Detroit Pistons vs. Everybody: Why can’t Cade Cunningham get a foul call?

Cade Cunningham #2 of the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
Cade Cunningham #2 of the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) /

As Detroit Pistons fans have noticed, Cade Cunningham hasn’t been getting to the free throw line much in his rookie season. Most fans are blaming the officials, claiming there’s a bias against the Detroit Pistons. If you believe in conspiracy theories, thinking one of the most storied franchises in NBA history is being wrongly done would make sense.

When a organization feels they have been receiving a unfair whistle they usually file a complaint to the league office. The Pistons have yet to do that, or at least it hasn’t been reported.  Most rookies don’t benefit from contact like superstars. Pistons fans know this, yet the discrepancy with Cunningham has the fanbase angered.

Cade Cunningham is attempting only 2.5 free throws per game, a historically low mark for high usage rookies. Consider that Cade Cunningham is often compared to Luka Doncic who averaged 6.7 attempts as a rookie even though both of them spend most of their time in the lane.

For the top five rookies in usage rate, he’s dead last in free-throw attempts per game. Cade’s usage rate is leading all rookies at 27.2 percent. The next closest rookie is at 23 percent and making more free throws on average than Cade attempts. Of the top twenty-five rookies in usage in NBA history, he ranks the lowest in free throw attempts just beneath Rex Chapman and Dennis Smith Jr.

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Getting to the free throw line isn’t the only problem, he struggles to draw any fouls. His 2.4 fouls drawn per game is extremely low even for a rookie. He’s the catalyst for this young Pistons team and he’ll need to force fouls if his team wants to be competitive.

Detroit Pistons: Cade Cunningham is in the paint, why no calls?

Cunningham is not settling from the outside like earlier in the season. Getting in the paint helps players earn a chance at the charity stripe in most instances. However Cade’s attempts haven’t improved leaving fans wondering why.

The fact is, Cade has contributed to his low free throw shooting attempts to a degree. He plays with pace, and patience in the half court sometimes to his own detriment. His all-around skill set allows him to take what the defense gives him, but hasn’t produced many free throws attempts.

Forcing the action while remaining under control will put the onus back on the officials. Being comfortable in uncomfortable situations will be a game changer. He’s accustomed to playing at his own pace, mixing it up with a faster approach that occasionally will leave defenders off balance. Selling the contact is crucial in today’s NBA Cade never needed to utilize that to gain an advantage before. With experience comes knowledge, he’ll adjust and adapt to the nuances of this league.

He utilizes the screen to perfection creating space, but rarely in his rookie season does he take the ball right into the big’s chest. He usually extends using his wingspan as a weapon to evade the rim protector instead. This is craftiness at its finest, but it’s not a recipe for getting to the line and often results in tough shots over the outstretched hand of the defense. His below the rim style of play could be a factor as well.

Cade has shown his frustration with the refs in recent games. Against the Washington Wizards it was visible and on full display. There were some questionable calls to say the least that game. Another time he received a technical foul for making a chopping gesture towards the direction of the official. On the play he was definitely fouled and should’ve been granted two free throws but instead it backfired. Staying poised and fighting through adversity will be key for him.

He’s recognized as a mature leader, and he plays with those characteristics. He’ll grow from this rookie experience undoubtedly, which should lead to more foul calls.

But it’s easy to wonder if this truly is a “Detroit vs. Everybody” situation, if it’s Cade’s style of play or just the fact that he is a rookie still trying to learn the league and how to work the officials.

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