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I’m bullish on the Detroit Pistons for one reason: Cade Cunningham

The recent history of No. 1 overall picks and team improvement in year two is staggering

Listen, I’ve watched the same Detroit Pistons this preseason as you.

I’ve seen them take their lumps, look disjointed on both ends of the court, and generally look like a hot-mess express. Even the computers over at FiveThirtyEight are down on them. So, really, I understand the pessimism that surrounds this team.

I guess, as I’ve been sleeping fours hours a night while changing a newborn’s diapers, I’ve just come to see things differently.

Cade Cunningham was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft for a reason. We’ve got 20 years worth of data showing that No. 1 overall picks almost never win fewer than 30 in their second season. No matter your opinion of the Pistons’ roster — now and in the future — if Cade is what we think he is, they’re in for improvement this season.

Dating back to Yao Ming in 2001, only SIX of the 19 top overall picks won fewer than 30 games in their second season. If we remove outliers like Anthony Bennett (historical bust) and Markelle Fultz (tragic injury luck), only FOUR out of 17 were unable to get their squads above that 30-win mark.

The four who won fewer than 30?

Andrew Bogut, John Wall, Andrew Wiggins and Kyrie Irving.

Bogut’s Bucks were decimated by injuries.

Wall’s Wizards were bad in every way.

Irving’s Cavs were a post-LeBron dystopia.

Wiggins’ Wolves were bad but on the rise thanks to rookie KAT

We can all agree that one of those guys (Kyrie) ended up a superstar, another (Wall) an All-Star, and the others (Bogut/Wiggins) as high-level role players. It begs two questions: how do you view Cunningham through that lens today and how dismal is his supporting cast?

The Pistons aren’t playing for keeps just yet, but look at their roster compared to that of those sub-30 win Cavs and Wizards. It’s not some talent-devoid wasteland.

As we all have seen up close and personal — it can be far, faaaaar worse.

Situations differ, and there’s no statistical correlation here, BUT, historically, the only thing that can stop a healthy #1 overall pick who is indeed *that* guy from lifting their teams to 30+ wins in year two is a garbage roster or one that is ravaged by injuries.

Let’s go back to Yao’s sophomore season in 2003. No. 1 overall picks have won an average of 35 games in their second season. My interpretation of that is, if one possesses the innate ability to lift those around them and impose their will on games, wins will follow.

This is all a long-winded way of saying I’m not that worried about the Pistons. Their over/under on wins in Vegas is 29.5, and I think they’ll top that with 30. I think that because I’m bullish on Cade Cunningham, the star this franchise has chased for decades.

Whatever “it” is, Cade has it. He’s got a year under his belt. He has greatness-that-changes-your-fortunes-type of talent and he’ll show it this season as the Pistons finally take a step forward as a winning basketball team.

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