After weeks of speculation following the lottery, Troy Weaver did what he was always going to do: pick the clear No. 1 prospect in this year’s draft. Unofficially, it feels like Cunningham has been a member of the Pistons since Ben Wallace brought home the top selection on June 22.
At 6-foot-8, Cunningham, 19, has excellent size for a point guard. He averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game for Oklahoma State while shooting 40% from three and 43.8% overall.
There are only two real concerns about Cunningham coming out of college: his athleticism and turnover rate.
Simply put, the latter shouldn’t be an issue. Cunningham was surrounded with the wrong types of players at Oklahoma State, and it allowed opponents to swarm him with defenders, especially on dribble drives. His assist numbers also would have been much higher if he had better three-point shooters on the floor.
Cunningham’s ability to find open teammates, especially off the dribble, will immediately make the Pistons offense more dangerous. Saddiq Bey, Jerami Grant and company should improve from beyond the arc thanks to the attention Cunningham draws and the accuracy with which he passes.
While he’s not considered an elite overall athlete, Cunningham has excellent handles and understands the game. When he needed to get a bucket for Oklahoma State last season, he usually found a way.
He was the No. 1 high school recruit coming out of Montverde Academy, and now he’s the top selection in the NBA draft.
Oklahoma State isn’t a college hoops behemoth like Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina, but Cunningham still competed against the toughest competition in the sport. The Big 12 was arm-in-arm with the Big Ten in terms of the top conference in college basketball, and Cunningham played some of his best games on the biggest stages.
On Feb. 27, on the road against rival Oklahoma, Cunningham dropped 40 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He was on the floor for 44 minutes in the overtime victory, almost single-handedly upsetting the No. 7 team in the nation.
In two games against eventual national champion Baylor, Cunningham scored a combined 49 points on 17-of-35 shooting, and added 15 rebounds and nine assists. He helped knock Baylor out of the Big 12 Tournament and led his team to the conference title game, where Oklahoma State lost to Texas. Cunningham scored 29 points on 11-of-23 shooting in that loss.
Cunningham lives for the biggest moments. He’s smart and talented, and he’s already embracing the current timeline of the Pistons’ rebuild.
Detroit couldn’t ask for a better player at the top of the draft. Cunningham has the potential to be a superstar, but there’s also very little chance he doesn’t at least turn out to be a tremendously valuable starter.
With his combination of size, skill and understanding of the game, Cunningham will make the Pistons a better team from Day 1.