The 6-foot-6, 228-pound guard put in a lot of work and it shows.
“I didn’t recognize him,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said Monday at the team's media day. “He’s done a really good job with his body.”
Cunningham validated Detroit's decision to draft him No. 1 overall last year. He averaged 17.4 points to lead all rookies, ranked second among first-year players with 5.6 assists per game and averaged 5.5 rebounds after overcoming an ankle injury.
At the age of 20, he joined LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Luka Doncic, Oscar Robertson and Alvan Adams as the players in NBA history with at least the same total of points, assists and rebounds through 64 games of a career.
Like most rookies, though, he was challenged physically more than he ever had been.
“It kept me humble because it’s a tough grind,” he said.
Cunningham attempted to address the weakness with a steady diet of heavy weights, more food, plenty water and a lot of sleep.
“He looks like a different dude, and that physicality will help him," Casey said.
Cunningham also plans to be stronger above the shoulders, cutting down on turnovers after committing 3.7 per game as a rookie.
“Being concious about it is the first step, focusing on it,” he said. “In every scrimamge or live drill knowing how much i’m turning the ball over, I think it’s helping me understand my own game.”
The Pistons have been among the NBA’s worst teams the past three years, winning an average of just 21 games. The franchise has failed to win a playoff series since 2008, when it advanced to the conference finals for the sixth straight year during a run that included its third NBA championship.
Thanks to a series of moves made by general manager Troy Weaver, the Pistons are confident the Cunningham-led team can take the next step in its rebuild by competing against every team on the schedule.
That didn't happen much last year when Detroit was 23-59, finishing ahead of just Houston and Orlando at the bottom of the standings. After starting 12-45, Detroit went 11-14 — a relatively promising closing stretch in part because of Cunningham's development.
“It took him to the second half of the season to figure out the speed of the game," Casey recalled.
Cunningham also needs help and it appears Weaver has delivered.
The Pistons selected Purdue’s Jaden Ivey, a lightning-quick guard, with the No. 5 overall pick. Detroit also made a draft-night move to acquire Memphis center Jalen Duren, who was drafted No. 13 overall, in exchange for a first-round pick it added the previous day by trading Jerami Grant and his expiring contract to Portland.
Last week, Detroit made a deal with Utah to add proven scorer Bojan Bogdanovic.
“We have a lot more depth this year," Cunningham said. “I think it’s realistic to say we’ll have a bunch of locked-in guys that are playing to win. If we do that, the wins will take care of itself."