The Detroit Pistons with Cade Cunningham are a very different team than Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks.
The Atlanta Hawks play a fast brand of basketball. Trae Young, their star, excels when he pushes the pace and attacks the basket. He has the ability to find his teammates with a pinpoint pass, play at the rim with a speedy move and off-balanced floater or teardrop, or hit an outside shot.
Cade Cunningham is a very different player from Trae Young, and to be honest, I’m not sure we’re seeing him play his brand of basketball. Mired in a rebuild and plagued by injuries, Detroit hasn’t been able to put a team around Cunningham that complements his tendencies and development.
At this point, Cunningham appears to be the offensive player we all hoped he could be. He’s finally putting together a healthy season, and he has the length and size to defend at a high level. Unfortunately, he struggles to be an efficient scorer in part due to the lack of healthy offensive weapons on the Pistons’ roster and in part due to his lack of experience.
Trae Young, like Cunningham, is struggling with efficiency this season. Both Young and Cunningham have three-point shooting percentages below .300, and Young’s effective field goal percentage is .417 while Cunningham’s is .456, both below the league average of .535.
As their respective teams’ stars, they’re both the focal point of the opposing team’s defense. Atlanta has a winning record because they deploy a balanced roster with players further along in their development, players who complement their star. Atlanta built their team around Young.
The difficulties of building around Cade Cunningham for the Detroit Pistons
The Pistons, for understandable reasons, are working on it.
Atlanta is 5th offensively, 20th defensively, and currently ranks 3rd in pace, all of which is due to Young’s game. He’s an exceptional offensive player, not a great defender, and he plays fast.
Atlanta’s fortunes, for better or worse, will rise and fall with their star, a problem Detroit would love to have.
As Detroit builds a team around Cunningham, they’ll need to answer questions about his style of play and examine the demands that places on roster construction. Cunningham appears to play a slow, intellectual brand of basketball. He wants to dissect opponents, forcing defenses to collapse or adjust. He needs floor spacers and teammates who can anticipate his adjustments.
Players like Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser can certainly complement this style of play. Other players will provide a change of pace or style when Cunningham is on the bench, at least if the roster is well enough balanced to accommodate differing styles. Some players, however, will find their development hampered by being forced to play a style of basketball they find awkward or confusing.
At the moment, Cade Cunningham is the future of Detroit Basketball, but that comes with terms and conditions. Motor Cade could be a very different player in April, but as we watch him grow, we should think about what it means for the team to grow around him.