Cade Cunningham rookie diary: ‘I think I should be Rookie of the Year’
The Pistons guard talks about why he should win the award, his goals for next season and why he’s confident in the Black leadership in Detroit
Andscape has previously produced NBA diaries with Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, former NBA star and dunk champion Vince Carter, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, Warriors center James Wiseman, Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, and Sacramento Kings guards De’Aaron Fox and Josh Jackson. This season features a rookie diary with Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons.
Through this diary, the 20-year-old has taken the reader through the triumphs, challenges and fun that come with being the top pick on and off the court. Not only is the Arlington, Texas, native a budding NBA superstar, but he is also the father of a 3-year-old daughter.
Cunningham averaged a rookie-best 17.4 points this season. The 6-foot-6, 220-pounder also averaged 5.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds. The 2022 Rising Stars Challenge Most Valuable Player is also a strong Rookie of the Year candidate and believes he is worthy of the award. Cunningham had his challenges, as he missed the beginning of the season due to a lingering ankle injury, missed games due to being in health and safety protocols and dealt with a lot more losing than winning, as Detroit finished 23-59 and endured a 14-game losing streak.
On Monday, the former Oklahoma State star spoke with Andscape for his seventh rookie diary entry a day after the Pistons finished the 2021-22 NBA season.
“What makes me the Rookie of the Year is me being able to do so many things at such a high level.”
I think I should be Rookie of the Year because of all the things I’ve been able to do for my team this year. I feel like I helped my team in a lot of different ways that may not have always turned out to be wins. If you watch my game, and watch the way that I play, you could appreciate all the things that I do on the floor. What makes me the Rookie of the Year is me being able to do so many things at such a high level.
When the final buzzer sounded on my first season, it was crazy to think that I’m really in the NBA now. But to have finished my first season with all the things I went through my rookie season, it was a good year, for sure. A lot of different emotions running when I heard that final buzzer. I’d say the biggest highs were us finding ways to win games, especially after the All-Star break when we were able to string some wins together. That was the best feeling of the year. The lowest was the losing streak, trying to fight our way into winning the game, and lots of games feeling like we were losing, and we couldn’t do nothing about it. We were getting beat up every night. It was tough, but finding a way out of that was huge for me and my development.
I believed I earned the respect of my teammates by coming in and being myself. I didn’t try to force myself on anybody. I was confident in who I was, who I am and I spoke on what I felt like I needed to speak on. I let people handle their own battles when they need to. I don’t try to overstep anybody. Over time, people started to respect that and like the way that I stepped into my leadership role.
Eventually, people decided they wanted to follow me. I didn’t try to force myself on anybody and make anybody follow me. People could respect that, and I try to get them respecting the fact that I’m happy to be part of that locker room. I am a rookie, and just being in there is a blessing for me. More than anything, I try to have a good time and relate with people.
I learned a lot of things this season. More than anything, people’s opinion of me outside of the locker room, outside of my coaching staff, doesn’t matter. Sometimes their opinions don’t fully matter when it comes to confidence, as far as who I am. I’m all about the team, what the team needs. And getting outside of that and worrying about what other people think will limit you and your game. I try to stay within that. I learned that work gets you out of any slump. If you’re in a slump, you can find your way out if you put the work in. I’d say those are the biggest things: being confident in who I am, not worrying about what people think, and work will get you out of anything.
I’m definitely working on my body this offseason. Get bigger and stronger. Try to get some calories in. It starts from my game. Shooting, ballhandling, passing. There are some things I’m trying to work on, for sure.
Next season is about winning. People know who I am in this locker room, and reiterating to everybody, and every day being consistent with the fact that we’re desperate to win each and every game. That’s why I want people to follow up on this year. Me, Saddiq [Bey], Isaiah [Stewart], our young core, we’re all about that. We’ve been talking about that, and we’re going to try to be about that every day.
“There are not a lot of people of color, not a lot of Black people in those types of NBA positions of power. For me to be playing for a Black head coach [Dwane Casey] and a Black GM [general manager], it is awesome for me to see.”— Cade Cunningham on Black leadership in the NBA
[Pistons general manager] Troy Weaver knows what he wants, and I trust everything he has planned. If I’m ever asked about Detroit, I’m going to tell people what it is, and I’m going to give my pitch because I love playing for Detroit. Other people would love to play for this city, have the support we have and things like that. I fully trust Troy to get the players he feels will fit us. I love my teammates. I’m confident that our big three of Saddiq, Jerami [Grant] and myself will stay intact. I trust whatever Troy has planned. I’m going to trust my work, and work on myself, and make sure I get better. Next year, I’ll go to work with whoever’s in there with me.
I like this 2022 NBA draft class. It’s a good class, and there are a lot of people that could jump right in and be good pieces to a lot of teams, a lot of plug-and-play guys. I’m excited to see who we get with our high draft pick. I trust Troy. I trust our management to get a guy that’ll fit us and what we’re trying to do.
There are not a lot of people of color, not a lot of Black people in those types of NBA positions of power. For me to be playing for a Black head coach [Dwane Casey] and a Black GM [general manager], it is awesome for me to see. I love seeing it. It’s cool for me to be around those guys who have made it to such a high rank in what they do. I played for Mike Boynton, a Black head coach, in college. And all three of them are people who have been able to relate with me really well and have looked out for me. I’m super happy to be around them and spend so much time with them.
My daughter loves Disney. I’m thinking I’m going to take her to Disney World this summer. She loves Minnie Mouse. She loves all the Disney princesses. She knows what’s going on in Disney, for sure. I’m also going out to a beach house in South Carolina this offseason that my aunt and uncle own. My family has been going there since I was a kid. We’re going to go take another family vacation out there. I’m not trying to move around too much this offseason. I’m trying to get to work, man, and get stronger. I low-key want to get up to one of these beach towns up in North Michigan. I heard they’re really nice. Maybe one day soon I’m going to get up there and see what’s going on. I’m excited for that.