Somehow, Saddiq Bey is proving GM's around the NBA both wrong and right.
Several of them passed on Bey in the draft, allowing him to go 19th overall to the Pistons. And then several of them said he'd be the draft's 'biggest steal,' as if immediately realizing their mistake.
A few months later, Bey has drained more threes than any other rookie. He hit six of them in Detroit's win over the Raptors on Wednesday as part of another standout performance in which he finished with 28 points and 12 boards.
Bey now ranks seventh among rookies with 10.7 points per game. Only one player drafted after him has averaged more: Immanuel Quickley (12.8), who went 25th overall to the Knicks. If Quickley is the early steal of the draft, Bey isn't far behind.
And he's only closing the gap. Because Bey didn't just make it rain on Wednesday, as he has several times this season. He also finished at the rim and got to the free-throw line, where he went six of six and where he's shooting 86.8 percent on the season. That ranks second among rookies, in case you were wondering.
His final two free throws sealed the Pistons' win with a few seconds left on the clock. The pressure of the moment hardly seemed to faze him, which came as no surprise to veteran teammate Mason Plumlee.
"Not really, anymore. At this point you just kind of expect it," Plumlee said. "It’s appreciated, but I’m not surprised."
The threes aren't surprising either. Bey was lights-out from beyond the arc at Villanova, and his quick trigger has played well in the NBA. But his ability to get to the rack -- and then to finish with authority -- is a newer dimension of his game in the pros, one that significantly raises his ceiling.
"He did some of that in college, but not against the size and length you see in the NBA," said Dwane Casey. "So he’s just beginning, he’s scratching the surface. I can foresee him putting the ball on the floor, running pick and rolls. He’s an excellent passer, a guy that triggers the ball out of bounds in clutch situations. He’s just a solid, solid pro and he’s going to be a star in this league for a long, long time."
He's a growing rebounder, too. Almost literally. Fighting for airspace against 6'10 Aron Baynes and 6'9 Chris Boucher on Wednesday, Bey stretched his 6'7 frame to come down with more boards than the two of them combined.
"What impressed me was some of the big-time rebounds he got in a crowd. He went up there and snatched them, and that’s not easy to do against a guy like Baynes or Boucher," said Casey. "I was proud of him for that."
This wasn't a one-night thing. Ever since the sun set on Blake Griffin, a New Bey has dawned in Detroit. (I'm sorry.) In his first 23 games, mostly while coming off the bench, Bey averaged 7.9 points, 3.1 boards and shot 37.6 percent from three and 78.9 percent from the line -- decent enough production for a rookie.
In his last 15, while stepping into Griffin's spot in the starting lineup: 14.4 points, 5.5 boards, 42.0 percent, 96.7 percent -- and Griffin could have told you this was coming.
"Saddiq has one of the most complete games I’ve seen, especially for a rookie," he said during training camp back in December.
It helps that Bey's getting significantly more minutes in Griffin's absence. It helps that he has the legs to absorb those minutes. It helps, most of all, that he's charging the rim with more confidence using that strong base -- "strong as an ox," said Casey -- to find room anywhere on the floor.
"Just being more versatile," Bey. "That’s what used to help me in college, I used to be able to go to the rim every time. Just trying to find ways to stay aggressive and play at all three levels."
Even Troy Weaver passed on Bey twice in the draft, first for Killian Hayes, then for Isaiah Stewart. But he swooped in a third time to get his guy, the one GM who's happy to be both wrong and right.