LOS ANGELES – Cade Cunningham entered his second season ready to capitalize on a strong rookie campaign, but his 2022-23 campaign was cut drastically short. Now, he's looking to re-establish himself among the best young players in today's NBA.
After playing just 12 games in his sophomore season, Cunningham was shut down and underwent season-ending surgery to stabilize and promote healing of a left tibial stress fracture. The guard out of Oklahoma State had never dealt with an injury of that magnitude, but was now faced with an extended period away from an NBA court for the first time in his young career.
Cade Cunningham attacked his rehab head-on, taking the good days with the bad ones that inevitably came with them. Slowly but surely, he worked his way back from the injury, and although it's unclear when exactly he was cleared to return to full speed contact basketball, but he's been incredibly active this offseason.
From teaming up with his Pistons teammates at the UCLA runs to joining the USA Select Team and giving Team USA trouble in camp, Cunningham has looked and felt ready to go this offseason.
“I feel like I learned a lot about myself, about my team, and about the NBA that's going to help me prepare for this season coming up,” Cunningham told ClutchPoints in an exclusive interview this offseason. “I mean, it was tough. I hadn't went through anything like that before in my past. You know, like, having a big injury that had a long rehab that I was gonna have to go through, so it was definitely different for me.”
Most of the younger players who return from lengthy absences due to injury express a newfound outlook on the game. Being forced to watch dozens of games from the bench and having more time to break down film alongside their coaching staffs provides a new perspective, and it's one Cunningham believes will positively impact his game.
“Yeah, I'd say it's [the point of view],” Cunningham explained the biggest thing he learned to ClutchPoints. “I see things from a different point of view being on the sideline for a whole year. You get a different perspective with your teammates, being on the side watching them every day compared to being on the court with them. So, you know, just a combination of things like that that I'll be able to take from last year and be able to apply next year.”
During Team USA's camp ahead of the 2023 FIBA World Cup, clips surfaced on social media of Cade Cunningham leading his USA Select Team to multiple wins over Anthony Edwards and Team USA. Fans, of course, absolutely ran with the videos and the hype around Cunningham's play with Pistons teammate Jalen Duren. Those on the ground even said Cunningham looked noticeably bulkier.
— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) August 4, 2023
“It was an honor [being with Team USA]. Coming off a year where I only played 12 games and had a big surgery and everything. I didn't play since the [injury], so to be considered and to be invited to be on the World Cup team was a huge honor. And that's why I still wanted to come and be on the Select team and still be in those practices and be in the scrimmages.”
Considering these are some of the most competitive athletes on the planet, playing against your peers at the highest level is something Cunningham simply couldn't pass up.
“It's everything,” Cade Cunningham remarked to ClutchPoints. “Iron sharpens iron, so to be able to compete, push each other, have so much talent all collected in one room, it brings the best out of everybody. I think everybody can attest to that. Being surrounded by so much talent definitely pushed us and gets us better for next year.
Cunningham started his NBA career looking like the runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year, averaging 17.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 1.2 steals per game in 64 appearances. He struggled with efficiency, however, converting on just 41.6 percent of his shots and only 31.4 percent from three.
He was eventually overtaken by Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes (the eventual ROY), who had stellar second halves to their rookie seasons. And while he keeps his personal goals close to the vest, Cunningham is placing a considerable amount of focus on taking the Detroit Pistons towards championship contention.
“Of course, being healthy and being available for my team. that's the biggest goal. And then most importantly, just winning games. I want to take a leap for next year and get closer to being a championship caliber team.”
The Pistons have an intriguing young nucleus mixed with some much-needed veterans on their team. Detroit retained Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks while acquiring both Joe Harris from the Brooklyn Nets and Monte Morris from the Washington Wizards. They've also got Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, and Jalen Duren as the younger members of the team.
Their biggest acquisition of the offseason, however, is one Ausar Thompson. Selected with the fifth pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, Ausar Thompson comes out of Overtime Elite, bringing speed and athleticism to a Pistons squad that is looking to get out and run this year.
Ausar Thompson spoke exclusively with ClutchPoints in July, where he explained where he thinks he fits with his new Pistons teammates.
“I definitely think about [playing with the NBA guys in the fall],” Thompson said. “I think I fit in with the fact that I can rebound and we can run. I mean we’re all so fast. Even the bigs are fast, so we’ll get out there and run. We don’t really have to try to play in the half-court, maybe as little as possible. Obviously, we have to be prepared to play in the half court, but just being able to switch so much. I feel like our team is so switchable too, even the bigs. I know I keep saying that, but our bigs are just so mobile and they want to run, so I'm excited.”
Cade Cunningham says he cannot wait to suit up with him.
“I'm super excited about him. He's a great guy, most importantly. I'm excited to be able to work with him and be around him, but on the court, I mean, it's obvious that he's going to be able to bring to us with so much talent, so much athleticism, and such a high IQ.
“We have a lot of athletes, so it would be good for us.”