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2021 NBA Draft Watch: What did we learn about Cade Cunningham from Kansas vs Oklahoma State?

The game between draft’s best prospect and a talented Jayhawks team showed that both still aren’t perfect

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

From the gold rush of California, we move to the wild west of Oklahoma to pursue a golden boy in sheep’s clothing — and maybe the most wanted prospect in the draft for Detroit Pistons fans — Cade Cunningham.

His Oklahoma State Cowboys hosted the Kansas Jayhawks on January 12th. The Kansas, at 10-2, came into the game as the No. 6 team in the nation, while 8-3 Oklahoma State was unranked. The Jayhawks are an experienced team lead by two 6-foot-5 guards: senior Marcus Garrett (last year’s Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year) and junior Ochai Agbaji along with two sophomores at forward in 6-foot-6 Christian Braun and 6-foot-8 Jalen Wilson. The home Cowboys are, to some degree, a one man show, but their man, Cunningham, has a solid supporting crew led by junior guard Isaac Likekele.

In the game, OSU built a big lead that eventually ballooned to 16 points with two minutes to go before halftime. Cunningham was crucial in the 32-12 run that saw the Cowboys surge ahead, scoring 10 points and registering an assist. The double-digit lead held until around the seven-minute mark in the second half. Kansas, behind a team effort with an indication to feed big man David McCormac and Garrett, cut into the lead.

They eventually took the lead with 3:10 to go. Likelele tripled and Walker scored on an and-one to push OSU back ahead. Kansas had a chance to tie it, but blew their final few plays — but not without the involvement of Cunningham.

This Bryce Williams steal and dunk settled the final score.

(The kid likes those type of two-way plays.)

Cunningham was really good… offensively. He scored 18 points (6/12 from field, 3/6 from long line, 3/4 from charity stripe), collected seven boards (all defensive) and chipped in three assists and two blocks.

His three ball looks legit and is versatile.

His other shots from the field come as a jumper, half hook from post play and long floater.

Cunningham’s long two

Cunningham’s post play

Cunningham’s floater

The lack of shots at the rim shouldn’t bother us. It was an exception, as this most wanted Cowboy takes 37.9% of his shots at the rim, covering them at a rate at which you want him to at 65.6%. It’s also noteworthy that a hefty number of his makes at the rim — 32.5% — are assisted, which shows that he can play off the ball.

This, plus his 37.3% FTr (he makes his FT at a great, 81.7% clip) is really nice… and with his handsome dribble, he can penetrate the interior with effortlessness.

The ability to overuse smaller defenders in the post is also welcomed, as is his touch on the floater. But missing three of four shots from midrange is troublesome, and this time it isn’t a coincidence. He really struggles with this kind of shot (he makes only 29.4% of jumpers inside the arc). I know that the game is different today, but as I argued in the piece about Sekou, it’s still important for modern wings to be able to knock down these shots at decent clip.

Cunningham also showed that he can be great facilitator.

He has great vision, can pass with either hand and in any circumstance. However, he has a problem turning the ball over. He had four turnovers (for the season he has 18.1 TOV%). These numbers might limit impact of his facilitation. As we could see in the game, some of his turnovers steam from sloppy dribble.

This per se is an odd thing, since as we can see on the first clip, when he’s more determined the problem disappears. He also has a tendency to dribble himself into people in transition.

Others come from sloppy passes.

However, these are things that can be amended. And he better work on them, if he wants to be the No. 1 pick.

The potential is there also on defensive end. We saw that he can make life difficult for opponents. Here are two swipes to add to that case.

His 2.6 stocks per 40 minutes is on par with Kawhi Leonard’s average from his two seasons at San Diego State. But during the game he didn’t defend well. Ok, they play zone, but he could be more aware than this.

He closes out poorly.

And he isn’t too eager to help.

I’m particularly disappointed with his on-ball defense here.

I think he can overcome these problems, and he better show up better in this regard in next games because, if he doesn’t, Troy Weaver may look elsewhere in the draft.

The rest of prospects were meh in the game.

Other than shooting, Likekele had a solid game showing his trade mark hustle and making crucial triple to tie a game in crunch time.

But rebuilding team needs these type of role player plays to be provided by veterans.

If you could combine Garrett’s playmaking abilities and Agbaji shooting, you have a player. So maybe we better give a better look to Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu or Florida’s Scottie Lewis who have both in one package.

After four years in NCAA, Garrett still can’t shoot, which is particularly disappointing for someone who was rooting for him to be able to for those four years…

The conference play hasn’t been kind to Braun. The kid could be a nice replacement if the Pistons deal their current Jayhawk, Svi Mykhailiuk, or he turns out to be too expensive in his next contract. He shows the ability to shoot, play off the ball, make some plays (not in this game, though) and defend.

Braun’s triple

Braun’s cut

Braun’s defense

But if his numbers keep falling off a cliff (36 FG% and 29,4 3P% versus conference competition in comparison to 44.3 FG% and 44.4 3P% before), he’ll need to stay for another year.

Wilson was sleep walking in the game.

I think the Pistons have their hands full worrying about one forward who sleep walks in games to add yet another.