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Do-It-All Point-Forward Could Be the First Player Off the Board
As Cavs.com continues breaking down the NBA’s incoming Class of 2021, we’ve talked a lot about the “eye test” – having now had the opportunity to watch (many) players complete an entire NCAA season, right through the Big Dance.
Cade Cunningham looked like a Lottery pick from the minute he set foot on the floor in Stillwater – coming to college with massive expectations and eventually exceeding them, making him the odds-on favorite to be the first player off the board.
The Arlington, TX native was a five-star recruit when he arrived at Oklahoma State and left with First Team All-American, Big XII Player of the Year, and National Freshman of the Year honors after a single season.
Possessing all the natural skills of a point guard, Cunningham is already built like a small forward – 6-8, 220 with a 7-foot wingspan. Last year, he was the Big XII’s leading scorer (and iso scorer) and led the Conference (and country) in clutch points (103).
He had 14 games of at least 20 points, including his first two career contests and three in the postseason. In an overtime win over archrival Oklahoma, Cunningham – whose brother Cannen is an assistant coach with OSU – went off for 40 points to go with 11 boards, three steals, and a pair of blocks.
Cunningham’s father, Keith, played football for Texas A&M and the future top pick also started out on the gridiron, playing quarterback until the end of junior high – learning skills, he says, that helped him greatly as a passer and playmaker.
Cunningham was definitely the Cowboys’ QB last season, taking Oklahoma State to the Big XII title game and into the second round of the NCAA Tourney, falling to a hot Oregon State squad.
It’s been said that Cunningham has a “mature game” and he certainly looked pro-ready last season. He has the entire package – size, skill, athleticism, and a high basketball IQ while still showing some major upside.
Cunningham has been considered the top pick in his class by most “experts” since the middle of last season. But the real experts in Motown (and beyond) will make that final decision in about 10 days.
STRENGTHS Cunningham – who doesn’t turn 20 until September – is a polished player for his age on both ends of the floor. He can make every pass on the offensive end, controls the pace of the game, can score in every way possible and is almost unstoppable in transition. And he has the size – a solid 6-8, 220, with the frame to add more muscle – to do it all.
Cunningham isn’t the explosive athlete that some of the other players near the top of the Draft are. He’s quick, but patient and never in a rush. He has the handle to control the game and the size and vision to find teammates anywhere on the floor.
Defensively, he’s got all the tools to switch 1-through-5. He can check both forward spots and smother smaller guards. Cunningham is an instinctive defender with quick hands who also excels in the break and is a powerful finisher with either hand. He’s also a tough and willing rebounder – pulling in 6.2rpg as a freshman.
As a shooter, Cunningham is already very good and has the smooth stroke that will only improve. He shot 44 percent from the floor, 40 percent from long-range and 85 percent from the stripe. He drilled 62 three-pointers last year; 24 of those in his final six games.
WEAKNESSES If there are knocks against Cunningham, it’s that he lacks the top-level explosion and elite athleticism of another top prospect like Jalen Green. He’s not going to blow past defenders at the next level. But he has enough other tools in the arsenal that should still make him successful.
He’s an outstanding passer – especially for his size – but Cunningham can also be turnover prone, trying to make the tough pass in a tight window. He had 15 more turnovers than assists.
HOW HE'D FIT There are 30 teams in the NBA who would find a way to make Cade Cunningham fit into their system. The young man has a pro-ready game and has all the physical and mental tools for superstardom.
Unfortunately for most of those 30 teams, Cunningham might be the top overall pick of the Pistons – and he certainly won’t fall south of Cleveland on July 29. And if he somehow winds up in the wine and gold, he would fit in seamlessly with the Cavs other young pieces.
J.B. Bickerstaff is about to get a shiny new toy in a week-and-a-half. If by some chance Cunningham is the man, the possibilities would be endless for Cleveland’s coach.