Cade Cunningham was the consensus No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft leading up to the event and the Detroit Pistons did the only responsible thing and put their future in those hands. They are searching for Grant Hill 2.0 and the NBA, until we observe otherwise, requires a dominant wing player to compete in the most important games. Both Evan Mobley in Cleveland and Jalen Green in Houston got the Well Actually treatment proclaiming them to the be best players available and each have gotten off to a more productive and inspiring starts than Cunningham.
The Pistons' shiny new engine missed the first four contests with injury and debuted with a flat 1-for-8 night that earned all of two points. He followed it up with a 2-for-14 and a 4-for-17 while struggling to hit the broad side of a barn from outside the arc. Steady, unremarkable improvement led into Wednesday night's matchup with the Rockets in Houston and a chance to compete in a meaningful spot against Green. An opening chapter in the rivalry between the two that feels wholly driven by Green, who took a wild swing at the city of Detroit during this whole process.
After getting the better of Cunningham in exhibition, it looked like Green was going to back up his trash talk as he flew out of the gates, scoring points in bunches. That all changed, though, late in the third quarter when the high-flyer took an outlet pass, slammed it home and proceeded to taunt Cunningham. The outburst drew a technical foul, the Pistons went on a big run and eventually breezed to a somewhat stress-free victory. They now have twice as many wins (2) as the Rockets, which hammers home just how insignificant this result is to the larger picture.
At the same time, Detroit fans have to appreciate how all of this played out. Green failed to score another point after the tech. Cunningham didn't light the Earth on fire down the stretch, finishing with 20 points on 8-for18 shooting with a career-high four triples. But he also didn't take the bait. He rose to the occasion calmly and cooly, without fanfare of peacocking. There was a professionalism on display as he got to the business of winning while Green got to the business of chirping.
Forecasting the future is impossible and it's entirely realistic Green has a Hall of Fame career and wins championships while Cunningham fails to develop into a player who can carry Detroit deep into the playoffs. Surmising the right now is simpler. Cade answered the bell and Green couldn't cash a check. We learned a lot about how each player handles such a moment. There are still plenty of doubts surrounding the Pistons' reconstructed ceiling and its new foreperson. But we know he has this in him. That his demeanor is not going to wilt under adversity and he's not going to put himself in the crosshairs, then freeze.
It's the first quality win to his name and hopefully a sign of things to come. A sleepy beginning may have just gotten the initial spark it needed.