A Formidable Duo Forms: Why Jaden Ivey is the Perfect Foil to Cade Cunningham

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

A Formidable Duo Forms: Why Jaden Ivey is the Perfect Foil to Cade Cunningham

Basketball

A Formidable Duo Forms: Why Jaden Ivey is the Perfect Foil to Cade Cunningham

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Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Before the 2021 draft lottery took place, Pistons basketball was stuck in a hole. Many labeled Detroit as the face of NBA purgatory. But because of the bounce of the league’s ally holy ping pong balls, the Pistons were able to break loose of never-ending mediocrity and look to a bright future. This opportunity came at the drafting of Cade Cunningham. Yes, the team was still very bad as a collective unit but that’s nothing new to Pistons fans. What is new is having a future face of the franchise. 

Cunningham averaged 17 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 5 APG as a rookie on the 23-59 Pistons. He especially put the league on notice in the second half of the season. He bumped his scoring volume to 20 ppg and his efficiency to 45% from the 41% it was on the season. Cunningham excelled at breaking NBA defenses down with his pace, craft, and handle. He grew as a passer, making more advanced reads out of the pick and roll. He proved that he was the real deal and deserved to be heralded as the man to take the Pistons’ places in the future. 

Detroit’s roster was still not up to par next to Cunningham. There are good pieces like Saddiq Bey who will be a key 3&D wing to complement the star players. Isaiah Stewart and Marvin Bagley are bigs that contrast each other in effective ways. Both fit well with Cunningham and serve different roles for the Pistons on both ends of the floor. After those guys, the Pistons didn’t have a lot in terms of promising young players who could blossom. Killian Hayes isn’t cutting it as their future starting guard. Maybe Saben Lee or Hamidou Diallo could be a contributor but that’s not something to necessarily bet the house on. Point blank the Pistons needed to keep the youth movement going in this year’s draft. It’s safe to say they’ve done just that. 

Jaden Ivey became the newest Detroit Piston Thursday night. Taken with the fifth pick in the draft, Ivey will now join Cunningham to form a potentially scary backcourt. The 20-year-old from Purdue is the exact foil to Cunningham that the Pistons needed. Ivey is an athlete first and foremost and a dangerous one at that. He will be able to get by the majority of defenders and barge his way into the paint due to his lethal first step and burst. Ivey cracked college defenses with poor spacing. Now he will have more space to attack downhill and create offensive advantages. 

This is the perfect combo attack next to Cade Cunningham for several reasons. Cunningham is a unique talent because of his wing-like size mixed with the IQ and skills of a true point guard. He’s not a big-time athlete in space. Instead, Cunningham uses skill and intelligence to pave his way and create good looks for his team. They both mask each other’s weaknesses. Ivey isn’t a particularly good shooter or defender but Cunningham flashed the ability to be both in his rookie season. Cunningham isn’t the best athlete and doesn’t get to the rim nearly enough but Ivey will be/do both. 

It’s also a great fit because while both are dynamic with the ball in their hands, they can contribute off the ball too. Cunningham can allow another ball handler to work within the offense and get their own. At Purdue, Ivey got touches as a secondary creator and this will help him adjust to the role he’ll play early in the NBA next to Cunningham. Both can share the responsibilities of a lead creator. Cunningham will get downhill in the pick and roll and this can open up Ivey to score off the dribble by attacking closeouts. Meanwhile, when Ivey creates as the primary option on plays, Cunningham can use his size, shooting, and smarts to capitalize by cutting or hitting an open three. It’s an experiment that while maybe not seamless from day one, will prove to be a match made in heaven over time. 

Add in the Pistons drafting Jalen Duren and Detroit basketball has won the 2022 NBA Draft in my book. Duren could be a top-five talent in this class so getting him at 13 is terrific value. The big man from Memphis will be an excellent shot-blocker on defense that protects the paint at a high level. On offense, he will be one of the best play-finishing bigs due to his sheer size, frame, and vertical athleticism. Duren is a man amongst boys right now even though he’s the youngest player in the 2022 class. 

In addition to his talent in the here and now, Duren also showcased some short roll passing skills and shooting touch from the mid-range. These skills can only be enhanced by a passer like Cade Cunningham. We never got to see Duren’s value as a roll man because Memphis lacked competent playmakers. However, that tool can be unlocked in the league now that he’s on the Pistons.

With the selection of Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren in the 2022 draft, the Pistons have set themselves up beautifully for future success. They’ve drafted the perfect backcourt partner for their franchise star whose athleticism will translate right away. And they added a rim-protecting and vertical spacing big man with lots of upside. Where the Pistons were once stuck in NBA purgatory they’re now in a prime position to establish themselves as one of the NBA’s most up-and-coming teams starting in 2023.

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