While the 2021 NBA draft is still far with the 2020-21 season just getting rolling, the number one selection for the upcoming draft already seems set in stone. As of now, the number one pick will most likely be Cade Cunningham, currently a freshman at Oklahoma State University. Cunningham is currently projected to go number one overall in several NBA Mock drafts, including ESPN and Bleacher Report and there are several reasons why.
At 6 feet 8 inches and 220 pounds, Cunningham has the prototypical body type that should translate very well into the NBA. Some of the game’s biggest stars today are LeBron James (6 feet 9 inches), Luka Doncic (6 feet 7 inches), Kawhi Leonard (6 feet 7 inches) and others in the same height range. Besides height, Cunningham also has the skill to be a star, which is most important. He possesses great ball-handling skills and can play the point when needed. He’s a strong rebounder and a facilitator. His biggest strength, however, is his scoring ability.
Even though Cunningham’s 19.5 PPG scoring average for the season doesn’t particularly stand out, he still managed to score at a high efficiency and grabbed six rebounds to go with four assists. This season Cunningham, has made 45 percent of his field goals and 39 percent of his three-pointers. The 39 percent is important because in order to become a truly elite player in the NBA, being able to hit three-pointers on a nightly basis is a huge deal. Ben Simmons, for example, is a great NBA player, but he would be a top 10 player if he were able to hit three-pointers routinely like LeBron has over the years. (Of course, Simmons would have to attempt outside shots as a first step.)
Cunningham showed why he should be the number one pick in an away game on Feb. 27 against the University of Oklahoma, ranked seventh. Cunningham put on an absolute clinic against the rival Sooners. Cunningham finished the game with 40 points and 11 rebounds. He had a field goal percentage of 57 percent, including hitting three shots from downtown. Cunningham not only put up a huge performance but also helped his team secure the win in overtime with a score of 94-90.
When asked about Cunningham’s performance, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Boynton wasn’t shy about his admiration for Cunningham.
“Obviously there’s a lot being made about his performance this year, and I think people will know he’s a really good player. I think I said it maybe two weeks ago, you need to appreciate what you’re watching, it’s special. I’ve watched him now five years now. I’ve seen this now for a long time and I’m not surprised that the biggest game on our schedule, one the road, he stepped up and was ready to go compete at the highest level,” Boynton said. “Obviously he played against a really good team. It was a helluva game, I’ve only been around here for (10) games in this series — Jawun Evans‘ performance in Stillwater my year I was an assistant coach is pretty damn good. I think he scored like the last 20 points of the game, but I think you have dig pretty deep to find one better than this one.”
Currently, Cunningham and the Cowboys are rated number 17 in the country. On Thursday, March 4, the team will have a big test as they go on the road against third-ranked Baylor. If Cunnigham puts together a strong performance and helps get his team the win, he will only further cement his status as the presumed number one pick for the 2021 NBA Draft. With March Madness starting on March 18, Cunningham will have yet another opportunity to add to his growing legend.