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The Close Out: Saddiq Bey, not just a shooter

Exploring the Villanova rookie’s development when he’s not sniping threes from deep

NBA: Detroit Pistons at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

When the Detroit Pistons drafted Saddiq Bey, he joined the team with more pressure than usual for the 19th overall pick entering the beginning of a rebuild.

It’s not that the Villanova product came with a ton of fanfare or expectations. It is that he was acquired in exchange for one of the franchise’s scarce young assets in Luke Kennard and a handful of second-round picks. Consolidating assets at the beginning of a shift in philosophy that seemed to point toward asset accumulation was confusing. So the natural reaction to that sort of move is that it better come with major upside.

Coming out of Jay Wright’s system, it was clear that Bey could really shoot. He shot 45% from deep as a sophomore and did so with a lightning-quick release. He also displayed enough defensive ability to draw the enviable classification as a legit 3-and-D prospect.

Early in the season, 3-and-D looked appropriate. Bey was a significant threat from deep and showed some defensive chops. His offense seemed one-dimensional but effective, and his defense was hit-or-miss, which is typical for a rookie.

The real concerns arose when Bey entered inside the three-point line. He looked, frankly, lost. There were some post-ups that looked okay, but the shooting numbers told the real story.

In December, he shot 1-of-8 on two-point field goals. The efficiency inside the arc jumped to a still poor 38% in January. Then in February, it skyrocketed to over 50%.

Diversifying his offensive repertoire was always going to be a large key to Bey’s future outlook, but his early development has come in many more ways than just when he’s showing off his quick release.

When you are as good a shooter as Saddiq Bey is, maximizing your value hinges on leveraging your shooting ability into other aspects of the offense. Opponents are going to naturally overplay to deny you the ball or close out more carelessly than normal. Responding well to those situations unlocks maximum potential.

The Detroit rookie has looked more and more comfortable in those situations.

Watch how the mere thought of an in-rhythm three forced his Kings defender off his feet and led to a two-on-one oportunity where Bey made the simple dump-off to Mason Plumlee for a dunk:

Making those simple plays would go a long way to making Saddiq a threat off the dribble. He displayed that in transition earlier in the same game when he kept his space from Josh Jackson, forced the defender to commit, then made a simple bounce pass for a dunk:

That’s certainly not a high-level play, but it shows a basic understanding of spacing and forcing defenders to commit that can be expanded in more difficult circumstances.

The good news for his development is that he has shown it in more complex situations, particularly when defenses are pressuring him as a shooter.

When Brandon Ingram went over and trailed a screen because of the shooting threat, Bey crossed him over which drew JJ Redick’s attention. With Redick off-balance, Bey made the correct decision to pass out to Wayne Ellington who missed an open three:

Even though Bey hasn’t shown any dynamic ability inside the arc, he draws defenders by virtue of the advantage he gains attacking closeouts.

Look how much attention he drew in the Kings game when he got near the paint on a drive:

From there, he dropped the ball off to Plumlee, received it back, and initiated a ball reversal for an open Josh Jackson attempt:

Despite how eager Saddiq is to shoot and how quick his release is, he has shown a willingness to keep the chain moving when there’s an opportunity to find a more open look.

He displayed that early in the Pelicans game after he drove into the paint to collapse the defense. Although the ball again finds him back on the perimeter while open, he recognized that he was going to draw multiple defenders and swung the ball to Delon Wright for an even better corner attempt:

Against the Orlando Magic, he recognized the defense closing hard and immediately swung the ball to Jerami Grant at the top to prevent the defense from recovering quickly enough:

These are small but encouraging plays that show both his awareness and willingness to share the ball. Earlier in the season, he was very much “just a shooter.” But now he’s seeing the floor better and understanding that he can impact the game by making simple basketball plays he’s made his entire life.

The next big step for Bey may be in getting him the ball in shooting opportunities in less-traditional ways.

We saw a quick glimpse of it in the loss to the Grizzlies when Bey initiated action in a dribble hand-off to Ellington. After the hand-off, he floated to the corner, caught the return pass, and nailed a corner three:

Serving as the screener and popping to the corner isn’t some revolutionary concept, but the act of relocating is the bigger takeaway here.

One of the more dangerous (for NBA defenses) evolutions in recent years has been how elite shooters have relocated to open space once giving the ball up. The natural reaction is to let up after you force the ball out of a shooter’s hands. But in reality, it’s when they have the potential to be the most dangerous.

If Saddiq Bey can unlock that portion of his game, his shooting will become even more valuable and his offensive game will continue to diversify.