Cade Cunningham
(Devin Lawrence Wilber/Tulsa World)

Cade Cunningham comes into the 2021 NBA Draft after a phenomenal freshman season at Oklahoma State. He earned Big 12 Player of the Year, Big 12 Freshman of the Year, and All-Big 12 First Team honors. Cunningham is currently among the finalists for both the Naismith Trophy and the Wooden Award after leading the Cowboys to a Round of 32 appearance in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. I previously named the freshman guard as the Player to Watch in the Midwest Region for March Madness.

  • Height/Weight: 6’8″/220 pounds
  • Position: Combo Guard
  • Most Recent Stats: 27 Games, 20.1 PPG, 3.5 APG, 6.2 RPG, 43.8% FG, 40.0% 3PT, 84.6% FT, 1.6 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 4.0 TOPG

Strengths: Shooting, Playmaking, Basketball IQ

It’s very clear when watching Cade Cunningham just how solid of a shooter he is. He has clean, consistent mechanics and can score at all levels. He’s improved as a spot-up shooter if he happens to be playing off-ball, but he’s extremely adept at shooting off the dribble. Cunningham likes to use hesitations and quick crosses to get open shots. He can also score in the post against smaller defenders.

Any team that drafts Cade Cunningham will get a high-level floor general. Don’t let his low assist numbers at Oklahoma State fool you: Cunningham has excellent court vision and knows when and where to hit the open man. Along with his playmaking, he has an extremely high basketball IQ which helps him create for himself and his teammates. Cade is excellent in the pick-and-roll and can break down defenses with his passing and dribbling talents. His IQ also helps him on defense despite his limited quickness, and Cunningham has both the size and know-how to play above-average individual or team defense.

Weaknesses: Explosiveness, Midrange Game, Trying to Do Too Much

As far as NBA prospects go, Cade Cunningham doesn’t have really any glaring weaknesses. He isn’t the most explosive athlete, which limits his ability to beat defenders off the dribble, but he compensates for this with his length and an arsenal of spins, crossovers, and hesitation dribbles. Sometimes, he will settle for inefficient midrange looks when the defender seals off the lane, but his shooting isn’t bad enough from middle distances for this to really be a knock on his offensive game.

Cunningham did average four turnovers per game, but that’s almost to be expected with his high usage rate. While he is a capable passer with great court vision, sometimes he tries to force passes into tight windows which lead to turnovers. Improving on this is something that will come with experience, and Cunningham isn’t particularly turnover-prone to begin with. Giving him proper spacing and NBA-level shooters should mitigate any shortcomings Cade Cunningham showed on offense for Oklahoma State.

Best NBA Fit: Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets

Truthfully, Cunningham’s skillset would make him a value add to any NBA team. I’m putting Minnesota, Detroit, and Houston here because they are currently projected to have the first three picks in the 2021 Draft. Cade Cunningham would be excellent fits on each of these teams. Minnesota and Detroit lack elite facilitators and Cunningham would complement John Wall in Houston.

NBA Comparison: Ben Simmons With Shooting and Without Elite Defense

There aren’t a ton of players that are comparable to Cade Cunningham. He has the size, playmaking, IQ, and rebounding that make Ben Simmons an good lead man for the 76ers. Unlike Simmons, Cunningham has a great shooting touch and is not a lockdown defensive player. While he lacks the lateral quickness to guard some faster players, Cunningham will be able to effectively guard pretty much every 1-3 on the court and some smaller 4s and 5s.

Draft Projection: No. 1 Overall Pick, Definite Top-3 Pick

Cade Cunningham will most likely be the first name called in the 2021 NBA Draft. If he somehow falls for whatever reason, it will only be to second or third overall. The only reasons any team passes on Cunningham are if they are looking to add an elite big man in Evan Mobley or they are really high on a G League Ignite prospect like Jalen Green.

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