Detroit Pistons rookie Cade Cunningham is quickly becoming a superstar

(Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
(Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images) /

Not every day, a Detroit Pistons point guard is mentioned in the same sentence as Detroit legend Isiah Thomas, but that is exactly where star rookie Cade Cunningham often finds himself of late.

This past Friday, Cunningham scored 27 points against Boston, his 10th 20-plus game of the season, which matched the former Piston great for 25-plus point games for a player 20 years of age or younger.  The two guards are the only players in Pistons’ history to achieve the feat, and Cunningham nearly made it 11 games this past Sunday, scoring 23 in a nail-biting loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at home.

Cunningham had been the consensus first overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, and he’s lived up to the hype and pressure that comes with being the first player selected.

The Detroit Pistons had been on life support over the past few seasons as they searched for the next face of their franchise, but we can safely say they’ve found it.

In an attempt to dip their toes back into the playoff revenue once again, the Pistons tried to rally around a trio of former household names like Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, and Andre Drummond. Still, their highwater mark leveled off as an eighth seed in the east.  After promptly being swept out of the playoffs by the Milwaukee Bucks, team owner Tom Gores embraced a wholesale rebuild.  In came general manager Troy Weaver, and in a year, the whole roster had been turned over.

Detroit Pistons rookie sensation Cade Cunningham is becoming a superstar right before our very eyes.

Cunningham averages 16.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game as a rookie while shooting 40.5% from the field and 32.1% from beyond the arc.

For much of the season, the Detroit Pistons have been stricken by injury, leaving Cunningham with an underwhelming supporting cast.  The primary roster deficiency for most of the year had been at the center position.

The teams’ top offseason acquisition, Kelly Olynyk, missed a significant amount of time due to a knee injury leaving Isaiah Stewart without a reliable backup.  The Pistons had been forced to play rookie Luka Garza who struggles defensively and is not quite NBA-ready.

Ahead of the trade deadline, Weaver tried to fill the void by landing another reclamation project in Marvin Bagley III.  Filling the void is precisely what Weaver did, and the addition of Bagley has paid off in a big way.  The former second overall pick hasn’t lived up to expectation but had enough raw talent to take a flier on, which fits what Weaver tends to look for as he continues to rebuild the Detroit Pistons.

This season, Bagley found himself in and out of the Kings rotation but has significantly benefitted from a fresh start.  Since joining Detroit, Bagley usually works off the bench but still averages 26.7 minutes in Detroit.  He’s averaged 14.2 points, 7.2 boards, one assist per game while converting on 54.2 of his attempts from the floor during nine games in Detroit.

The 23-year old inside scoring/lob threat has been just what the doctor ordered for Cunningham.  Cunningham and Bagley have worked well together with the pick and pop and can cash in when opponents send extra bodies Cade’s way.

Since Bagley joined Detroit, Cunningham has averaged 22.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, and six assists per game. During this stretch, he’s also shooting nearly 46% from the field on almost 20 attempts per game, plus converting on 31% of his shots from beyond the long line.

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With all due respect to the strong rookie class, it’s become apparent as the season has worn on that not only is Cunningham worthy of winning the rookie of the year award, he’s quickly becoming a superstar in this league.  The exciting part is he’s just 20-years old.