Monday, April 9, 2012

Beavers' Jared Cunningham making a mistake by staying in 2012 NBA Draft

Earlier today, Oregon State shooting guard Jared Cunningham made the decision to skip his senior season to declare for the 2012 NBA Draft. For the past two seasons, Cunningham has been the team's go-to scorer, averaging 17.9 points per game, largely by attacking the rim, attempting 7.5 free throws per game . He's also been among the nation's leaders in steals over the past two seasons, (2.9 his sophomore season, 2.5 this past season), and has the length and quickness to be a bothersome defender at the next level. He was also the Pac-10 defensive player of the year during his sophomore season, and a first team All Pac 12 selection this past season.

For all the good things Cunningham has done in his three seasons with the Beavers' basketball team, some of those won't translate to the NBA game right away. Despite playing almost exclusively shooting guard in his three seasons in Corvallis, Cunningham is stuck in a point guard body. At 6'4", 194 pounds, Cunningham lacks the ideal size or strength to compete with a good portion of the '2' guards in the league.

While he possesses great quickness and length, his ball-handling skills are only average at this point, as he relies on his athleticism and speed to attack the basket. He's been able to get by largely on his physical tools to this point, but the NBA is full of athletic backcourt players, and will need to continue to develop his ball-handling to make an impact in the league early in his career.

Another area Cunningham will struggle with early is his jump shot. His shot is somewhat slow to develop, and while he has a great vertical leap, he doesn't get the elevation on his perimeter shot to make up for the lack of a quick release. This wasn't really a true problem for him as he was able to get to the rim seemingly at will this past season, NBA teams will quickly learn that Cunningham is at his best when attacking the rim, and will subsequently force him to be a jump shooter.

While Cunningham has a very good shot to be drafted (his wingspan, quickness and athleticism will likely make him a workout favorite), right now he is, at best, a fringe first round talent. The 2012 Draft is one of the deepest in recent memory, and Cunningham could have returned to school to improve his overall game, and consequently, his draft stock for 2013. I see Cunningham as a poor man's Monta Ellis on the next level, with better potential as an on-ball defender.

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