After an impressive season that culminated in a third-place
finish for the NBA's Rookie of the Year award, Detroit Pistons star
Cade Cunningham recently opened up about a valuable lesson he
learned during his first year as a pro.
“I think the biggest thing I learned is that the league, the
media, nobody will care until you’re winning,” Cunningham told SLAM. “I could feel bad for
myself all I want about [how] people didn’t respect or appreciate
the season I had or anything, but I didn’t win a lot of games.
"I think that’s been the biggest thing that I’ve locked in on
and I decided within: I have to win games if I want people to
respect my name. And if not, then I can’t be mad at people not
watching enough games and how I really play. That’s the challenge
that I’ve tried to take on. I’ve talked to teammates [and] we’re
all trying to take that challenge on. I think that’s the next step
Cunningham played well as a rookie, averaging 17.4 points, 5.6
assists, 5.5 rebounds, 1.8 threes and 1.2 steals in 64 games. And
he looked significantly better in the second half of the season,
posting 21.1 points, 6.5 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 1.3 threes and 1.1
steals per game after the All-Star break.
However, to his point, the Pistons finished the season 23-59,
which was the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference (and
the third-worst record in the NBA). Detroit boasted the league's
28th-ranked offense (scoring 103.3 points per 100 possessions) and
23rd-ranked defense (allowing 111.1 points per 100
Cunningham seems determined to change that. It's not uncommon
for a young player to spend years trying to put up numbers and
prove he is a star, so it's great to see Cunningham already
prioritizing team success over individual accolades and taking a
mature approach as a 20-year-old.
Perhaps Hall-of-Famer Isiah Thomas has helped Cunningham see the
bigger picture, as SLAM notes that Thomas has had several
conversations with Cunningham about leadership and other
Fortunately, the Pistons are in excellent position to add some
some reinforcements alongside Cunningham. Detroit has the No. 5
pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, and our Senior NBA Draft Analyst Matt Babcock currently
projects that the Pistons will select Kentucky's Shaedon
Also, the Pistons currently project to have the second-most cap
space in the NBA this offseason ($25.80 million), trailing only the
Orlando Magic ($28.67 million). If Detroit is able to add some key
pieces alongside Cunningham, perhaps the organization can right the
ship and return to the playoffs sooner than later.
Cunningham was also asked about this season's Rookie of the Year
award, which went to Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes (with
Cleveland Cavaliers big man Evan Mobley finishing as the
runner-up). While Cunningham felt he should have won the award,
he's happy for his former high-school teammate and he's glad the
debate is over.
“Scottie is my brother, I’m happy that he got that award,"
Cunningham said. "I feel like it’s great that it’s him, [my]
Montverde teammate. I’m super excited [for him]. I mean, it’s never
really been about that award for me. I’ve had a ton of questions
asked about it, you know— 'Rookie of the Year, what do you think
about you winning?' So, I’ma answer the question, you know? I feel
like I should win it. That’s natural. But it was never a knock on
those guys. I love their game and I’m happy that now we can quiet
that question down. Congrats to Scottie, man, I love my dog.”
While Cunningham didn't win the Rookie of the Year, award
there's no question that he has a bright future and the Pistons are
thrilled to have him.