Even after his season was shut down after just 12 games last year with injury, Cade Cunningham is making up for lost time, minutes-wise.
This past offseason, there were quite a few fans and media members who were dangerously close to connecting Cade Cunningham with the dreaded “B” word. That infamous “B” word obviously being a bust. If a player, especially one selected within the lottery, “underperforms” in their first two years, fans are quick, often too quick, to label them as a bust. Cade, based solely on his health, was beginning to be brought into that conversation for some. It was never his talent in question, but what they say is true: Availability is the best ability.
That brings us to this young season. Cade is 100 percent healthy and performing as he was expected to. Although just 13 games into the season, Cunningham is averaging 21.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per night. Cade was selected 1st overall for a reason, and the stats thus far have looked as though he is on the right track. The most eye-popping stat, however, is his minutes played this season. Clearly, there are no concerns of re-injury as Cade is 3rd in the NBA in total minutes so far, behind only two Bulls (Vucevic and LaVine) who have played an extra game. Cade Cunningham has played 486.5 minutes this year, which comes out to 36 per game.
Cade Cunningham’s minutes are a double-edged sword
On one hand, Cade being one of the leaders in minutes played this season can be looked at as a good thing. As mentioned above, one of the largest knocks on Cade’s young career thus far has been injury concerns. Last season was almost entirely a wash thanks to the injury to his shin. The Pistons were just one more injury-prone season from Cade away from being in a similar position as the Pelicans are with Zion Williamson. The talent is apparent but is useless if it’s in street clothes on the bench. This season looks like there are no restrictions for Cade, indicating that, at least for the moment, Cade is in the clear. Which should have Pistons fans rejoicing.
There is another side of this argument, however. Cade leading the NBA in minutes is concerning based on the lack of production behind him. Cade has been forced to play almost 500 minutes this year, and yet the Pistons are still losers of 10 straight. The depth and talent around the star point guard is clearly an issue and Cade is being forced to pick up the slack. There have been injuries of course, but the lack of help around him has to be a concern.
Additionally, an issue in Cade’s gameplay this year has been turnovers. Having to play so many minutes almost guarantees more turnovers. Or at the very least does not allow for Cade to take a minute to work through his turnover problems. Detroit currently ranks as worst in the NBA in turnovers per game with 17.5. Cade Cunningham himself is ranked as the very worst in turnovers. Out of 300 qualifying players, Cade is number one with 4.9 turnovers per game. Cade has eight more total turnovers than Luka Doncic, who is second on the list and has an even higher usage rating. Asking so much out of your franchise player could very well create bad habits.
I expect Cade’s minutes per game to decrease as the Pistons become healthier, but Cade owning the minutes this season was a definite surprise. It’s great that he’s playing so much, but it the minutes are taking their toll on his shooting stats and turnovers.