Season in Review 2014-15: Dante Cunningham

Pelicans.com continues its look back at the 2014-15 season with player-by-player analysis of the team:

2014-15 OVERVIEW
Cunningham got a late start to the NBA regular season, signed by New Orleans on Dec. 3, but he immediately began making up for lost time when he debuted with the Pelicans the next night at Golden State. From that point, the combo forward played in each of his team’s final 66 games and filled what had been a question mark in the team’s rotation, mostly at small forward. The Pelicans went 37-29 over that span, after starting the season 8-8, the most obvious evidence of the impact of Cunningham’s in-season signing.

Cunningham eventually moved into the starting lineup for 27 games; the Pelicans went 14-13 in those contests, highlighted by impressive wins over a slew of playoff teams, including Memphis, Toronto (twice), Dallas, the Clippers and Atlanta. He returned to the second unit permanently March 27 and continued to provide timely mid-range shooting, aggressive defense and rebounding. The Pelicans went 8-4 in the final dozen games with Cunningham coming off the bench, enabling them to secure a Western Conference playoff berth. It was the Villanova product’s third trip to the postseason, after previously getting there with Portland and Memphis.

After the Pelicans’ season-closing Game 4 defeat to Golden State, Cunningham praised the Pelicans for signing him and called it the right destination for him in 2014-15. He will officially become a free agent July 1, but the Washington, D.C., area native indicated that he wants to stay in the Crescent City long term.

“It definitely was a great opportunity for me, a great spot,” Cunningham said. “Just to kind of get back and get going. I definitely thank the organization and Coach Monty (Williams) for the opportunity. I would love to stay here for years and years to come. We’ll have to see what happens this summer. Teams change, maybe (going) in a different direction or something, but I hope we stay on this path we’re on right now.”


#3, Feb. 25: New Orleans 102, Brooklyn 96
With Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday all sidelined by injury, Cunningham registered 13 points, seven rebounds, two steals and one block, helping the Pelicans beat the Nets. New Orleans put together a four-game winning streak without Davis, a critical stretch that kept it alive in the race for eighth place with Oklahoma City.

#2, Jan. 23: New Orleans 92, Minnesota 84
The Pelicans stretched a one-point halftime lead to a relatively comfortable margin in the second half, partly behind Cunningham’s 14-point, five-rebound, two-steal, one-block game. The former Timberwolf, who received an ovation from the Target Center crowd in starting lineup introductions, shot 7-for-12 from the field in 35 minutes of playing time.

#1, Dec. 18: New Orleans 99, Houston 90
In 34 minutes off the bench, Cunningham delivered a season-high 15 points, repeatedly knocking down mid-range jumpers to burn the Rockets’ defense. In just his ninth game in a Pelicans uniform, he already looked comfortable in the attack, sinking six of 10 shots from the field, including his only three-point basket of the season.