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Cade Cunningham’s go-to moves put under the microscope by ESPN

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Cunningham ‘as ready to impact winning as any prospect’

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

All along, I’ve thought about the likely selection of Cade Cunningham as a way to exorcise the demons of Darko Milicic — the Detroit Pistons’ ill-fated selection the last time the team had a top-3 pick. Perhaps, instead, it is actually a way to exorcise the demons of trading Khris Middleton — famously the “other guy” in a Brandon Knight-for-Brandon Jennings swap in 2013.

Middleton, most recently one of the most dangerous clutch-time performers in NBA playoffs history with the title-winning Milwaukee Bucks was a second-round pick for Detroit in 2012 coming off an injury that limited his playing time his rookie year. He showed he could shoot in his limited run in Detroit but was still working his way back. Then ... he was gone.

Middleton comparisons are cropping up more and more as Cade Cunningham’s game is further dissected. The most recent, and one of the best examples comes courtesy of the invaluable Mike Schmitz who broke down Cunningham’s best-known moves and compared them to NBA analogues for ESPN+.

It’s a fantastic look at Cunningham's game. The most immediate analysis throughout the college basketball season was Cade = Luka Doncic. Big point guard! Plus passer! Makes buckets! When I watched a bunch of highlights and game film from Cade, however, I came away pretty quickly thinking he wasn’t really a Luka type. He certainly didn’t come across as a point guard.

But there was a ton in his offensive repertoire to like, and the ability to create for others was undeniable. I can’t bring everything from behind the paywall, but I’ll excerpt a few things worth highlighting.

The piece looks at his step-back jumper, hang pull-up, his crossover pull-up, behind-the-back moves, his shimmy, his fake baseline spin, his jump hooks and ambidextrous passing. Along the way, Schmitz compares Cunnningham to Middleton a lot as well as a bunch of players across a spectrum of good- to best-case scenarios including Doncic, Jayson Tatum, Paul George, Manu Ginobili and Jimmy Butler.

In covering Cunningham’s fake baseline spin, Schmitz writes:

Cunningham is no stranger to right-to-left or left-to-right spin moves when his initial driving lane is taken away. With so many defenders having to play his patented pull-up, Cunningham is able to lull them to sleep before using a well-balanced spin to get a piece of the paint and eventually earn a trip to the free throw line, which he did 6.5 times per 40 minutes as a freshman. That reality meant opponents started sitting on the spin, which allowed Cunningham to use the half-spin along the baseline that was popularized by greats including Jordan and Bryant. Cunningham’s ability to pull off this move speaks to his court sense and his understanding of how he’s being defended in the half court.

Just as tantalizing is his ultimate assessment at the end of the piece, where he tries to put Cade in the context of previous No. 1 picks. This is something similar to what we did at DBB in late June.

Schmitz concludes:

... you could certainly make the case that Cunningham is as ready to impact winning as any prospect on the list ...

Simply put, there’s an argument to be made that Cunningham is the third-best top pick we’ve seen in the past decade, which would lead me to project him as an All-Star in his first two or three years in the NBA and a longtime All-NBA type of player.

The NBA Draft is July 29.