Weight - 220 lb
Height - 6’8
Wingspan - 7’0
Cade Cunningham has been at the top of many draft boards for a while now and it is not hard to see why Cade is so highly regarded. Cunningham is a polished player who is incredibly versatile. Cunningham has natural feel for the point guard position and is very capable at running the offense.
Moreover, Cunningham projects to be a valuable, efficient scoring option at the NBA level. He averaged 20 points per game for a middling Oklahoma State side last season on decent efficiency. The last string to his bow is his defense, Cunningham has the size and instincts to guard multiple positions.
It is very rare that a player of Cunningham’s calibre becomes available in the Draft. At this moment in time, Cunningham is projected to go first in nearly every mock draft that I have read. Unless the Thunder get lucky and move up in the Draft, it is fairly likely that Sam Presti will have to figure out a way to get the No.1 pick.
The Thunder are an asset-rich team in terms of picks and young talent. Sam Presti can put together a persuasive package that may interest a team like Detroit or Orlando. The only real untouchable players for the Thunder would be Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort and perhaps Aleksej Pokusevski.
Whether Detroit, Houston or Orlando want to move down is a different story together. All three of these teams have a need for primary creators who can be paired with supplementary options. The Pistons will want Cade Cunningham to pair with Jerami Grant and Saddiq Bey. The same can be said for Christian Wood in Houston and Jonathan Isaac in Orlando.
Cunningham starred for an average Oklahoma State team; he led OSU to March Madness for the first time since 2017. His best game of the season came against Oklahoma University in late February.
The rivalry between OU and OSU has existed since the 1900s; ‘Bedlam’ is an intense, pressure-filled cauldron every single time that the two universities play each other. In this atmosphere, Cunningham notched 40 points, 11 rebounds and 1 assist against the Sooners. In overtime, he scored 10 points and closed the game for OSU.
For the season, Cunningham averaged 20/6/3 with 1.6 steals per game on a true-shooting percentage of 57.4%. The real value of his numbers can be identified in the advanced stats. Cunningham had a +8.3 BPM which effectively means that Oklahoma State was 8.3 points better with Cade on the floor than the average production from another player. His one season in Stillwater indicates that he has the ability to win games all by himself.
Cunningham’s playmaking is arguably his greatest skill; he is a patient and considered passer who plays at his own pace and knows how to walk his teammates into baskets. His considered, selective play is most noticeable whenever he runs pick and roll as the ball-handler.
Cade will take a step back and evaluate the options that he has available to him on the court. His height enhances his passing vision, Cade see over the top of the defense and find reads that may not be possible for smaller guards. He possesses the ability to warp the defense with his passing.
Over the course of the season, Sam Presti’s vision for the Thunder has become clear. The acquisitions of Deck, Jerome and Pokusevski suggest that the Thunder are prioritising smart, savvy players who can pass the ball and create for teammates. I would argue that Cunningham fits that mould very well; he is an unselfish passer.
His unselfishness is arguably Cunningham’s greatest flaw. From the film and scouting reports available, it is clear that Cade cares about running the offense and will sacrifice his own looks to get his teammates going. This can mean that occasionally Cunningham drifts without really impacting the game.
His time at Oklahoma State has addressed this flaw to some extent. For the Cowboys to be successful, Cade had to score the ball. He was the lead scoring option and did pretty well. He recognised that getting his own is beneficial to the team’s offense especially when defenses pay so much attention to him. Players such as Avery Anderson and Kalib Boone benefitted from Cade’ gravity.
Cade can also knock down the long ball with strong efficiency; Cunningham shot 40% on 5.7 3PA per game. He was a flamethrower from deep and Oklahoma State made full use of his sweet shooting. Cunningham was often used in an off-ball catch and shoot role which is good news for the Thunder.
The Thunder will start Cunningham and Gilgeous-Alexander if they take Cade in the Draft. Backcourts with two lead ball-handlers are effective when both guards can do damage with shooting or secondary playmaking off the ball. Shai displayed this skill when he played alongside Chris Paul. Cunningham’s ability to drain deep shots should mean that his skillset meshes nicely with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the rest of the Thunder roster.
In addition to his offensive creation, Cunningham is also an engaged presence on the defensive end of the floor. He is very good at using his length to crowd the passing lanes and harry his assignment into mistakes.
Moreover, Cunningham has shown a good understanding of help defense. He generally makes the right rotation in a timely manner and does not allow the opposing team to get easy looks. He can lapse on his rotations and completely lose his man but I expect that issue to be rectified as soon as Coach Mark has the opportunity to work on his development.
My only real concern about Cade’s defense is his positioning. Cunningham has a tendency to rely on his length and speed too much whenever he is trying to make a play on defense. Great defensive players in the NBA do not simply get by on athleticism; they have an innate understanding of positioning.
Andres Roberson was not an elite defender because he had long arms and could move quickly laterally. Roberson was an elite defender because he understood how to make life difficult for the opposing team on every single possession. I do not expect Cade to be Roberson but he has to be better at denying easy weak-side corner threes.
Despite these minor issues, Cunningham is the best player in the Draft by far. He projects to be an elite shot-creator while also being a deadeye from downtown while also being a lengthy, multi-positional defender. Cunningham is incredibly versatile and his skill ceiling is similar to other All-NBA talents.
The Thunder have accumulated a lot of assets over the last year or so for a trade like this. Cunningham will be under team control for the long-term and would be a great complement to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. It is time for Presti to cash in those picks and get a deal done.