On Thursday night, Luka Doncic and Cade Cunningham dueled for the first time. And although they came out even between the two players, the Pistons ultimately fell short. The Dallas Mavericks defeated Detroit 131 – 113. Luka Doncic showcased why he is in the MVP conversation. Doncic, despite going a Saddiq-esque (kidding, of course) 2-11 from beyond the arc. However, everywhere else in his game, Luka Doncic put on display why he might be the next best player in the world. He finished with 14 assists, 8 rebounds, and got to the free throw line for a total of 13 attempts. Between his ability to manipulate defenders for wide open looks, and his overall versatility, Luka Doncic is un-guardable. The Pistons did their best, and kept his scoring mostly at bay. However, when he gets to the line, it more than makes up for his missed shots.

The Pistons had a player that had a similar performance, Cade Cunningham to be specific. Cade finished with his eighth game with at least 25, 5, and 5. He is Detroit’s franchise guy for a reason, as he can go toe to toe with other stars on a night to night basis. Especially down the stretch of the second half this season. In an interview on NBA TV  between Isiah Thomas and Cunningham, Cade talked about how his focus isn’t on scoring, but more-so on making the winning plays. He cites focusing on things like boxing out, passes in transition, ways he can get teammates involved. And even coach Dwane Casey sited that he wasn’t aware of how extensive Cunningham’s knowledge of the game was. High praise for a player that’s only 20 years old.

Pistons Cade Cunningham showed similarities to Luka’s game

Last night, Cade Cunningham showed why he is inserting himself in the Rookie of the Year conversation. Although the consensus, according to the Kia NBA weekly ranking, Evan Mobley is still number one. And even though Cunningham deserves the award, the odds are in the favor of Mobley. Nonetheless, Cunningham showed why his game can be compared to the dynamic guard in Dallas. If you look strictly at the box score, it almost looks similar.

Cunningham struggled from the field, but still had 25 points. Doncic had 26. And just like Luka, Cade was able to dish 9 assists of his own. Interestingly, Cade Cunningham was at the line for 11 attempts (a career high, by the way). He also notched 2 steals, a block, and 7 boards. There might not be a more complete young player than Luka Doncic. However, there’s an argument to be made that Cade Cunningham might be in that conversation amongst the top of that list.

In addition, the Pistons had a solid performance from their motor Isaiah Stewart, who finished with a 19 point 14 rebound performance. And he even got a block on Luka Doncic early in the first quarter. He has come to form over the course of the second half of this season, and his production has been crucial in many Pistons wins. From the clutch blocks like the one in Boston, to the high production on the glass, Stewart is beginning to make effort plays that lead to winning. And although Detroit struggled tonight, and Dallas did score 54 points in the interior, there’s a lot to like from Isaiah Stewart’s game.

Pistons play Milwaukee and Philadelphia to close their season

Detroit’s schedule is not favorable to end their season from a winning sense. But that plays right into their need to be in the top three of the lottery odds. It seems imperative for this team to have the opportunity to get the best talent to play alongside Cade Cunningham. That doesn’t mean that these players are going to fold, however. What players will play down the stretch remains to be seen, but if healthy, I would expect to see Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey have more limited minutes. And guys like Saben Lee, Jamorko Pickett, Braxton Key, and Frank Jackson will all get time to shine. In addition to Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes, of course.

The Pistons continue to have a lot of reasons to be optimistic in their direction. And as they head into an offseason with a lot of new possibilities, Troy Weaver will have some more decisions to make. But for now, it’s about finishing strong, and continuing to build identity. To build culture, and to get crucial minutes against playoff teams competing for seeding in the NBA Playoffs.  But one thing is clear: this team is not going to have this amount of losses this time next year if health is on their side. There will be more talent, new faces, and more pillars to the core of this franchise. And there’s players on this team that can compete for spots. This team will play hard, and might keep these games close. But don’t expect them to finish in the win column. Perhaps, one could say, by design.

Follow Sean on Twitter at seanhalfcourt and also on YouTube. Be sure to follow Woodward Pistons and From Half Court!

Featured Image Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

 

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