With plenty of ups and downs one can expect from a rookie, Detroit Pistons No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham seems to be performing “as advertised.” Some things have been pleasant surprises, and others were known issues that seem to be amplified on the big stage of an NBA court. Cade’s ability to create separation from his defender and attack the paint in 1-on-1 situations has been one of those pleasant surprises. Cunningham’s ability and desire to get involved on the boards is another. Any questions about his willingness to play defense have quickly been shot down, although, there are obviously still improvements that will need to be made.
And then there are his turnovers. He had this issue in college, and it’s followed him to the NBA in a big way. There are other issues worth exploring, to be sure, including losing focus off the ball at times and his inability to consistently knock down outside shots. But nothing looms larger than his turnovers, especially if you think the shot will start falling considering his form looks good, his history as a shooter and his proficiency at the free-throw line. Turnovers, on the other hand, are extremely costly and some players just never figure it out. Cade needs to figure it out if he wants to be the focal point of the offense.
Let’s first acknowledge that a rookie with high usage is going to have turnovers. Heck, VETERANS with high usage typically have a lot of turnovers. However, the key question is are there any “themes” or “commonalities” with the turnovers we were seeing from Cade? How much of this issue is something that needs to be fixed, something that will go away as he gets used to the speed of the NBA game, and something due to a simple lack of focus?
I didn’t want to show things that have just happened a handful of times through 15 games. So, I came away with three trends that continued to show up in his turnovers each game….bad decision-making, loose ball handling, and tipped passes.
If there was one MAJOR theme I came away with from watching every Cade Cunningham turnover on the season it was that at times he is just a little lackadaisical with his play on offense and that leads to the majority of his turnovers. As you will see in the breakdown, there are times where he is making the right read but he’s just a little careless with his pass and thus does not get the ball where it needs to go. I do think we also see him pre-determining decisions, which I would assume you see with all young players. I also wanted to show a couple of clips where I believe if he just keeps his dribble alive it would not end up putting him in as tough a passing situation as it does.
Loose Ball Handling
Cade has shown better “wiggle” and 1-on-1 skills than I anticipated coming into his rookie season, BUT that doesn’t mean it has been perfect. There were two situations where the loose ball handling seemed to show up more than any others. The first is taking contact on his drives. Again, he has actually been better than I anticipated here, but I still saw it show up as I reviewed the film. The second definitely showed up more, and I’m really interested to follow the rest of the season to see if it improves — the ball getting away from his body and getting stolen during his ball screen navigation. Right now, he seems to be underestimating the recovery ability of his initial defender as I highlight in the following video breakdown.
Even before diving into the actual film, I knew this would be one of the themes I would be highlighting. I have noticed recently that at least 1 or 2 passes a game from Cade are getting tipped by the initial defender. I believe this can be attributed to Cade not quite adjusting to the length, athleticism, and reaction time of these NBA caliber defenders. Again, this is understandable for a rookie who has only played 15 games in his career. More important is watching his improvement throughout the rest of the season.
This is not to be overly negative on Cunningham. It’s to highlight an issue he had in college and examine more closely how it is manifesting, and perhaps being magnified at the NBA level. As important as it is to acknowledge the what of an issue, we have to discover the why.
I have no doubt that we will see him improve in the areas causing his turnover issues throughout his rookie season. I do STILL believe that Cade is going to be a SPECIAL passer and creator. Combine that with the other positives AND I didn’t even mention all of the intangible aspects of Cade’s game like his leadership and communication that have consistently been highlighted by the Pistons beat writers and during broadcasts.