Saddiq Bey unplugged: Pistons forward talks going to the bench, keeping faith and fitting in


Much like life, Detroit Pistons forward Saddiq Bey has already traveled the entire spectrum of emotions in just three NBA seasons.

He’s been heralded. He’s been doubted. He’s been beloved. He’s been ridiculed. He’s started over 120 straight games. He’s come off the bench. He’s been one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA and then couldn’t get a jump shot to fall.

This seesaw of sensations grips all young NBA players. Some are just able to find a balance sooner than others. The good provides a sense of security, a sense of invincibility. The bad, which is always close behind, comes with frustration and questions. The 2020 first-team NBA All-Rookie selection, who has a 51-point game to his name, has endured it all. Every drop.

In Year 3, the 23-year-old Bey has tussled with, arguably, the toughest period of his basketball life. Once a poster boy for consistency, which earned him a starting job from early in his rookie season through the early part of this season, Bey was moved to the second unit in November as Pistons head coach Dwane Casey sought answers for his young, struggling team and preferred to go with two bigs in the starting lineup.

Bey, who was arguably the best 3-point shooter in college basketball and ripped nets as a rookie in the NBA, shot under 30 percent from 3 through the first 19 games of this season. As Bey’s game inside the 3-point line improved, the thing Detroit needed most and expected from Bey disappeared. There was no rhyme or reason. It’s a make-or-miss league.

In December, though, Bey has regained some of his shooting form. Through eight games, he is shooting 37.2 percent from 3. Bey is still getting big minutes despite no longer hearing his name announced in the pregame intro. It feels like the water is starting to level on the promising young player.

Over the weekend, Bey talked with The Athletic about the start to his third season, including being moved to the bench, staying out of his own head, going through adversity while still enjoying the process and much more.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

This season, you’ve gone through a lot of things you hadn’t before in the NBA, adversity. Whether it’s being injured for the first time, being moved to the bench … this is all new for you. What have you been able to process and take in after the first few months of this season?

You know … I’m a big believer in God and faith, and this has been really challenging, to be honest with you. I’m grinding every day, focusing on the right things, playing hard and just knowing that it doesn’t matter what happens with the things I can’t control, I just have to control what I can. That’s my work ethic, my effort, how hard I play and how hard I pray. Those are non-negotiables for me. It’s a great learning experience.

We all see and hear stories about how hard you work. I don’t think that’s ever been a question. With that, though, sometimes the results don’t end up where you want them to be. That’s life. This season, was there ever a point when you questioned yourself? 

My mind is a certain way. The way that I work, the way that my spirituality is, I just feel like that as long as I do those things, no matter what goes on, I know that it’s going to workout at some point. I’m a big believer in that. I’ve looked all this stuff as tests. Earlier in the season, people maybe had an expectation of how it was going to go, how I would start the season off. Sometimes, though, that process, that journey, might not go how everyone thinks it will or views it. As long as, you know, my values are still the same, I feel like I can always get through that storm.

How do you balance going through adversity in the moment but still being able to enjoy the process, the journey?

Like you asked before, it comes inward. As long as you believe in yourself and are confident in your work, which I am, I can hang my hat on that. Like you said, when you start doubting or think you’re not enough, that’s when stuff alters you. I’m confident. As long as all the work and sweat equity, all the stuff I put in, I know I can’t be denied for too long.

I can’t remember if you and I have talked about this specifically, but maybe more than anyone on this roster since you’ve been here, you have had revolving roles. Your first year as pretty much a spot-up shooter. Year 2, you did more creating. Also, in Year 2, you played small forward next to Jerami Grant, but you’d fill his role when he was out and some of your best games came at the four spot. The team needed you to do more self-creation when Cade Cunningham and Grant were out. This year, they needed more shooting out of your spot with Cade and Jaden Ivey handling the ball. Now, they need you in a bench role. A lot of this was out of necessity and circumstances. Yet, I’m sure it’s not easy.

Do you still feel like you’re figuring out, and not necessarily who you want to be in this league, but what your best role on this team is and how to play to that?

It’s a good challenge because I’ve always wanted to be one of the guys that does whatever the team needs, whatever role. I just try to be that glue guy who can adapt to any role. I think that holds value. Also, you have confidence and certain level of pride in your game, knowing what you can do. I’m just trying to establish that thing I can do every single night. “I can provide this every single night. You can expect this from me every single night.” I’m just trying to find that balance. I want to be as adaptable and revolve as much as possible, but I also want everyone to be able to depend on me to do this or that, be a leader for this team.

Your 3-point shooting has started to turn back around in a good way. Shooters don’t forget how to shoot. For someone who has shot the ball so well, essentially, at every stage of their career, was it impossible to avoid frustration or question your shooting as you went through that rough period?

As a competitor, if I’m not shooting it as well, I was upset. It’s wasn’t visible, but I was upset inside. I know I’m a better shooter than that. For me, I wanted to get the frustration out with more shooting, more practice.

I was going to ask that … did you do more or less shooting to get out of that funk?

More, for sure. I’m not the type of person who, if I have to get through something or don’t like where it is, is going to just sit at home, think about it and contemplate it. That forces me to get into the gym more, that forces me to shoot even more, to the point where there is so much muscle memory that’s all I can depend on. I wanted to get in the gym more, even if that meant I was going to get a little bit more sore or a little bit more fatigued during the game, that’s fine. At least, I know I put myself in the best position to be successful.

Before Cade went down, he called you the ultimate team guy. When Dwane (Casey) was asked how you took the decision to come off the bench, he said that you were a pro about it all but, obviously, you weren’t thrilled. When a team isn’t winning and a coach makes a lineup decision, I would imagine that, naturally, it’s easy for a player to feel like the scapegoat. How long did it take you to internalize where he was coming from?

Not really. He explained it well. He wanted to start two bigs and have an inside presence. A lot of teams play four guards/wings and one big, some teams play, like back in the day, with two bigs. He wanted to utilize the bigs that we do have. For me, I’ve just been trying to find a way to carve out my niche in the second unit. It wasn’t something that I sulked over. It happened to me when I was in college, in high school and when I was 10 years old. I’ve had times when I was moved to the bench and then moved back to the starters. It wasn’t one of those things that was a shock. Those are the things now that I look back as a blessing in disguise. As a kid, in high school and college, going through those things, I was wondering why my role was changing at this level, in high school, in college, whatever. Now, in the NBA, at a higher level, I’m used to it. I’ve gone through it before. It’s not something I hang my head about. I know who I am. I know myself. Knowing who I am and what I bring to the team, to the game, it’ll always have me in high spirits. I know at some point, whenever that is, whenever God feels like it’s time, it’s going to show. I’m a believer in that.

With that, and last thing, Dwane is also recognizing that he wants to get you more touches by coming off the bench. He wants you to be the guy in that second unit. Ultimately, he’s recognized your growth as a scorer and wants to utilize that more. I guess, did it take you time, once you guys had that conversation, to recognize that there is a benefit to you and your strengths behind it?

He said that, for sure. However, that’s also been an adjustment, too. The second unit has a style that they play that they’ve been doing all season. They’ve done a great job all year. I’ve had to try and fit into that while still finding a way to have a good flow in the offense, rather than “I have the ball and it’s my turn now.” I’m trying to make that adjustment, too. We’ve got a lot of good scorers in that second unit, as well. We’ve got ball movers. So, similar to the first unit, I’ve been trying to find my niche with the second unit. It’s a great challenge.

(Top photo credit of Saddiq Bey: Brian Sevald / Getty Images Contributor)


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