The Washington Wizards are picking squarely in the middle of the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft. Whether Washington trades up, down or stays firm at No. 15, here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who the Wizards could consider selecting.
2021 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Cade Cunningham
School: Oklahoma State
2020/21 stats: 27 G, 20.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.8 bpg, 43.8 FG% (6.5/14.8), 40.0 3PT% (2.3/5.7), 84.6 FT%
Player comparison: Ben Simmons with a 3-point shot, a taller Kyle Lowry
Projections: NBC Sports Washington 1st, Sports Illustrated 1st, Ringer 1st, NBADraft.net 1st, Bleacher Report 1st
5 things to know:
-Once Cunningham became known as the top player of his draft class, he never relinquished that position. His junior and senior high school seasons saw him jump to five-star status and immediately rose to the top of many evaluators' big boards for the 2021 NBA Draft. For a while, this class has been referenced as one of the deepest groups in recent memory with several potential All-Stars in their ranks. Throughout his collegiate campaign, there was no doubt he'd remain the top overall pick. Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina recruited him, but he ultimately chose Oklahoma State where his brother was hired as an assistant.
-Cunningham's skill set fits the ideal mold of a modern NBA point guard. He's long for the position with outstanding shooting figures. No one in the class has a better feel for the game than Cunningham, who has a knack for elevating the play of his teammates simply by being on the floor. His vision and knowledge of the game are elite even though that is not reflected in his low assist numbers are low. Some of that can be attributed to his team not hitting shots. With his length, he can also defend at both levels and overall has a solid defensive game.
-Cunningham's senior high school team at Montverde in Texas was considered the best ever. There's no true method to correctly evaluate it but just look at the talent on that roster. Including Cunningham, there are three 2021 projected lottery picks with Scottie Barnes (FSU) and Moses Moody (Arkansas) on the roster. That also includes another projected draft pick Day'Ron Sharpe (UNC) and 2022 No. 4 ranked prospect Dariq Whitehead.
-Comparisons to Cade are all over the place. Naturally, many point to Luka Doncic as a player with forward-like attributes playing the point guard position. He will be a mismatch for whichever team drafts him. Length-wise, people look at him like a Ben Simmons who can shoot. Playmaking-wise, much of his talent is similar to what Kyle Lowry can do on the floor. Then, his overall impact as a scorer has drawn some similarities to Grant Hill.
-Much of Cunningham's inspiration comes from his daughter. Born in 2018, Riley prompted Cunningham to grow up quicker than many of his fellow prospects. Getting to the NBA is no longer a goal for just him, it's for his family and providing for his daughter.
Fit with Wizards:
The Wizards getting the top overall prospect is a far-fetched scenario. The only possibility Cunningham falls into the Wizards' laps would be if a team were to trade away their lottery pick before the dropping of the ping-pong balls. Then, they would need the luck of the lottery.
Any team, and pretty much every team, in the NBA could use a player like Cunningham. He played point guard for much of his college and prep days, but ultimately he could play anywhere from 1-3. Teams are looking for multi-dimensional playmakers that can score at multiple levels. Cunningham isn't a ball-dominant guard, he can be successful off the ball as well.
That's all a long-winded way of saying once a team gets the No. 1 overall pick, officially, assume he's going to be off the board. A trade at that point would have to be astronomical.
Hypothetically, Cunningham to the Wizards would have him fit right into the three role and/or be the leading scorer off the bench. Either spot would suit him and there would be benefits to both for Washington.
The main contributions would be his 3-point shooting -- having another deep ball shooter that is not only Davis Bertans -- his defensive versatility and being a playmaker for when Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal are not on the floor.