Cade Cunningham and the Pistons hoping to follow Ja and the Grizzlies

Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham (left) and Memphis Grizzles guard Ja Morant (12)Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham (left) and Memphis Grizzles guard Ja Morant (12)Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports /

Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies are one of the best teams of the NBA, a place Cade Cunningham and the Detroit Pistons hope to be soon.

Morant has had a breakout season in his third year, jumping up to 27.5 points per game and looking like a top-5 MVP candidate while carrying his team to the two-seed in the Western Conference.

Even though the Pistons are at the opposite end of the Eastern Conference standings, the two teams have some things in common.

Both teams play in a place that isn’t considered a major media market. Both are building around a dynamic guard that they drafted. Both teams have secondary stars (Jaren Jackson Jr./Jerami Grant) and high-end role players who hope to be more (Dillon Brooks/Desmond Bane, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart).

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The Grizzlies are a few years ahead of the Pistons in terms of development and success, but when you look at their timeline, it’s one that Detroit hopes to follow.

Detroit Pistons and Cade Cunningham hope to emulate Ja Morant and the Grizzlies

Both Cade Cunningham and Ja Morant came into the league at age 20 and had/are having strong rookie seasons.

Morant notched 17.8 points, 7.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds in his rookie season for the Grizzlies, who finished 34-39 that year in the 9th seed in the West. Morant took home Rookie of the Year honors.

Cade Cunningham is averaging 16.5 points, 5.2 assists and 5.8 rebounds in year one. The Pistons aren’t going to reach 34 wins this season, but they should improve on their mark from last year and still have an outside chance of hitting the over for their preseason win total. Cade is in the running for Rookie of the Year and could very well win it if he continues his current level of play.

The two are very different players but both made an impact right away and offered hope to franchises that were down on their luck, though in the case of Memphis, not nearly as long as Detroit.

In Morant’s second season, Memphis added some more talent around him and the Grizzlies finished 38-34, winning the play-in tournament before losing a first-round playoff series to the Jazz.

This year the Grizzlies have gone up another tier behind continued growth from their young players, with Morant, Bane and Brooks all making sizable leaps.

If the Detroit Pistons make the right offseason acquisitions, I don’t think it would be a complete miracle for them to make the play-in next season in Cade Cunningham’s second year.

But Cade’s third season is the one in which they could make the big leap into contention, as Cunningham, Bey, Stewart (and hopefully Killian Hayes and Marvin Bagley III) should all have improved along with whatever draft pick they get this season.

The Memphis Grizzlies have provided the model for sustained success in a small market, which is to draft well, find gems later in the draft and give them time to grow and develop as a team.

The Detroit Pistons aren’t there yet, but Troy Weaver has this team on a path that hopefully leads to the kind of success the Grizzles are currently having with Ja Morant.

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