Cade Cunningham, a second-year guard with the Detroit Pistons and a #1 pick in the NBA Draft, missed the last four games with a shin injury. The last-place Pistons are mulling a tough decision to shut him down for the rest of the season.
The Pistons selected Cunningham with the first pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. During his one-and-done season with Oklahoma State, Cunningham earned All-American honors and was named the 2021 Big 12 Player of the Year as a freshman.
Cunningham’s pro debut with the Pistons last season was delayed by a preseason ankle injury. After a slow start, Cunningham finished his rookie season on a strong note by averaging 17.4 points, 5.6 assists, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game.
Cunningham finished in third place in the 2021-22 NBA Rookie of the Year voting behind Scottie Barnes from the Toronto Raptors and Evan Mobley from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Bad Basketball in Motown
The Pistons last won a postseason series in the 2008 NBA playoffs. Since the Boston Celtics defeated them in the 2008 Eastern Conference finals, the Pistons made only three postseason appearances. They were swept each time.
The hard-luck Pistons last qualified for the postseason in the 2019 NBA playoffs as the #8 seed, but were eliminated by the Milwaukee Bucks in four games. In the last three seasons, the downtrodden Pistons were among the three worst teams in the Eastern Conference.
The current Pistons lost seven games in a row. They’re the worst team in the NBA this season with a 3-15 record. They occupy last place in the Eastern Conference, ahead of the Charlotte Hornets (4-14) and Orlando Magic (5-13).
The Pistons won their season opener, but have been 2-15 since then, going 1-10 since Halloween. The Pistons are +100000 odds to win the 2022-23 NBA championship as the biggest long shot on DraftKings’ futures board.
If the Pistons take a cautious route by shutting down Cunningham for the remainder of the season, they could protect his long-term health while increasing their chances to secure the rights to draft Victor Wembanyama in the upcoming 2023 NBA Draft.
The Pistons also have two other key players out with injuries, including center Isiah Stewart and small forward Saddiq Bey. Numerous teams are interested in acquiring forward Bojan Bogdanovic in a trade. Bogdanovic leads the Pistons in scoring with 20.5 ppg. If the Pistons trade away their leading scorer, they’ll continue their trajectory as the worst team in the NBA this season.
Put Cunningham on Ice to Win Wembanyama?
The worst three teams in the NBA this season have the best chances — at 14% — to secure the #1 pick in the NBA Draft Lottery. All eyes are on Wembanyama. The 7-foot-3 big man from France has been compared to Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant.
Scouts consider Wembanyama as a “once-in-a-generation talent,” and he’s the most-coveted prospect since LeBron James skipped college and went directly to the NBA as the #1 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. Wembanyama has become such a huge phenomenon that the NBA live streams games from France on NBA TV featuring his pro team.
Scoot Henderson, who bypassed the NCAA in favor of the NBA developmental league, is the top guard prospect in the upcoming draft class. Even if teams decide to tank and miss out on the #1 pick in the lottery, Henderson is a heck of a consolation prize to whichever team secures the #2 pick.
The Pistons are loaded with young guards, including Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, and Killian Hayes. However, a big man with unlimited potential like Wembanyama could finally put the Pistons on the path toward restoring the franchise’s championship glory. The “Bad Boy” Pistons, led by Hall of Fame head coach Chuck Daly, won two NBA championships in the late 1980s. The Pistons last won a title 18 years ago, when they upset the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the 2004 NBA Finals.
Next Man Up: Jaden Ivey, Killian Hayes
With Cunningham out indefinitely with the shin injury, Ivey has a chance to make a bigger impact on offense. The rookie is already the Pistons’ third-best scorer, averaging 16.8 points per game. He’s also averaging 4.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.
Ivey’s long-range perimeter shooting is the weakest aspect of his game. He lacks consistency from 3-point range, which typically happens to a lot of rookie guards making a transition from college to the NBA.
In 17 games this season, Ivey connected on 32.9% of his shots from beyond the arc. After shooting an abysmal 1-for-9 from downtown against the Lakers last Friday, Ivey bounced back with a perfect 4-for-4 clip against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday.
Killian Hayes earned a bump in playing time without Cunningham in the lineup. The Pistons took a flier on Hayes, an American-born prospect who grew up in France, with the #7 pick from the 2020 NBA Draft. Hayes developed slowly, but he started 40 games last season.
With Cunningham out, head coach Dwayne Casey inserted Hayes into the starting lineup. He’s making the most of his increased playing time by averaging 9.2 points, 4.0 assists, and 2.4 rebounds per game in November.
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