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Finding Thankfulness in Cade Cunningham and the Detroit Pistons

For the first time in years, Cade Cunningham is giving Pistons fans something to be thankful for.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Houston Rockets Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

It may not feel like it, but for the first time in years, Detroit Pistons fans have something to truly be thankful for when it comes to this beleaguered basketball franchise.

I mean, besides the obvious fact that they aren’t the Detroit Lions.

Sure, the Pistons one of the worst teams in the league. I get why folks are frustrated with their propensity to blow leads and the inability to put together four quarters of solid play... but that’s how this rebuild is going to go. It’s how they all go.

That young team that stumbled its way through the final two months of last season? That’s pretty much this one plus Cade Cunningham.

However, it feels different, and Cade’s the reason for it.

It’s obviously too early to crown Cunningham — especially after his worst game of the season on Tuesday in Miami — but at the same time, the dude just has an aura to him.

When he’s out there on the floor, it feels different. He’s not “just a guy.”

We’re seeing the well-rounded offensive game. He’s one of the team’s best rebounders and his playmaking has really shined through with more time as the lead initiator recently. Sure, his 3-point shooting has been underwhelming and you’d like to see him pursue contact on drives to get to the line, but as he matures physically, those will round into shape.

I think it’s safe to say he’s proven capable of being a solid defender. That, of course, has been an inconsistent part of his game as he’s learning that balancing high-level play on both ends of the court is very difficult.

Basketball just seems to come easy to him.

He makes plays — awkward shots, savvy deflections, step-ahead-of-the-defense passes — that other dudes just cannot. His brain is moving faster than everybody else; sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

The pieces are there and we’re seeing them come together in different ways every night. He has room to improve pretty much everywhere, but through 12 games, I can’t say there’s one area where he isn’t passable. That in itself is pretty crazy.

Colleague Laz Jackson pointed out this Wednesday night and it’s so true: Cade freaking HATES losing. That seems like it should be a given, but the more you watch the NBA — and professional sports in general — you wonder if some dudes really take losing personally.

I cannot see a situation where Cunningham isn’t pissed about losing. It’s a prerequisite for being an alpha-type dude in the NBA. Seeing that from him nightly is small but encouraging as hell. It takes a little bit of the sting off the plethora of Pistons’ losses.

BUT, what’s been most impressive to me is his leadership. We knew he was a team-first guy. He’s shown that since summer league, just like he did at star-studded Montverde Academy and again at Oklahoma State. He’s shown it this year in the way he is always coaching up teammates. He’s a voice that they listen to at 20 years old.

But this past week against the Los Angeles Lakers was the moment I bought in fully.

I watched this video a lot. Isaiah Stewart is still emotional and angry and the only teammate trying to calm him down is Cade. The only one trying to stop him from making matters worse is Cade. The only one who was there from the moment it started till it ended?

Cade.

We’ve seen a lot of dudes come through Detroit in the past 12 years. I’m not sure I’ve seen any young guy (maybe even old?) do something like that. It’s not just vocal leadership. Not just leading by example. It’s doing it all in a moment where a young team needed it.

I don’t know if that moment means anything in the long run.

Most fans will probably forget about Cade’s role in it.

But, for me, it was the moment I knew I was all-in on Cade Cunningham.

That’s something worth being thankful for this year.