The groundwork for this momentous occasion was laid late in the regular season when head coach Dwane Casey suggested he’d like to see Hayes off-ball a bit more. Whether the Pistons actually had the gall to hope that they’d win the lottery and get to draft Cunningham or not, they wanted to work on expanding what Hayes could do on the floor and this was a good first step.
Fans of the Detroit Pistons finally got to see Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes in action together in Summer League. Here’s what we learned.
The day has arrived at long last. Cunningham and Hayes got to make their debut as a duo on the first night of the Las Vegas Summer League against the OKC Thunder on Sunday, and we got the chance to see what they could do together. Let’s give a rundown on major observations from their pairing.
My own assumption coming into Summer League was that they would start together, but one of them would run bench units as the primary ball-handler. Instead, there was virtually no staggering from them. All of Hayes’s 23 minutes came with Cunningham, while Cunningham himself only played three more minutes, all of which were with Saben Lee. Speaking of Lee, the three-point-guard unit featuring this entire trio struggled, so it’ll be interesting to see if it makes a return later in Summer League.
Killian Hayes as lead ball-handler?
There’s a conundrum when you have two point guards in your starting lineup: Who is going to have the ball in their hands? In the game against OKC, Killian Hayes was a frequent ball-handler initiating the offense. This is a Catch-22, of course. Hayes’s best skills are his playmaking and passing, but Cunningham is outstanding at both of these as well. Conversely, Hayes is a poor shooter, while Cunningham is an excellent shooter, so having possessions start with Hayes and end with Cunningham makes some sense. Still, taking the ball out of Cade Cunningham’s hands at any point seems like a bit of a shame and a great reason to have one of them quarterbacking bench units while the other sits.
Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes make a hellacious defensive duo
One of the things I’ve been most excited to see was how Cunningham and Hayes defend together. They have great length and physical tools, as well as outstanding basketball intelligence and the ability to read and react on the defensive side of the ball. The Pistons are coming at their defense from a unique angle. Instead of building defensively from the inside out, starting with a rim protector, their best defenders are largely on the perimeter in the forms of Cunningham and Hayes, as well as Saddiq Bey and Jerami Grant. As expected, Cunningham and Hayes were outstanding on defense and gave the young Thunder fits when they were on the floor together.
What to watch for from Cunningham and Hayes in Game 2 against the Houston Rockets
Out of these observations, the main one we can expect to see change in the future should be the lack of staggering. Breaking them up for portions of games could allow them both to utilize their unique skills and assets, as well as boosting the Pistons’ ineffective scoring off the bench. Of course, winning Summer League games isn’t the goal, it’s to build chemistry and get reps and familiarize these youngsters with the team’s system, but staggering makes sense in the regular season as well. Let’s keep an eye on this one going forward as Summer League progresses.