After trading 17th pick Tyler Zeller to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Dallas Mavericks used the 24th pick to select Jared Cunningham, a junior from Oregon State university. Cunningham, with a waif-ish frame, tantalizing athleticism and some questions about his jumpshot, might seem initially to Mavs fans like a cross between Dominique Jones and Roddy Beaubois. I can imagine reactions to that comparison will run the gamet from tickled curiosity to anger-tremors.
Since comparing players is never, ever that simple, we decided to inquire with another of our SB Nation family's blogs, the Oregon State blog Building the Dam. AndyPanda was kind of enough to lend his time to give us the lowdown on the Mavs' most recent first round pick.
If you want even more info on Cunningham, or just want to check out one of SB Nation's many great blogs, head on over to Building the Dam and check it out.
Judging from the reaction on your blog, as well as what I would estimate was basically a general consensus from mock drafts leading up to Thursday night, it seems there was some mild surprise at where Cunningham was selected. Would you agree with that? Any thoughts on what might have allowed Cunningham to slip under the radar?
Building the Dam:
A lot of us had reservations about his decision to go out early, believing as the early scouting reports suggested that he could benefit from another year of honing especially his ability at some of the skills more commonly associated with the point guard position. We were concerned he might slip down much further. Playing almost exclusively as the 2-guard at Oregon St., he was more often on the receiving end of the first pass instead of the initiator or it, and there was some concern around the Pac-12 about whether he would be able to match up with the best point guards. He also had occasional turnover issues when faced with these kind of matchups.
What is most consistently mentioned in regards to Cunningham, both in national draft coverage and in the Mavs post-draft press conference by coach Rick Carlisle(who is supposedly one of the biggest proponents of this pick within the organization) is his athleticism. If the number of free throws he took is any indication, it seems he was able to get to the rim when he wanted to. How would you rate him to other recent Pac-12 standouts you've seen? The Russell Westbrook comparison has been made but I fear that will get Dallas fans way too excited.
The free-throw numbers is an astute pick-up on your part. Cunningham is tremendously athletic, and while he can't just muscle his way to the rim, if there is any gap in the defense, he can and will slice through it. In the open court, any defender that loses track of him will find him again soon enough, usually above the rim. He has both the speed and the ability to elevate that frequently leaves defenders having to either foul or concede the possession. Equaling Westbrook's early accomplishments will be an impressive feat, but that is a good comparison, as far as the style of player that Cunningham is.
Dallas has been building a bit of a glut of combo guard with jumpshot issues. It was evident right away at the 2010 Summer League that Dominique Jones needed to completely rework his shot technique. Cunningham's appears more mechanically sound, but what's your take? Is he the streaky type at OSU, or just generally more of a scorer than shooter?
Cunningham was a little streaky as a shooter at times, though the Beavers had other 3 point options, as didn't always look first to Jared for perimeter shooting. His numbers do reflect that he is a scorer, able to put points up in a variety of ways. It's important to remember, though, that for 2 years, the first priority every night by every opponent was to try to take something away from him, and so he was the focus of the opposing defense. At the next level, he will face generally better opponents, but not defenses explicitly drawn up for him. That alone should result in more good shot looks.
The big question on Cunningham is that it appears Dallas would like to see him make the transition to full time point guard at the next level. In this era of basketball shoot first point men are plentiful, but do you think Cunningham has the point skills to make that work?
He needs to work on those point skills. Gary Payton had taken a liking to him, and had talked specifically about wanting to work with Cunningham this summer specifically on things Gary felt he could help Jared with. That tells you something about both his ability and his potential. Cunningham has the athleticism to get the job done, and can still be the shoot first point guard when necessary. But he will need some additional coaching on the fine points of being a point guard (again, he has been a 2 guard, and Oregon St. was rarely in position to work him as a point guard). Fortunately, he has been very 'coachable' at Oregon St., responding well to instruction. And we saw at the combine his ability to work hard and hone his game. Jared is very analytical, always watching and learning, and that's the quality that should make the difference in his becoming a better point guard at the next level.