The Motor City Cruise continue to roll, off to a 5-1 start after beating the Cleveland Charge 101-92 Friday. The win followed the team’s first and only loss thus far in the early season which came on the road at the hands of the Indiana Mad Ants.
Pistons two-way player Jared Rhoden is on a scoring mission. He was named the NBA G League Player of the Week after dropping 36 points in the first game of the season and averaging 27.3 points per game over the week. He’s the second Cruise player to receive the honor (Saben Lee, 2021). Now, he’s averaging 24.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while shooting 45.5% from three in five appearances to date.
On Friday, he scored 25 points including a dagger 3-point shot with just over one minute left in regulation to put the Cruise’s lead all but out of reach for the Charge.
“It felt pretty good,” Rhoden said of the clutch three. “I had a little struggle in the third quarter so it felt good to finally get a three to fall, a big one at that. I’m a shooter so I’m going to just keep shooting.”
Wayne State Fieldhouse was full of energy Friday from both teams and the crowd. Michigan native Emoni Bates, on a two-way contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, scored 29 points as the opposition’s top scoring option. A large number of spectators cheered him on as the Charge tried to pick up a win in the Motor City.
“It was a good environment,” Rhoden said. “But just one of those games where, I’m just a competitor, so I’m having fun with the game.”
Cruise head coach Jamelle McMillan’s team has shown resiliency throughout their multitude of wins. They overcame a 21-point deficit to win on the road against the Iowa Wolves on Monday.
Zavier Simpson is the floor general and helps control the game when the Cruise need it most. He’s averaging 20.3 points, 7.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game. And he has definitely brought the skyhook with him in his first season with the team.
“Zavier, that kid’s a leader man,” McMillan said after Friday’s win. “He really held us together in timeouts and everything, calmed us down in the right moments. He made some plays late that really got the ball moving that allowed us to pull through.”
He signed an Exhibit 10 deal with the Pistons during the offseason after the Cruise acquired his returning player rights from the Osceola Magic. This allowed him to play for the Pistons’ Summer League team and compete in Pistons training camp before joining the Cruise. General Manager Ben Carloni mentioned he saw Simpson as a player that raises the team’s floor.
After the win over Cleveland Friday, Rhoden also noted the importance of Simpson as a leader both on and off the floor.
“I think me and (Zavier) have kind of co-captained it together,” Rhoden said when asked about the Cruise’s locker room leaders. “To be the vocal leaders, to be the people that take the initiative to speak and hold the team down in that aspect. When I played (Zavier) last year, me and him were chirping at each other and then when he came to play Summer League with us, I knew he was with us. I knew he was going to stick and be our point guard this year.”
Now, Rhoden and Simpson are the leading scorers for the Cruise, developing a bond as top options while winning games.
Not far behind is Jontay Porter, who is averaging a double-double as the starting big. His 12 rebounds per game is good for second across the G League. He’s averaging 3.2 blocks per game and works as a floor spacing big, not afraid to take 3-pointers if given an open look.
“He’s the ultimate luxury,” McMillan said of Porter. “The ability to put him out on the floor whether it’s corners, top of the floor, in the post, at the elbow, he’s really a Swiss Army knife for our basketball team the way he can handle the ball, his IQ for the game, he really understands when to roll and when to pop.”
Malcolm Cazalon, who is also on a two-way contract, has missed the last two games due to an illness. It’s currently unclear when he will return. When healthy, he is an additional scoring threat, playing heavy minutes in his four appearances with the Cruise, shooting 44.4% from three.
Notably missing from the rotation is Stanley Umude, who was awarded another two-way spot with the Pistons just before the season started. He has appeared in just one game for the Cruise thus far due to spending the majority of his time with the NBA club. He has helped shoot and defend off the bench while the Pistons await players on standard contracts to return from injury. Once the Pistons are fully healthy, he may spend more time with the Cruise, providing an additional threat for an already clicking team.
In the G League, team’s have to adjust with two-way players going up and down from the NBA, causing rotations to differ on a moment’s notice in some cases. McMillan and his team aren’t worried however. Even though some guys are forced to play heavy minutes, the group has shown they can work together and play winning basketball.
“These guys are awesome, I’m really fortunate,” McMillan said after the win Friday. “Just thankful for the people that are here, everybody all the way across the board. The players, my assistants, the management team put it together today and it was a pretty cool deal.”