How quickly the Cade Cunningham hype train has come to a halt. Two games into the Detroit Pistons rookie’s season, courtesy of two poor shooting performances, and the “bust” label is flying rampant around Pistons Twitter and my text messages. I actually do not believe anyone thinks he is truly a bust, but I think there are some fans who do have real concerns about what we have seen from the 20-year-old thus far. Hot takes are a disposable currency on the Internet, but as we say, the film doesn’t lie. That is why I went to the film, and I am here to tell you…...ease your concerns, Cade Cunningham is and will be REALLY good!
Now, if you want to tell me a guy that had shooting splits of 44%-40% in his one year of college is going to continue to shoot at his current clip of 14%-0% then yes, Cade Cunningham is going to be a bust. More likely than that, however, is that he’s getting his legs back from a month-long ankle injury and knocking off some rust. Once he gets more comfortable those shooting splits will get back to reality. Of course, while we wait for that we can take a look at the other parts of Cade’s game and look critically at what he has shown so far.
For this breakdown, I am going to focus on three areas. First, the area that he has been as advertised and that is his ability to pass and create open shots for teammates. Second, I look at Cade on the defensive end which is something that has been better than I anticipated, but has room for growth. Finally, the part of his offensive game I will continue to keep the closest eye on — his ability to create advantages/separation AND scoring in the lane with a variety of finishes.
AS ADVERTISED: PASSING
The raw assists numbers DO NOT tell the true story of Cade’s passing. When you go to the film, you immediately see that he has a special affinity for passing and that people were right to be so high on him for his passing skills at 6-foot-7.
Whether it is “simply” drawing the attention of multiple defenders and making the correct pass OR his subtle ball and eye manipulation to draw a defender where he wants them, Cade’s teammates are going to love playing with him and the open looks he creates.
BETTER THAN I THOUGHT: DEFENSE
Yes, Cade did get his “Welcome to the NBA, rookie” moment by way of a Giannis drive in Game 2, but overall I have been more than impressed by him on the defensive end. (Quick digression ... Giannis, wow!!! Sorry, I know this is a Pistons site and Cade breakdown but the reigning NBA Finals MVP is looking great) The off-ball awareness has flashed with some really good rotations and switches, though he does seem to have about one lapse every game where he lacks focus and gives up a bucket. I have no doubt he will be a high-level off-ball and team defender. The area I really feel like Cade has been better than I thought, however, has been on the ball where he has really held his own and shown that if nothing else, he is going to give great effort. I am excited to continue watching him how he holds up at the point of attack against some of the best offensive players in the league.
KEEP AN EYE ON: CREATING ADVANTAGES and FINISHES
Along with his defensive value, there are two areas of his offensive game I have been impressed with so far but really want to keep an eye on. He has created advantages and separation from the defense in a variety of ways and at a higher rate early in his career than I anticipated. The question is, will he continue to be able to do so once NBA coaches and defenders have faced him once and/or have film on him and learn his game? The second aspect is using a variety of finishes around the rim and finishing at a high enough rate near the basket. Again, I know we have not seen him put the ball in the basket well thus far, but I am intrigued to see how Cade’s “craftiness” manifests itself and evolves throughout his rookie season.
Trust me, I wanted Cade to BURST onto the NBA scene as much as anyone and shoot the lights out and fill the box score. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and now the “he isn’t athletic enough” and “Jalen Green, etc. have a high ceiling” crowd has even more ammo. That’s okay, the kid has still shown MORE than enough (even with the shooting woes) through two games for me to be confident he was the right choice at No. 1.