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Film Don’t Lie: Jaden Ivey could be the perfect fit next to Cade Cunningham if he puts the work in

Did Troy Weaver add more than just athleticism with the sophomore out of Purdue?

2022 NBA Draft Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The NBA Draft could not have realistically fallen any better for Troy Weaver and the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons fell two spots to No. 5 on lottery night, and that looked like a big blow considering the draft featured a consensus big three and Detroit was desperate for high-end talent to pair with Cade Cunningham.

Leading up to the draft, I personally felt there was a 70% chance that Jaden Ivey would be selected No. 4 overall, either by the Sacramento Kings or via a team trading for the King’s pick. As it played out, the Kings went with their preferred player in Keegan Murray and the explosive Purdue guard fell right into the Pistons’ laps as an explosive complement to Cunningham.

That pairing with the Cade has been a hot debate within the Pistons community. I have said that while I do not think this is the PERFECT pairing next to Cunningham, it is still a very good one. I do want to put one major IF with that statement though. That only is the case IF Jaden Ivey is willing to accept being a secondary creator and play off the ball for the percentage of the game that will be required of him playing alongside Cade.

Let’s start with his ability to play off the ball where Ivey did more of that than what I realized going into my breakdown. There are multiple possessions of him running off baseline staggered screens and even some more promising ones where you can see him reading his defender to decide where to take his movement based on how the defense was attacking the screen. If Ivey is truly going to be successful in an off-the-ball role, I do think he has to be a more willing and efficient cutter when action is happening away from him. Many people have mentioned the number of possessions where he simply “stood in the corner and watched.”

I do think this is a good time to quickly mention the floor spacing, or lack thereof, that Ivey was working with this past season at Purdue. They almost always rolled out a lineup with 2 “bigs” and ran a lot of their offensive through those bigs. This is what causes many people to believe we could see even more of Ivey’s potential unlocked when he is playing on, hopefully, a more spaced floor with room to operate in the lane with those cuts or with the ball in his hands.

Operating in, or attacking into, the lane is absolutely the skill that excites me the most about Jaden Ivey. Whether in transition, where he was extremely efficient, or operating as the Pick N Roll Ball Handler (his most used PlayType according to inSTAT) he uses his athleticism and burst to put pressure on the defense. I even walked away from my film study a little more encouraged with the more “finesse” aspect of this game as he showed some subtle change of speeds, snaking of ball screens, and putting defenders in “jail”. I think the place that Ivey can absolutely be a problem for defenses is when Cade Cunningham, or even KIllian Hayes, has attacked the defense and forced them into a rotation or to be unsettled and then kick to Ivey who would now have an advantage and ability to showcase that burst and athleticism. Of course, that will require the defense to respect his ability to shoot from the perimeter which I will touch on shortly.

Before we get to the perimeter shooting, I do want to touch on his finishing in the lane, around the rim and in the midrange. While his finishing numbers were good this past season at Purdue, I do think he absolutely has room to grow finishing with his offhand, always playing through contact, and showing a little more touch with his finishes.

The more, and possibly most concerning, aspect of his scoring package is in the aforementioned mid-range. His shooting numbers from 5 feet to the 3-point line showed low volume AND low efficiency, and it often looked like he could not decide if he wanted to shoot a floater or a true pull-up jumper, LOTS MORE on this in the video breakdown below.

Speaking of his jumper, my belief in Ivey successfully playing off of Cunningham also comes from me trusting that the 3-point shot will become more consistent. He went through long stretches of inconsistency during both of his seasons at Purdue with this past season shooting over 40% in the first half of the season and just under 30% the rest of the way. It is also very much a set shot, which may explain the issues with the mid-range pull-up, and makes you wonder about his ability to shoot off movement and dribble at a high level. My belief comes in his catch-and-shoot variety of 3s much more than the movement and off the dribble, but I truly think “only” being respectable in those types of shots is more than enough to unlock the rest of his game.

One area of his game I absolutely am higher on than others is his passing. Throughout most of the season, I heard how BAD of a passer and even that he was selfish. I will admit that I did not watch every single game of his, but the full game films I did watch, not just highlights, I did not see this nearly as often as I was led to believe. Again, he pressures the rim at such a high level that he often puts himself in a situation where all he has to do is make the simple read and kick to an open teammate on the perimeter.

Not only was he able to do this but was also very willing to do it. Now, you don’t get the bad passer reputation that Ivey had without having bad possessions and turnovers. He does force a little at times, and I will agree that if you are talking about the higher-level secondary reads then he left some things to be desired. My biggest area of improvement for him would be in ballscreen situations reading the “tag” or help defender. I envision the Pistons running a lot of possessions that start with a Cade ball screen and if nothing is created it is followed by one run by Ivey. He must be able to make the correct reads in those possessions along with his ability to score in those situations.

Now, let’s shift to the other side of the floor where I do not have nearly as much to break down because for Ivey, I simply think it comes down to a lack of consistency and focus. I could use all of the coaching buzzwords to describe his bad possessions like “no sense of urgency” or “didn’t make multiple efforts” or “wasn’t locked in” and on down the line. At the end of the day, I think we have to put trust in the young man to grow as a defender and coach Dwane Casey and his staff to do what they do and help the maturation along. The great thing about Ivey on this end of the floor, and I will not hide that it was VERY bad on and off the ball at times as I show in the video, is that he absolutely has the physical makeup to at least be a difference maker on that end of the floor if not eventually somewhat of a positive.

I want to finish this article where I began with the pairing of Jaden Ivey and Cade Cunningham. I said that Ivey was simply a “good” fit next to Cade but I truly believe that Cade is without a doubt the PERFECT fit for Jaden Ivey. Cade’s strengths and abilities will allow Ivey to work on his flaws while he adjusts to the NBA game while at the same time creating opportunities for Ivey to showcase what he does best even more. I think this is the best possible role for Jaden Ivey in the NBA with the perfect backcourt mate to grow with. That combined with the sheer joy Jaden Ivey, and his family, seemed to have about playing for the Pistons makes me even more excited about this pairing and what it will grow into.