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Saddiq Bey proving to be a foundational piece in Detroit’s restoration

After a slow start, the second-year forward has cemented himself as a centrepiece in Troy Weaver’s Restoration of the franchise.

Utah Jazz v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

As we approach the season’s unofficial midway point, All-Star Weekend, the timing seems right to take stock in the play of the Detroit Pistons’ second-year wing; Saddiq Bey. Forty-six games into his sophomore campaign, the former first-round selection has experienced the swings and roundabouts of so many second-year players before him.

Fresh off a successful rookie season where he received First-Team All-Rookie honours, Bey was invited to participate with the U.S. National Team. During the two-week training camp, Bey was able to gain invaluable experience, competing with some of the league’s top wing players in Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum. The impact of this experience was evident in Bey’s play at the Las Vegas Summer League, as the 22-year-old showed a newfound desire to flaunt his ability as a shot-creating wing.

However, the momentum of the offseason didn’t carry over to the real thing. In the first quarter of the season, Bey struggled to acquaint himself in an offense featuring Jerami Grant and Cade Cunningham. Often leaving fans questioning whether he could get back to his rookie-self.

During the month of December, a Grant injury combined with a slew of COVID-related absences seemed to have helped clarify Bey’s role schematically, netting positive results in the weeks since.

In this piece, we’ll delve into some of the areas where the former Wildcat has shown growth, while also looking at potential areas of improvement, and other parts of his game worth exploring.

Bey the lock-down Defender?

There has been plenty of coverage surrounding Bey’s recent offensive surge in the past month, so I thought I’d lead things off by looking into the defensive aspect of his game.

Detroit Pistons v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

To observers from other teams, Saddiq Bey is often classed as a prototypical 3&D wing, a 6-foot-7 forward capable of knocking down open shots, while holding his own defensively against multiple positions. In a vacuum, this assessment is probably correct, but when digging into the numbers it becomes apparent that Bey is not the most interchangeable piece on the defensive end. Though this may sound like a criticism of the former Villanova product, it is not intended to be as such, as he still has plenty of upside as a defender.

While he may not be blessed with the speed and fast-twitch fibres of the league's best defenders, Bey is built like an NFL linebacker, making it tough for opponents to finish through or around his thick frame. Bey’s fire hydrant-like stature combined with his 6-foot-11 wingspan often forces larger opponents into tough fall-away jumpers. As a result, Bey has been at his best defensively when tasked with guarding wing players who prefer to create shots with the ball in their hands. Per Synergy, Bey has had great success defending opponents in both isolation and post-up scenarios, holding opponents to sub-40% shooting.

Bearing this in mind, it begins to make sense why the 22-year-old has had some of his best defensive performances against the likes of Kevin Durant, Lebron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Per, in seven games this season when Bey is the direct opponent of the aforementioned trio, he has held them to a combined 13-of-33 from the field. The most surprising element being Kevin Durant shooting an uncharacteristically low 35% when guarded by the second-year wing.

The injury sustained to Jerami Grant allowed for Bey to shift from the small forward to power forward position where players with his physical profile are more suited to defend. The results have been hard to refute:

In the first 25 games of the season, Bey struggled to defend perimeter-based wings at the small forward position. As previously mentioned, the former Wildcat’s physical tools limit his ability to defend opponents who frequently move off ball. Per, Bey ranks in the 28th percentile when defending opponents shots off screens, allowing opponents to shoot 50% in such situations. The second-year wing often gets caught on screens or is late to rotate and closeout on open shooters, hence his ranking in the 16th percentile for defending of spot-up attempts. The likes of Max Struss, Lonzo Ball and Kevin Hueter have all shot the ball well when matched up with Bey, all three are primarily off-ball players who tend to spot up on the perimeter or race around screens.

Bey the shot creator?

