In this series, I will be looking at some of the top prospects for the upcoming 2021 NBA Draft. I will also be posting draft rankings eventually. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts. I always enjoy talking basketball.
- Position: PG
- Height: 6'8"
- Weight: 220
- Team: Oklahoma State
- Year: Freshman
- Wingspan: 7’0.25
- Stats: 13 Games, 18.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.8 APG, 46.6% FG, 38.9 3PT%, 83.1% FT, 1.3 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 3.5 TOPG.
Cade Cunningham has long been considered the crown jewel of what projects to be a stacked draft class. After leading arguably the greatest high school basketball team ever last season in Montverde Academy to a 25–0 record, he has excelled in his first season at Oklahoma State. Most of his weaknesses are nitpicks at this point. There’s a reason one NBA GM said he would’ve taken Cunningham first in last year’s draft.
One area of Cunningham’s game that has progressed nicely is his jumpshot. He’s always had good mechanics and a relatively quick release, so shooting shouldn’t be an issue for him moving forward. He’s also been able to take advantage of players going under screens frequently to compensate for his ability to get to the basket.
Cunningham is shooting 38.9 percent from the 3-point line on four attempts a game. He’s also shooting 83 percent at the line. These are good indications of where he stands as a shooter. He tends to be a ball dominant player and will have to work on his ability to shoot off the catch. Per Johnathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report:
“Cunningham ranks in the 15th percentile as a spot-up player, shooting 5-of-20 on those catch-and-shoot chances and 0-of-6 when he’s run off the line and forced into a quick pull-up or runner. And through 12 games, he’s converted two cuts and one shot off a screen.
Whichever team drafts Cunningham should be prepared to let the offense run through the 6’8″, 220-pound point guard, even though his size, scoring and defense suggest he could log minutes at positions 2–4. Having him stand around the wings and corner means playing him away from his strengths.
Still, he’d benefit from improving as a shooter off the catch (29.4 percent).”
His 6-foot-8 stature also helps him on the glass. Cunningham rips down six rebounds a game and shows a good knack of getting position and finding the ball.
Cunningham’s best attribute is his playmaking. He’s capable of making any kind of pass, and his height also boosts his vision. He can thread the needle, throw proficient skip passes and excels at the drive-and-kick passes at well.
Cunningham’s patience and maturity is off the charts for a player his age. His ability to make reads around the court is superb. He always seems to know where the best angles are for passes and shots and has a terrific feel for the game.
While he isn’t the most explosive athlete for his position, the Oklahoma State point guard has still shown the ability to blow by defenders and get to the basket. The paint is where he is most efficient scoring the rock. He’s a matchup nightmare for smaller guards and can present problems for bigger players who aren’t as quick as he is.
Cunningham isn’t always the flashiest player, but he’s still comfortable dribbling and going to either side of the court. As previously stated, his finishing ability projects well moving forward. This season, he is shooting 63.5 percent at the rim.
Defensively, Cunningham is a plus for the most part. There is some concern about his ability to guard quicker guards, but his defensive IQ and footwork are still pretty solid. He often has good positioning and footwork and has good awareness in help defense as well.
Cunningham has active hands defensively and can often foresee plays. His strength and size give him good versatility on defense as well.
Going off of his dribbling, he’s doesn’t have as wide of an arsenal of dribbling moves as many of his fellow point guards. At times he relies too much on stutter steps, hesitations and spins to compensate for his lack of a quick burst. He would benefit from changing his pace more often. Improving his horizontal movement would go a long way in upping his handle.
Turnovers have been an issue, but that’s usually the case with high-usage freshmen. His ability to secure the ball against high-level pressure is a bit spotty at times as well. This season, his assist-to-turnover ratio is hardly over one. This is also a product of not having the most sound roster around him.
His footwork and balance can be a bit on the clumsy side when defending on the ball, but these lapses are common for players his age. His navigation of screens could use work as he can get knocked around at times.
A lot of other defensive deficiencies are just a matter of focus and locking in on that end. He will forego box outs at time to go for blocks, get caught ball-watching, and zone out a bit defensively. These mistakes ultimately just come down to effort and intensity.
Last is his aforementioned struggles with shooting off the catch. How Cunningham performs here will go a long way in determining his role and potential as an offensive player in the league. If he wants to improve his offensive efficiency, he should also cut down on shooting long twos. 56 of his 120 shots this year have been from mid-range, and he is only converting 33.9 percent of his mid-range attempts.
Cunningham is an excellent prospect that projects as a top-tier lead ball handler and passer. From an athletic standpoint, he has an good physical package. His vertical, strength and speed aren’t elite, but he already plays bigger than his size and has a good wingspan as well.
Cunningham is an NBA ready prospect with a terrific skill set and a better mindset. He’s shown the ability to make clutch shots this season numerous times and isn’t afraid of the big moments. His on-ball defense needs work, but he is still very polished and projects as a high-level playmaker and plus defender.