As expected, the highly-rated point guard Cade Cunningham today announced he will enter this summer’s NBA draft after averaging 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 27 games under head coach Mike Boyton this term.
The age-old saying is that you work until your idols become your rivals and that cliché couldn’t be more fitting for Cunningham, who will be an NBA player in a matter of months.
Named a first-team AP All-American, the 19-year-old PG is widely regarded as the consensus top pick in this summer’s draft – in a field featuring USC center Evan Mobley, guard Jalen Suggs at Gonzaga and Jalen Green who agreed a one-year NBA G-League deal last year alongside Jonathan Kuminga.
“I see them [NBA players] as more human now than I used to, been looking at those guys since I was a sophomore in high school. I’ve got to try to outwork [them] right now.”
He didn’t commit in either direction – draft or a second college campaign – immediately after their 80-70 NCAA Tournament defeat by Oregon State on March 21. But there was only one choice, in truth.
“It’s hard to make that decision in the moment, so I just wanted to wait until my head was level – but I’m blessed to have that opportunity to be able to enter the draft. I felt like I had did a lot of the work early to be in that position.”
Cunningham won the Wayman Tisdale Award as the top freshman in college basketball, led the Big 12 in scoring with 20.2 points per game and shone during league play too.
Assists and scoring – league’s top ten
Rebounding and FT% (84.3) – seventh
Field goal percentage (44.3%) – eighth
Boynton hailed his unique nature, saying the 19-year-old’s versatility should serve him well as he transitions into professional basketball.
“I don’t think you can have a roster that he couldn’t fit in because he’s able to play with any type of other player.
He fits regardless of what your roster looks like, can play at the point, post up, be a shooter. That totality of skills is what makes him a super high value for any NBA franchise out there.”
There’s skills aplenty that he can work on between now and the July 29 draft date, like tightening his handles and improving movement:
“Throughout the season, I was just adding things on in my head, don’t have as much time to just get in the gym and work. Definitely want to get my fluidity, movement better – yoga and things like that. Getting my range of motion a lot better, shooting the ball better and getting more consistent.”
Although the draft lottery can throw up some surprises, the Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards and Orlando Magic are all expected to feature among this summer’s top selections.
All three are small-market places he could thrive in a similar way to LaMelo Ball’s rookie year in Charlotte, or Ja Morant with the Memphis Grizzlies two years ago and other examples.
Minnesota have the best chance of landing the top pick, though it’s unlikely they’ll manage that two years running after snatching Georgia’s Anthony Edwards last winter.
We’ll see where Cunningham and others in an exciting draft class end up, though the Texas native will be itching to show his offseason improvements in a new home this summer.
Quotes via Associated Press