The Detroit Pistons are all in on Cade Cunningham, the first overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, but it was the team’s veterans leading the way in a 133-131 thriller over the Sacramento Kings this week. First there was the return of Kelly Olynyk. After more than two months on the sideline, rehabbing a knee sprain, Olynyk returned to the court to play 22 minutes against the Kings. He made the most of each of them, scoring 22 points along with nine rebounds, five assists, a steal and a blocked shot.
Though he was glad the team got the win, just getting to be back on the court meant everything for Olynyk, who had been out since Nov. 10 with that knee sprain.
“I try to tell these young guys to enjoy every night,” he told the media after the game. “ Life’s boring without basketball. It’s tough. It’s just good to be back, man.”
It was a good night for Olynyk. It was a great night for Cory Joseph. Though the Kings trailed by 10 with three minutes remaining in the game, a go-ahead jumper from Joseph with 14 seconds remaining capped a furious 11-0 run by the Pistons to close out the game and steal the victory. It was a huge win for the Kings, illustrating why Detroit’s veterans are so important even in a year where the team is focused on developing its young talent.
“I love Cory,” Pistons head coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “He means a lot to our organization. The way he’s been playing the last two or three weeks has been big-time. He’s been a spark plug forus. He’s setting the tone for our young guys here with his play, with his professional approach. He could probably go to a championship-calibre team, and be a spark plug, but to us he’s very important.”
Canadian Trey Lyles contributed nine points, six rebounds and a block in the win, following that up with a 16-point and an 18-point performance in the team’s next two games.
In New York, RJ Barrett’s star continues to shine bright. The 21-year-old is in the midst of his strongest stretch of NBA basketball in his young career, coming off a 28-point, six-assist performance in a 110-102 Knicks win against the Los Angeles Clippers. Barrett is averaging 17.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game through 40 games played this season, with those numbers rising to 22.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists for the month of January.
Speaking of strong stretches, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 29 points in each of his last two games for the Oklahoma City Thunder. In a 94-87 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, he finished with 29 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and a blocked shot in 39 minutes. The night before, against the Charlotte Hornets, he finished with 29 points, five rebounds, six assists, a steal and a blocked shot.
An easy way to illustrate how good – and how dangerous to his opponents – Gilgeous-Alexander has been this season, is this stat from the NBA: No one in the league is being double-teamed more, as Gilgeous-Alexander faces 17.2 possessions double-teamed per game.
Though it has been a rollercoaster week for the Toronto Raptors, Chris Boucher remains solid. The Montreal native is averaging 13.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots per contest over his last seven games.
In Golden State, Andrew Wiggins continues his strong season, averaging 18.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists per contest.
In his eight-year career, Wiggins is a 35 percent career three-point shooter. This season, he is shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc to go with a career-best 48 percent shooting overall. At 34-13, the Warriors are second to only the Phoenix Suns (36-9) in the NBA.
In Denver, Jamal Murray’s ACL rehab continues. In a recent appearance on “All the Smoke” podcast, Murray revealed that he expects to start contact work soon. He also shared that his rehab is six days per week and that a trip home over the holidays was the mental break he needed as he continues his rehab process. “I actually went to Canada for the holidays, for five or six days, just to get away from it…It was good for me to go home, take a break and I’m looking forward to All-Star break, I get to go home again and see my fam.”