Cade Cunningham thinks the Rookie of the Year award is his to lose, but it's secondary to the goals he's trying to accomplish on a team level.
"If I can get the NBA Rookie of the Year trophy, obviously I’d love to have it. I was the No. 1 pick. That award is something that is mine to go get," Cunningham told Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. "I’m definitely going to attack the game. I’m definitely going to do what I do. But regardless, it’s a trophy. So I feel what I could build in that locker room is going to mean a lot more to me and worth a lot more than whatever hardware I can get. That’s just an individual award."
Cunningham opened as the +250 favorite to win Rookie of the Year at FanDuel Sportsbook. Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green, the second pick in the 2021 draft, is the second favorite at +270.
Cunningham and Green will have ample opportunity to put up gaudy stats given that both are playing for two of the worst teams in basketball. The Pistons and Rockets are mortal locks to contend for the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, which makes Cunningham's comment on culture all the more important.
Detroit's roster is packed with young players, most of whom have had success on every level. Finding a way to deal with losses—of which there will be many—in a healthy way will be paramount to building a long-term foundation.
The Pistons will need Cunningham to step into a starring role and potentially keep his fellow young guys in check during rough stretches. Winning basketball isn't coming to Detroit this season, but the chemistry-building that will eventually lead to it needs to start in earnest.