Comparing NBA players can be a difficult thing. Especially for a guy like Cade Cunningham. However, after a controversial article from The Ringer, it’s important to realize how it probably shouldn’t be done. Earlier this week, Zach Kram of The Ringer released an article with player comparisons for this year’s rookie class. Essentially, the way the comparisons were made taking statistics that take in their offensive style as well as their production. Jalen Green was compared to players like Bradley Beal. And Kram’s calculations compared Evan Mobley to players like Wendell Carter Jr. However, no comparison Zach’s calculations came up with was worse than for Cade Cunningham. The top three players that were compared to Cade were Cole Anthony, Dennis Smith JR., and Kemba Walker. To be kind, that list is not exactly accurate.
So naturally, my first instinct was to take this to Twitter. And I figured there would be no better better people to ask than the Pistons faithful. After some personal reflection, reading the comparisons fans gave, and watching footage, here are some of the best comparisons for Cade Cunningham’s game. Some things to keep in mind: rather than analytics, these comparisons are made using the old fashioned eye test. In addition, just because a player is compared to another doesn’t mean that the comparison is in level of skill. But with that in mind, here are some of the best comparisons for Cade Cunningham.
1. Cade Cunningham and Grant Hill
When watching Cade Cunningham, it is impossible to not see shades of the former Pistons legend Grant Hill. Cunningham and Hill are similar sizes, and both are do it all types of players. Hill was arguably ahead of his time in his play style, at his peak being a point forward. Both players have had to shoulder a significant work load for their respective Pistons teams, and both attack the glass, distribute the ball, and can get their own bucket as well. Both Hill and Cunningham alike are natural born leaders, and have a killer instinct when they step on the basketball court. In addition, Cade Cunningham has spent his rookie season matching records that Grant Hill set himself in his time as a rookie.
Another area that’s impossible to not see Hill and Cunningham alike is in their overall versatility. Cade Cunningham and Grant Hill are both players that you could place almost anywhere on the court. On ball, off ball, it doesn’t matter, both of them can thrive in many different situations. And both players were must gets for the Pistons when they were available. Cade Cunningham has a long ways to go before he reaches the level of Grant Hill, a multi time All Star and hall of fame player. But if Cunningham keeps growing as a player and showing the improvements he’s had at the pace he has, it’s certainly hard not to see that potential.
2. Cade Cunningham and Luka Doncic
When asked about one of his influences coming into the NBA, Cade Cunningham would admit that he admired Luka Doncic’s game. When watching how Cunningham’s game has grown over the year, it’s certainly easy to see him implement some of the tricks of Doncic. Two taller point guards with elite passing ability, as well as their ability to score at a high clip. They both command attention from opposing defenses, and have the ability to pick them apart. However, the way that Cade Cunningham and Luka Doncic are the most similar, is the way that they use their bodies to create leverage. Cunningham and Doncic are not known for their athleticism. However, defenders still have a hard time keeping up with them on their way to the basket.
The reason why? Both Cade Cunningham and Luka Doncic know how to leverage their bodies. What Cade and Luka will do is drive to the basket, but keep their defenders at their hips, and consequently behind them. And when driving to the rim, it creates shot opportunities that would not otherwise be there for other players. When you don’t have the quickest first step, you need to be creative in how you get to the cup, how you can play within the paint. As the season has gone on, Cunningham has began to leverage his body more and more. And as Cade is doing so, his efficiency is rising and rising. Both Luka and Cade have an ability to affect the game in many different aspects. Both are looked at for high usage rates, and can make flashy plays.
3. Cade Cunningham and DeMar Derozan
Before we get into this particular comparison, I want to note that this one is strictly my own. DeMar Derozan was not brought up in comparing Cade Cunningham in this thread. However, in my opinion, Cade’s game has a lot of shades of Derozan. First of all, both players tend to live in the midrange. In fact, Cunningham has been incredibly efficient in the midrange. According to an article by Pistons beat writer James Edwards III, Cade Cunningham has shot 55% from the midrange since February 16th. And with both players starting their careers with Dwane Casey, it’s natural to imagine Cunningham’s game will develop more similar traits.
Another way that Cade Cunningham and DeMar Derozan are similar is in their clutch factor. Few players in the NBA have the ability to perform in the clutch like DeMar Derozan. Derozan leads the league in shots taken in the clutch, and has an effective field goal percentage of 45% in clutch situations. But in his short career, Cade Cunningham has proven to thrive in clutch situations. In fact, Cunningham (as of March 13th) lead the entire league in points in the clutch since the NBA All Star break. And his name was over players like Ja Morant, Dejounte Murray, Nikola Jokic, and fellow teammate Saddiq Bey. Detroit has quickly given Cunningham the keys to the car late, and it’s quite frankly hard to blame them.
Cade’s game is very unique, and already has fans around the league
Another thing to note is that a comparison between Cade Cunningham and DeMar Derozan is not one that either will shy away from. When asked about his thoughts on Cade’s game, Derozan proclaimed that he, just like us in Detroit, is a big fan. The general consensus by almost anyone that watches Cade Cunningham play basketball, is that he is going to be special. And that’s part of why his game is hard to compare to others. It is easy to say, however, that the comparisons made by The Ringer are not quite it. Analytics do not tell the whole story.
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