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Film Don’t Lie: Cade Cunningham is that guy

Breaking down Cade Cunningham’s career night against the Denver Nuggets

Detroit Pistons v Denver Nuggets Photo by Ethan Mito/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images

I don’t know if Cade Cunningham is going to win rookie of the year or not, and quite frankly, I don’t care. All I care about is the fact that this man IS on the Detroit Pistons and this man IS the best rookie in the draft class. If the voters want to give it to Evan Mobley for being an impactful player on a better team, I totally understand. If they want to give it to Jalen Green, well, I’d be confused. But Scottie Barnes, Franz Wagner, or any other rookie for whatever reason, so be it. ALL that matters to me is the Pistons have found the face of their franchise and that face was front and center on Tuesday night against the Denver Nuggets.

Before we get into the breakdowns, I want to lay out all of the amazing stats that came from Cunningham’s performance aggregated and compiled by Austin Drake of Bally Sports Detroit.

  • First player in NBA history with 34-8-8-4-2 & 6 made 3-pointers
  • 2nd rookie in NBA history with 34-8-8-4 in a single game (Michael Jordan)
  • 6th Pistons rookie with 30-5-5 in single game
  • 6th game with 5 made 3-pointers —- NBA record through 38 games
  • 2nd youngest player in Pistons history with 30-point game (Drummond)
  • Tied for most points (34) by a Piston without a free-throw attempt (Harris)

Offense

One thing I love about what we have seen from Cade through 38 games is his the emergence of “go to” moves. Hopefully, the rest of the NBA does not pick up on these for a while, although I think Cade is the type of player to adjust and continuously add to his bag. Despite being a rookie, Cunningham looks to be in total control and with an awareness beyond his years, and we are already seeing how he wants to impact the game on a nightly basis.

One aspect of his offensive repertoire that is beginning to show up more and more is his post game. This is something fans have been clamoring for since the start of the season, and Cade and the Pistons are beginning to oblige more often.

He also has shown the makings of being 3-level scorer, although against the Nuggets, the mid range wasn’t going down, his to-the-rim game has been particularly impressive so far. Oh, and all of those worries about his 3-point shot? Well, those seem like ancient history as Cade went 6-of-9 from deep in this game AND he is shooting 38% from 3 since his return from health and safety protocols. If you take away a two-game stretch where he went 2-of-15 from 3 against the Grizzlies and Magic he is shooting 44% from deep in 13 games since that return.

Finally, as he showed on Tuesday night he is willing and able to create for his teammates as well. He had 8 assists in this game with plenty of other opportunities where he created advantages for open looks. His on-ball gravity is undeniable whether it is getting blitzed in ball screen situations or attracting multiple defenders to the lane on drives. All of this was on FULL display against the Nuggets.

Defense (and Rebounding)

It was not just his offensive game that was on display on Tuesday as Cade also finished the game with 8 rebounds (ALL defensive), 4 blocks, and 2 steals. I believe a majority of these can be attributed to Cade’s high basketball IQ and anticipation. I still think his best role defensively is as an “off-ball roamer” who can run through passing lanes and provide weak side rotations.

*sidebar: I do understand that this type of role with the weak side rotations does put him in situations to foul which has been an issue for him. The rebounding numbers have been a little sporadic for Cade, but what I love is the majority come on the defensive end where this team really struggles. As he continues to grow his body AND stamina, I think this is an area where he will make a consistent impact like we saw Tuesday night.

I have been saying all the way back to Summer League that Cade Cunningham was “as advertised.” Even when the shot wasn’t going in, you were able to look deeper and see all the ways he was impacting the game. He was creating good shots for himself and for his teammates, and it was just a matter of time before they started falling.

Sometimes it takes performances like Tuesday night for everyone (especially outside of Detroit) to see those impacts and just how good this young man is. Is there room for improvement? ABSOLUTELY. But has Cade given you any reason to believe he isn’t the type of young man that will recognize those and work on it? We can worry about those (and wins) in the off season and into next year. For now, let’s just enjoy the fact that WE, as PISTONS fans, get to watch Cade Cunningham night in and night out on the team we root for and LOVE!