In the modern NBA, the value of athletes who bring a confluence of size and guard skills is at an all-time high. Meet Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound lead ball-handler, who makes difficult shots look easy. In 27 games as a freshman, he lived up to the hype, averaging 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game, with shooting splits of .438/.400/.846. Cunningham propelled OSU to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.
Jump shooting is how Cunningham makes his living; he can pull up and/or step back from 24 feet with ease, or he can spin into a turnaround fadeaway. Due to his shear size, coupled with the ability to attack with either hand, he has no trouble getting to his spots. This season, the Texas native ranked at the 65th percentile with 0.855 points per possession for off the dribble jumpers. He is equally adept bodying smaller defenders in the post, where he contributed 1.097 points per possession. Oklahoma State’s offense revolved around Cunningham, as he posted a very high 29.1 usage rate. However, while he is ball-dominant, to say he cannot remain a potent offensive threat without the ball is false. According to his overall catch-and-shoot numbers, he ranked at the 90th percentile with 1.298 PPP, along with another 1.412 PPP from guarded catch-and-shoot situations.
|Position:||Guard/Wing||Team/Class:||Oklahoma State (Fr.)|
|Shot Hand:||Right||Stats:||Click here|
Playmaking is an area of Cunningham’s game that is slightly murky in terms of future projections. Although he commanded a significant role on offense, he averaged more turnovers per game (4.0) than assists (3.5). Without a doubt, he needs to get better about making casual passes and fully surveying the floor. By no means is all of the blame on him; outside of Avery Anderson, no one on OSU contributed more than ten points per game, and only two of their top seven rotation players were of the junior class or higher, showing a general lack of experience from the supporting cast.
On defense, Cunningham is sneaky. He will not blow you away with lateral quickness, but he makes up for it with quick hands and an NBA ready frame. Where he proves his on-court intelligence is adaptability, as he quickly learns the opponents’ tendencies. Given his average vertical pop, he will not easily bite on pump fakes. Instead, he uses his arms to crowd the shooter into a tough shot. Off the ball, Cunningham has room to grow with his awareness, yet he is still much farther along than many other perimeter defenders. Multiple times per game, he would make incredible rotations, whether it be a simple weak-side help situation or sprinting out from the baseline to the wing for a contest. It is not often you find highly intelligent 6-foot-8 freshmen; Cunningham will be a positive, versatile defender without a doubt.
Much like Zion Williamson in 2019, Cunningham was a strong consensus selection to be the top overall pick in 2021 NBA Draft, and by selecting him with the first pick, the Pistons added much-needed shot creation and perimeter scoring. Detroit should be in good hands with Cunningham, who will provide a clear star for a team quickly rebuilding to win.
Likely taking the reins as Detroit’s primary initiator, Cunningham will make his teammates’ jobs a lot easier. Last season, the Pistons selected another big guard in Killian Hayes, who had a difficult time adjusting to the NBA’s quick pace. Cunningham’s scoring gravity should help Hayes find himself, who will be operating off-ball much more often. Forwards Jerami Grant and Saddiq Bey will both help as elite floor spacers. There is plenty of potential for five-out lineups where everyone is 6’5’’ or taller, meaning that Detroit is embracing the epitome of modern basketball.
- Size and skill set give him versatility on both ends of the court
- A shot-creator with lead-guard potential; ranked at the 87th percentile for PPP in isolation
- Very good from deep; made 40 percent of his 155 three-points attempts (5.7 per game)
- Very effective in the paint; including post-up attempts, made 59 percent of his shots around the basket in the halfcourt
- Draws fouls at a good rate (14.4% of possessions), and excellent from the free-throw line (84.6%)
- Good rebounding guard/wing, averaging 6.2 per game
- Intelligent defender who ranked at 85th percentile for PPP allowed as an isolation defender this past season
- Good ball thief (1.6 steals per game) and solid shot blocker (0.8 per game); averaged 2.7 combined steals and blocks per 40 minutes
- Competitive, coachable, and only 19 years old
- Not an elite athlete
- Turnover prone; among players with at least 100 possessions this season, ranked at the 22nd percentile with a TO% of 19.3
- Not an exceptional driver due to a lack of a tight handle and elite speed/quickness; on all drives this season, made just 36 percent of his shots, 44 percent within seven feet
- Needs to improve with runners and floaters; this season, made just 27 percent of his attempts and ranked at the 24th percentile for PPP
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements
Stats used in our scouting reports come from Synergy Sports Technology, RealGM.com, and Sports-Reference.com. Other outside sources are noted with links to the source. Click here to see the statistical abbreviation key.