The Conversation: The Detroit Pistons without Cade Cunningham

Jan 20, 2024; Detroit, Michigan, USA;  Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham talks to referee
Jan 20, 2024; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham talks to referee / Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons did the unthinkable yesterday and beat a good team, putting a 120-104 smackdown on the Thunder, who are currently tied for the 1st in the Western Conference.

The wild thing is that they did it on the tail end of a back-to-back and without Cade Cunningham in the lineup, which prompted all of the Cade skeptics and haters to come flying out of the woodwork like angry termites.

Immediately, I knew we'd be having The Conversation about whether the Pistons are better without Cade Cunningham.

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Cade is the team's best player, so to argue that they are better without him makes little sense, but they have recorded three of their six wins this season with him on the bench.

I would argue that was more about the trade that jettisoned Isaiah Livers out of the starting five and brought in Mike Muscala to help stabilize the bench. But the team is 3-6 without Cade Cunningham this season, so is there some validity to this notion?

The Detroit Pistons without Cade Cunningham

The Pistons are 3-6 in the nine games Cade has missed this season and 3-34 in the 37 he's played.

The overall offensive rating drops from 117.1 to 110.7 with Cade Cunningham out, so it's hard to argue that the offense is better, but we'll get back to that in a minute.

The defensive rating moves from 120.7 to 121.8, so not much difference. They are terrible defensively with or without Cade Cunningham.

But when you dig a little deeper into the numbers, things get more interesting.

The Pistons average 28.9 assists per game when Cade has been out this season and 25.7 when he's in, indicating that the ball movement might be better without Cunningham dominating nearly every possession.

The Pistons' field goal percentage jumps from 46.7 to 49 percent with Cade on the bench and their 3-point percentage goes from 34.2 to 39.4 percent. Cunningham has only missed nine games, so these are small sample size numbers, and you also have to factor in that six of these games came post-trade, when the Pistons bench has been much better overall, which has boosted those stats.

When it comes to the eye test, the Pistons moved the ball better last night, Jaden Ivey played with more freedom and purpose and there weren't as many dud possessions or turnovers. By the way, the Pistons average three fewer turnovers per game this season when Cade has been out.

But I put that on the coaches, not Cade Cunningham.

Cade Cunningham is not the problem, but there needs to be adjustments

The issue seems to be how the Pistons run an offense when Cade Cunningham is in there. They've tried to pigeonhole him into a Luka Doncic role in a heliocentric offense that revolves around Cade getting into the mid-range or paint and either taking his shot or passing out when the double comes.

This ends in a lot of possessions where the rest of the guys are standing around, not moving off the ball, not cutting to the rim, and largely just standing outside the 3-point line waiting for Cade to pass it out. It also leads to a lot of turnovers when the defense swarms, and part of this is on Cade to be better at recognizing these moments, and part of it comes down to scheme.

Especially concerning are the possessions where Cunningham dribbles under the basket and comes around the other side while everyone else stands around watching like he's Teen Wolf.

Cade is an unselfish player, so it makes little sense to use him this way, as he can make an impact on the ball as well as off it. It would be nice to see more ball and player movement when Cade Cunningham comes back, so let's hope slow-ride Monty Williams makes this realization after watching his team's sizzling offense last night with his best player on the bench.

So no, the Detroit Pistons are not better without Cade Cunningham, but they are different and can learn from the successes they have had without him.