Jaden Ivey dropped his head after the Sacramento Kings selected Keegan Murray fourth overall. There was no way it would go past five, he thought. Ivey has family in Detroit, and the city felt like home when the Detroit Pistons hosted him for pre-draft practice.
Ivey, of course, got his wish. And instead of spending time at home with his mother, Niele, in South Bend, Indiana, he stayed in Detroit to train.
The Pistons’ summer league roster showed up at the practice facility late last week, and Ivey got acclimated with his new teammates. On Tuesday they will fly to Las Vegas and prepare for their first summer league game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday.
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“I see myself fitting in well,” Ivey said at the Pistons’ pre-summer league press conference on Sunday. “I feel like we’re connected. In the first two days I feel like we were all connected as a group, we were talking to each other and building that team chemistry. I think it’s “is the most important thing. I love that these guys are ready, it’s so much fun to play with. I can’t wait to play in the summer league.
After a breakout season at Purdue, Ivey was widely expected to be the fourth pick. Draft analysts were surprised to see him fall to the Pistons, and he and Cade Cunningham could form one of the most electric young backcourts in the NBA next season. Ivey is a gifted athlete with an elite first step and jumping ability, and will give the team the speed it has been missing.
“He has elite speed, and like any young player, he has to learn to shift gears and understand when there’s a traffic jam, am I going 100 miles an hour or am I going there at 100 miles an hour? what I go in and change gears?” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said on Sunday. “Which is a good problem to have because it means he has elite speed. It’s the little things he has to learn, and he will. But you can just see the speed difference in our training or work with him pushing the ball to the ground.”
But for Ivey to hit his cap, he’ll need to improve on other aspects of his game. General manager Troy Weaver and Casey challenged him to lock down the defense. Standing 6-foot-4 with a 6-9 wingspan, Ivey has the size and strength to defend multiple positions. He made some great defensive plays in college, but has room to grow.
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Casey said during Pistons practice Saturday, Ivey bet for a steal in the backcourt, went down, but recovered and used his speed to force a steal to the other end of the floor. Casey was happy to see him recover.
“I always say I don’t care if you make a mistake,” Casey said. “Make it difficult, and he did it with his speed.”
“Definitely to be an impact defender,” Ivey said of his goal. “That’s what I’m working on. In practice, I feel like I’m really aggressive. Just that Pistons mindset, that Bad Boys mindset that you have every day and that you come back on the defensive. I feel like I’ve really improved in that aspect.”
The Pistons are bringing all of their recent draft picks to the summer league, including Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. Although they don’t appear in every game, they will be present during practices in Las Vegas, giving Ivey the opportunity to develop chemistry with Cunningham.
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It remains to be seen how the two players will fit in next to each other, but there is a clear advantage. They’re both great guards, as Cunningham is 6-6 with a 7-foot wingspan. Ivey’s explosiveness and rim pressure will make an interesting contrast to Cunningham’s methodical approach. And Cunningham is Detroit’s best point guard, which will relieve Ivey of creating for others.
“I’m just trying to learn, mostly, what he does and how I can help his game,” Ivey said of Cunningham. “We’re just there for each other. We’re still a work in progress, still learning. We’re not going to get it the same day, so it’s going to take a few practices to get there. I feel like a team, we come together and try to build something here, we just have to keep working as partners.
Defensively, the Pistons are hoping Ivey can handle quick guards to take the pressure off Cunningham. Detroit turned on the defense frequently last season, and Casey predicts they will do so next season as well. Ivey has the size to be a plus in defense and handle multiple missions. The summer league will be his first test.
“Being able to hold multiple positions, he’s able to do that with his size and strength,” Casey said. “And he’s not a finished product with his body, he’ll also grow in the weight room and that kind of stuff too. He’s got a great future with us, like our first and second year guys, we still have some more and more to do.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has a digital subscription model. Here’s how you can access our most exclusive Pistons content. Learn more about the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.