Shifting from one end of the court to the other, Bey entered the 2021 offseason seeking to further develop the shot creation aspect of his offensive repertoire. From the first glimpses we had of the second-year wing at summer league, it was clear this season's offense would feature a steady dose of Bey pull-up jumpers. Halfway through the season, the results are mixed; on the season as a whole, efficiency numbers indicate that Bey is by far at his most effective when limiting himself to a couple of dribbles before looking to score:

Shooting Efficiency per Dribble

Type Frequency FG% 2-point FG% 3-point FG%
Type Frequency FG% 2-point FG% 3-point FG%
2 Dribbles 12.30% 46.70% 52.50% 25.00%
3-6 Dribbles 19.00% 34.50% 37.10% 21.10%
7+ Dribbles 4.80% 37.90% 36.00% 50.00%*
* - Low Volume | Saddiq Bey 2021-2022 season (01.22.2022)

The above efficiency numbers paint a picture of how Bey can be most effective with the ball in his hands. A player of Bey’s ilk, doesn’t have the handle or quickness to catch defenders off guard, allowing them to create the required space to finish the play. To counter his athletic deficiencies, you’ll often see the Villanova product elect to use the spin-move as a means to create space. While the spin-move can be effective in providing separation, it requires an unsustainable amount of coordination and balance to score efficiently. As a result, we’ve seen a myriad of possessions end like this:

For the meantime, the numbers suggest that dribble pull-up Saddiq is not an optimal offensive option. One way to allow Bey more effective shot creation opportunities could be via the post-up. It’s well known by now that the art of posting up is likely to make analytics gurus throw up.

In some cases though, it can still be a very effective tool. In the case of Bey, a player with his athletic profile and make-up is built to be able back down the ‘wirery’ wings of today's NBA. In 20 games since being assigned power forward duties, Bey has seen an increase in post-up possessions, encouragingly, the increase in opportunities has also led to higher efficiency. Per Synergy, during this span, the former first-round pick has averaged 1.07 points per possession (PPP), a mark that would place him in the 79th percentile with players such as Demar DeRozen (1.05 PPP) and Nikola Jokic (1.03 PPP).

Posting up also allows Bey to face up and create from the triple threat position. As previously mentioned, the 22-year-old is at his best when making a couple of quick and decisive dribbles before looking to score. Facing up in the mid to low post area in the triple threat position provides the perfect set-up for Bey to attack at his best.

Another part of Bey’s game that could be utilized more is his ability to shoot coming off screens. Currently, the Detroit offense runs screen action possessions for the second-year forward a mere 1.1 times an outing. Bey’s adequate return rate of 0.94 PPP has him in the company of CJ McCollum and Seth Curry. In recent weeks, the absence of Grant has allowed for more looks coming off screens, Bey is currently at 1.4 possessions and has slightly upped his efficiency with a points per possession return of 0.97. While it’s encouraging to see an uptick in attempts, a reduction in Bey iso’s and an increase in shots coming off picks would seem more beneficial to the Detroit offense. The off-ball screens help create the necessary space for Bey to get a clean look at the basket, especially when he is unable to catch and shoot on spot-up attempts.

In terms of sheer volume and bang for buck, Bey’s most effective use on offense is still in catch and shoot scenarios from beyond the arc. A creative way we have seen the coaching staff find open catch and shoot looks for Bey has been by having him set screens as a roll man. However, instead of running a traditional pick and pop, Bey has been able to catch the defense off guard by ‘ghosting’ the screen, leading to open looks above the break:

What does Detroit have in Bey?

The jury is still out on what the apex version of Saddiq Bey can be. Due to his limited speed and athleticism, there will always be clear limitations when it comes to finishing and effective shot creation. Bey will always be able hang his hat on providing solid defense and rebounding for his position, while being capable of hitting 5+ triples on any given night. These skills alone make him a valuable piece to any contending NBA roster. As we have seen in the past six weeks, Bey is clearly his most effective playing at the 4. The swing factor for Bey will be whether or not he can effectively score inside the arc and boost his poor two-point shooting percentage.

In an ideal world, the former All-Rookie’s skillset is best suited for that of a third or fourth option on a contending team. From what we’ve seen to date, if Bey’s skill-set was to stagnate, his most efficient version resembles Phoenix Suns wing, Jae Crowder. Although a role player, there is a reason the Phoenix inked him to a 3-yr/$29M in the 2020 offseason. Crowder is a ‘3&D’ wing with a very similar physical profile to Bey. It’s no coincidence that Crowder has made the playoffs each year of his 9 year career, players of his quality simply impact winning.

In terms of a ceiling for Bey, his play-style and efficiency numbers draw similarities to former Indiana Pacers forward, Danny Granger. Granger made a single All-Star game and was one of the league's best volume three-point shooters at his best.

Ultimately, the most important part of Bey’s game is that it perfectly compliments the play-style of Cade Cunningham. With another likely top-3 selection in this year's draft, it seems Bey should slide in nicely as a valuable starter in Detroit’s next winning team.