Detroit Pistons: Evaluating the fit of Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Pistons have made their No. 1 selection official as expected, selecting Cade Cunningham, guard most recently from the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

The Pistons had the second-worst record in the league last season, so their needs are plentiful. They were well below average at shooting and rebounding and scored the fourth-lowest point totals in the league.

There is a lot of inexperience in the starting lineup as it stands now. Jerami Grant, 27 years old, may very well end up being the oldest player on the starting lineup, with the others—Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, and Isaiah Stewart—all playing in only their second seasons. This may allow for some fluidity in the depth chart, especially in the backcourt.

The question arises: where does Cunningham fit into the depth chart for the Detroit Pistons?

Does he assume the primary point guard role, or does he use his size to better work the shooting guard spot?

As mentioned previously, Cunningham has good size for his position. At 6’ 8” and 220 pounds, he actually outweighs Bey (6’ 7”, 215). Like Bey, he is also a good shooter from three, but his size enables him to drive to the basket. That said, Cunningham will probably not be taking the small forward spot from Bey. He needs the ball to maximize his effectiveness.

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No, the competition will come at the point guard position. Between Killian Hayes, last year’s first-round pick (No. 7), and Cade Cunningham, the two players occupy similar roles on the court. In fact, it was one of the few red flags in the lead-up to the night of the draft—whether the players are too similar.

A true combo guard, Hayes essentially split his time between the spots. He often brought the ball up the court and his 5.3 assists per game back up his ability to create a play. He showed particular skill driving to the basket before kicking out to Bey or pulling in defense to create an opening for Stewart. But when Delon Wright was in the game, for instance, Hayes shifted to the two-guard spot. Hayes was able to excel at this; his shot was at its most consistent from the catch and shoot position.

Cunningham is a similar player in that he is also comfortable orchestrating the offense, with smart assists or hitting shots off a pick and roll. He has the ability to control the pace of the game. He does have an edge on Hayes by being a better three-point shooter. He can definitely play off the ball, but he shines when the offense runs through him.

There are still some issues for the two players. Both are somewhat notorious for committing turnovers. Both have some trouble creating an isolated shot for themselves. These are coachable issues, though, and they will be able to help each other by splitting the defense.

Taking all of this into consideration, it would not be surprising if the Pistons continue to nudge Hayes into the two-guard role and give Cunningham the primary carrier role. This would allow the team to capitalize on Cunningham’s passing and take advantage of Hayes’s ability to catch and shoot.

dark. Next. Pistons select Cade Cunningham first in the 2021 NBA Draft

Fortunately, Dwane Casey will have the opportunity to experiment with this position all season long. Whether Cunningham or Hayes take the primary ballhandling and creator role may vary game by game. In any case, the Detroit Pistons will have a great pair of options in the backcourt.