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It could be another week before Cade Cunningham makes his NBA debut with the Detroit Pistons. But the team has a plan in place to ramp up his work load in the days leading up to their next home game on Oct. 30.
Cunningham, who has been dealing with a right ankle sprain since early in training camp, hasn't been able to participate in five-on-five action since the injury. But he'll work out with the Pistons' new G League team, the Motor City Cruise, this upcoming week while the Pistons continue their three-game Eastern Conference road trip.
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"We made the decision to make sure we bring him back gradually where he gets some time with the G League team and practices with them and get some reps with them, because our practice yesterday was good, but it wasn't up and down and scrimmaging that he's going to get with the G League team," coach Dwane Casey said before Saturday's 97-82 loss to the Chicago Bulls. "I think that's so important, and that's another reason why it's important for us to have the G League team right there in Detroit. The Cruise is two, three blocks away from Wayne State. And that's what it's for, because we have purposes to grow our young players. It's serving its purpose right now with the number one pick."
Cunningham isn't wearing a walking boot or using crutches, but there's still some pain in his ankle, Casey said. He has been participating in shooting drills after practice, but the Pistons are using caution with 2021's No. 1 overall pick and don't want to risk making his ankle injury worse.
Troy Weaver indicated during a radio interview earlier this week that Saturday's home game against the Orlando Magic could bring Cunningham's return. It gives him a potential week's worth of full practices, something Casey previously said he wants Cunningham to get before playing his first NBA game.
"The medical people are holding him back, and rightfully so," Casey said. "You don't want to rush him back if it's not 100%. That's the one thing that they want to make sure of, that it's 100%, because there's certain movements that he had that were still sore."
The Pistons haven't set expectations too high, but they could certainly benefit from his return after an 0-2 start to the season. They struggled to shoot and take care of the ball during both losses, committing a combined 36 turnovers and shooting 11-for-56 from behind the arc. Cunningham was Oklahoma State's primary ball-handler and could help the Pistons establish a better pace (though he also turned the ball over a lot as a freshman). He also shot 40% from 3.
Detroit has two more road games before they return home to face the Magic. They will play the Atlanta Hawks on Monday, and the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.
"You can't beat anybody in this league when you're careless with the ball," Casey said after Saturday's loss. "Behind-the-back passes, through-the-leg passes, no-look passes. You can't do that. We can control that and we're going to control that as a group, as a team. We've been preaching it since September. I take responsibility for the turnovers. Evidently I'm not preaching it enough. Coach (John) Beilein works with guys every day to talk about working on turnovers, pivoting, two-hand passes. No-look, one-hand passes, those will not go in this league."
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: How G League will help Cade Cunningham before Detroit Pistons debut