Cade Cunningham shows potential in Summer League debut

Cade Cunningham turns one of his two steals into a breakaway dunk in Sunday’s Summer League debut.

LAS VEGAS — The first two shots popped the bottom of the net, but Cade Cunningham knew better than to make Sunday’s Summer League debut about anything more than gradual improvement.

“I think we got a lot from this game that we can learn from, and I think that’s the main thing you want coming out of your first game,” Cunningham. “So now we’re just gonna try to keep on building off of it.”

The No. 1 overall pick in this year’s Draft, Cunningham scored 12 points to go with six rebounds, two assists, two steals and a pair of blocks in Detroit’s 76-72 loss to sixth pick Josh Giddey and the Oklahoma City Thunder, as the Pistons opened play at the 2021 MGM Resorts NBA Summer League.

Giddey dribbled past Cunningham for a two-handed jam to score OKC’s first points of the night. It was his lone bucket on 1-of-3 shooting in five minutes before leaving with a sprained left ankle suffered in the game’s opening moments.

Cunningham, meanwhile, scored his first points on a corner 3-pointer before drilling another 3 from 26 feet out — both off assists from Killian Hayes — that helped Detroit jump out to a 12-4 lead.

“Both of them felt good,” Cunningham said. “I wanted to step into the game confident, ready to shoot, ready to play. To see the first two go down is a good feeling. But now it’s just building off that. I don’t know if I hit another one after that. There’s something you can learn from always.”

In fact, Cunningham did not hit another 3 after those two early makes, finishing 2 for 7 from range and 5 for 17 from the field while committing a game-high five turnovers.

While working to acclimate himself to the NBA game, the 19-year-old Cunningham also expressed some recognition of the importance of showing deference toward teammates with their own developmental goals. Rising second-year man Saddiq Bey, the 19th pick in 2020, led the Pistons with a team-high 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting (2 of 4 from 3-point range), while Tyler Cook chipped in 11.

“I know what the perspective of my teammates would be having the No. 1 pick come in,” Cunningham explained. “So I don’t want to come in and be a guy that’s trying to be all about me and take all of that space up. I want to respect their space. They’re trying to build on their games. Saddiq is coming off first-team All-Rookie. So I want him to add on that and try to elevate himself. For me, it’s just to come in and try to make plays and be the best teammate and try to make the best impact that I can on this team.”

Game Recap: Thunder 76, Pistons 72

Game Recap: Thunder 76, Pistons 72

Bey noticed almost immediately Cunningham’s potential impact for the upcoming season and pointed out the leadership qualities and versatility the rookie has displayed during the team’s limited time together.

“A great leader at his age,” Bey said. “I think he’s really versatile, can play multiple positions and guard multiple positions. I think we’re gonna need that. We’re gonna use that a lot. Our defense, our length is gonna be our advantage. He’s been doing a good job of adjusting for sure.”

“With it being Cade’s first game and our team as a whole’s first game, I saw guys trying to play the right way, moving the ball, trying to play together and using our voices on defense,” Pistons’ Summer League coach J.D. Dubois added. “We still have to continue, not just Cade, but our whole group of sustaining that for the full 40 minutes.”

More familiarity should help as the Pistons move on to face No. 2 pick Jalen Green and the Houston Rockets next (Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET).

“It was fun being able to put an NBA jersey on [for the] first time. Obviously, we wanted a win out of this,” Cunningham said. “More than anything we’re on the same page, mentally on where we want this team to be. Now, it’s about having a better feel for each other. We haven’t played a lot together, but we have so much time to build this and grow from it. We’re not gonna hang our heads off just one game.”

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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