-5 point guard in Killian Hayes. Long gone are the days that a combo guard will have to match up against the LeBron James and Kawhi Leonards of the world.
Area for development
If Bey could become more of a threat off the dribble, that’d open up a myriad of possibilities for him on the offensive side of the floor. He’ll need to work on his handle and that should be a primary focus for him this season, behind closed doors.
^^^ That up there ^^^
More of that is a goal for a later date.
Casey won’t be putting Bey in isolation sets, nor should he at this point, but if he is able to become a capable ball-handler, he may be able to utilize his size and strength to get to the cup and draw contact. Bey only shot 2.3 free throw attempts per game last season, he’s a competent shooter from the stripe (73% in college), but the hard part is getting to the line. If he wasn’t very successful in the Big East, he won’t miraculously figure it out in the league - this will take time.
One thing you may see from Bey this season is simple one-two dribble moves from beyond the arc to create separation - either in DHO sets or in spot-up situations. The Pistons got some bigs to play with, might as well use that size to your advantage and open up looks for your shooters. Bey should thrive in that role.
Bey will be given plenty of opportunities to play this season. He’s mature for his age, and the players and staff have raved about his attitude and work ethic.
Griffin on Saddiq: "Saddiq is, I think, has one of the most complete games I've seen, especially for a rookie. One of my favorite things about him is his hunger and getting better at basketball. That's all he talks about, all he cares about.— James Edwards III (@JLEdwardsIII) December 1, 2020
You should expect Bey to be one of the first players to check-in off the bench, and while his role may be limited initially, he could be given an opportunity to showcase other attributes of his game before season’s end.