College Basketball

Skip and Shannon break down potential No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham

March 23

Sometimes, a dynamic star comes out of high school and is destined to be the No. 1 pick after spending just a few months on the college court. 

Cade Cunningham was just that this season.

Cunningham was the No. 1-ranked player in the nation coming out of high school, according to ESPN, and the No. 2-ranked player in the land, according to 247Sports.com.

When he arrived at Oklahoma State for his freshman season, he quickly proved that his ranking was no fluke. 

The 6-foot-8, 220-pound freshman averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists on the season, joining Kevin Durant (Texas), Michael Beasley (Kansas State) and Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State) as the only freshmen in conference history to win Big 12 Player of the Year and Big 12 Freshman of the Year.

Cunningham scored 20 or more points in 14 of his 27 appearances this season, including the NCAA Tournament, and his breakout performance came Feb. 27 at Oklahoma, when he dropped 40 points and 11 rebounds in a 94-90 overtime win for the Cowboys against their rivals. 

Cunningham's college career came to a close Sunday night, when his Cowboys fell to Oregon State 80-70 in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.

On Monday's edition of "Undisputed," Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe dove in on Cunningham the player and gave their thoughts as to whether the phenomenal freshman will become an NBA superstar in the years to come. 

Sharpe went first, saying Cunningham's freshman season didn't remind him of those of some of the best one-and-done players in recent memory, including Durant.

"I see a really good player, but I don't see a star. I don't see Kevin Durant. I don't see Anthony Davis. I don't see Zion. ... Some guys you just see, and you're like, 'Yeah, he's gonna be special.' Maybe it's me. ... I don't see a superstar."

Bayless pushed back on the notion that you can always see greatness early, invoking the name of none other than Michael Jordan himself, as well as a few other future Hall of Famers. 

"Nobody saw Michael Jordan coming," Bayless said. "Nobody saw James Harden coming. Russell Westbrook at UCLA – he was hidden."

Bayless went on to analyze Cunningham on the floor and assess what he saw from the projected top pick, explaining that for as great as Cunningham was during his freshman year, Bayless always wanted him to take it to the next level, even though he was playing on the "lower level," aka college.

"I have watched him a whole lot because I kept wanting a little more and a little more. I was fascinated because he is 6-foot-8, he can handle it, and he can really shoot it from midrange, which is a lost art.

"What I loved about him is he is so smooth, he is so poised, and he is always completely under control. He plays a man's game at a very early age. But I always felt like there was another gear that he would never shift into. He was just biding his time. What did we see from Ben Simmons at LSU? He was just going through the motions, like, 'I gotta do this?'"

Simmons spent a single year at LSU during the 2015-16 season, averaging 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals.

The Tigers missed the tournament, but Simmons was still the No. 1 pick. Bayless said he saw a lot of Simmons in Cunningham, who, he thought, sometimes looked disinterested in the competition. 

"At times, I would look at him, and he's like, 'I'm out here doing what? I'm out here playing college basketball?'"

Bayless praised Cunningham's abilities but hesitated before calling him a budding superstar. 

"He's probably not Kevin Durant. ... I really like him, but I can't go to 'I love him.'"

Sharpe then shifted the discussion into the comparison game. First, he asked Bayless if Cunningham could be the next Luka Doncic, a player to which Cunningham is often compared because of their penchant to use skill over athleticism.

Bayless doesn't think Cunningham could quite reach Doncic's level.

"No, Luka is a gifted passer," Bayless said when Sharpe asked if Cunningham could facilitate like Doncic.

Bayless also said Cunningham isn't the scorer Doncic is, saying, "Luka has a gear in the lane I've never seen before. I don't know how he does it."

Bayless then offered his comparable: two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

Sharpe was quick to point out that Leonard was the 15th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and spent the first six-odd years of his career with the San Antonio Spurs, growing as a player alongside Tim Duncan and others.

"Kawhi came into a system, and he wasn't expected to be the guy. Kawhi was the 15th pick. So he had [Tim] Duncan, he had [Tony] Parker, and he had [Manu] Ginobili. So he could just sit back and bide his time. [Cunningham] is coming in as the No. 1 pick. You ain't biding no time. You the man."

Leonard was not the superstar he is now early in his career. He averaged 12.3 points per game in his first four seasons.

In his latest NBA Mock Draft, FOX Sports' Jason McIntyre has Cunningham positioned to go No. 2 behind G League Ignite standout Jalen Green. ESPN's Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz have Cunningham in the top spot.

Whether Cunningham goes No. 1 or No. 2, only time will tell. 

The same goes for whether he'll be a superstar or just another really good player.


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