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John Niyo: Pistons' Cunningham a 'different dude' after a big offseason

John Niyo, The Detroit News on

Published in Basketball

DETROIT — Everything will be bigger from here on out. The workload and the responsibilities. The spotlight and the expectations, too.

Knowing that, Cade Cunningham decided he’ll need to be bigger as well if he wants to handle it all. And at first glance, it’s obvious that the Pistons’ young star is, in fact, growing to meet the moment.

“He looks like a different dude than he was last year,” head coach Dwane Casey laughed Monday as the Pistons gathered at Little Caesars Arena for their annual media day. “I didn't recognize him when I first saw him.”

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, obviously, but Cunningham’s bulked-up body is noticeable. And it is certainly notable as Casey’s up-and-coming roster hits the court Tuesday for the start of training camp.

Cunningham, the No. 1 overall pick who led all NBA rookies in scoring (17.3 ppg) last season, added 15-20 pounds of lean muscle to his 6-foot-6 frame over the spring and summer. And after finishing last season’s grueling 64-game debut at a waning 210 pounds, he’s talking confidently about just what this new-and-improved physique will mean going forward.

“Yeah, there's been a few times already where I've felt a lot stronger on the court,” Cunningham said. “I feel like it's helped me get to my spots a little easier. So it’s just making me feel a little bit more free on the court, like I can get wherever I want. And I think that’ll help with my whole mindset around the game − and my confidence.”

 

And, really, it’s that mindset – that confidence – that is at the heart of much of the optimism surrounding these Pistons, a group that general manager Troy Weaver says is officially in a “competing stage” after 2 full years of a complete roster overhaul.

“I feel like we finally have a full complement of players,” he said Monday.

It’ll take some time to see just how well they all complement each other, of course, as Casey and his staff spend the next week of camp − and a handful of preseason games after that − tinkering with lineups before the regular season tips off Oct. 19 against Orlando.

But everything will revolve around Cunningham, who as a 20-year-old rookie proved to be everything the Pistons hoped he was when they hit the lottery, flashing some of those traits that made him a can’t-miss prospect: The all-around game, the preternatural poise, the commanding presence.

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