Pistons Cade Cunningham takes NBA to new heights as streak of success continues

DETROIT – Rookie goalie Cade Cunningham may have had a slow start to his NBA career. But in the 19 games since joining the Detroit Pistons rotation, he’s gradually adjusted to the NBA and is looking into what the team needs from him.

Cunningham has shown he has the ability to deliver in critical time. While his performances have yet to turn into victories, the rookie is getting the reps that will bring in plenty of benefits.

In the last four games, he’s averaged 22 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists while shooting 51 percent from the field and 50 percent from three points. His latest performance once again placed him in the NBA history books.

In the Pistons’ loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, he scored a career-high 28 points, posted 11 rebounds and distributed five assists in 36 minutes. This is his fourth career double-double and it comes just four days after recording his previous career record of 26 points.

Following Monday’s performance, he became the first rookie with over 25 points, five or more rebounds, five or more assists and five or more three since Stephen Curry did so on February 10, 2010.

“I feel good. I’m working a lot to try to get that feeling back in my jumper and everything,” Cunningham said after Monday’s game.

With Cunningham adjusting to the NBA at a steady pace, the Pistons have moved on to the rookie being the team’s primary ball manager.

Ahead of Thursday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns, Pistons head coach Dwane Casey said Cunningham would be able to build on his skills as a creator, with second-year goaltender Killian Hayes moving to a role further away from the ball.

While he will continue to grow in this role, his teammates are already benefiting from his constantly improving skills. Since Cunningham has been part of the regular rotation, there have been notable increases in the output of guys like Jerami Grant and Killian Hayes.

For Grant, the rookie helped him get to the basket more easily with timely passes and his ability to draw defenders with him. Just 25 percent of Cunnigham’s passes went to Grant, with the veteran goalie converting 39.4 percent of those to long-range shots.

“It’s going well,” Grant said of his growing chemistry and that of Cunningham. “He’s talented as you can see. He’s good with the ball in his hands. He makes it easier for me, playing with the ball and everything.

Grant didn’t need a great period of adjustment with Cunningham as the team’s main player as he has never really played with the ball in his hands during his eight-year career.

“He does a good job of finding players and finding me or whoever it is,” he added. “So yeah, it’s okay.”

Casey has also noticed the two players’ growing trust in each other and sees it continue to grow as Cunningham finds out what the game gives him.

“A team is just not going to let you get down and sashay at the rim or do whatever you’re going to do to get to the rim or get your shot,” Casey said after Sunday practice. “They’re going to send you long and quick defenders. So now ‘what is plan B?’ and it is generalized with all our young players who experience this.

As for Cunningham’s relationship with Hayes, the two have already shown flashes of havoc they can wreak in the backcourt. The two are in the team’s top three in interceptions and have shown they can play well against each other.

In 18 games, Hayes has become one of the team’s top shooters. He knocked down 35.2% of his attempts from a distance over three tries per game. Hayes was also able to find Cunningham for buckets.

Additionally, the two young goaltenders helped move the Pistons within five points of the Suns’ lead last Thursday. Phoenix then turned to veteran goaltender Chris Paul to help them take control of the game and maintain their 18-game winning streak.

So despite the absence of training camp and preseason, Cunningham has found his place and continues to show why he was the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.

The Pistons host the Washington Wizards on Wednesday at Little Caesars Arena (7 p.m., Bally Sports Detroit).

About Kimberly Alley

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