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Cade Cunningham's College Decision Still Haunts Him

Publish Date: 22/02/2024
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

The Detroit Pistons are mired in a losing skid of disastrous proportions. The consequences of a franchise-record losing streak are dire: the threat of losing their fan base before the end of 2024.

One of the reasons the Pistons are losing is the inconsistent, head-scratching play of guard Cade Cunningham. The former All-Rookie and overall No. 1 NBA Draft pick in 2021 is turning the ball over so much that some nights he negates anything positive that he accomplishes on the offensive end.

Decision-Making at Oklahoma State

A decision Cunningham made when he was on the campus of Oklahoma State might have much to do with his problems holding onto the rock.

After his freshman season at OSU, in which Cunningham led the Big 12 in scoring with 20.1 points per game and also pulled down 6.2 rebounds per, the 6’7 swingman opted to end his college career and pursue his dream to be an NBA star. While Cunningham said he idolized his NBA heroes as a kid, he felt ready to take on the challenge of being a pro.

"I see [NBA players] as more human now than I used to," Cunningham told ESPN when he declared for the NBA Draft in April of 2021.

"I've been looking at those guys since I was a sophomore in high school. Those are the guys I've got to try to outwork right now."

Premature Transition to the Pros?

Seeing that Cunningham turned the ball over six times in a loss to the Grizzlies last week, and seeing how he is among the top ten in the NBA in losing the ball, his decision to join the pros may have been premature.

I’m not saying Cunningham is overmatched in the NBA: but a year or maybe even two more years at the college level likely could have helped him develop into a more complete player.

Cunningham's Strengths and Weaknesses

Few NBA players his size can slash and shoot like Cunningham. He scored 17.4 PPG as a rookie, and so far he’s also pulling down more than five boards per game in his NBA career. But he also too often displays terrible decisions that cost his (also) young team. At 22 years of age, he’s still a baby in pro athlete years, and it shows.

Health and strength conditioning also are troublesome for Cunningham. He missed 70 games in his second season after missing 18 as a rookie. In year two, he underwent surgery on his knee. That injury seems to be past him, and his mobility has been fine. But, even with his long range shooting improving, Cunningham is careless guiding the offense. That hampers the Pistons offense.

The roster is packed with guys who barely have to shave, and Cunningham is a leader. As of Dec. 7, he still hadn’t played his 100th NBA game.

The Importance of Maturation

Another year in Stillwater as a Cowboy would have helped Cunningham mature and work on the ball-handling fundamentals needed to play in the NBA. He may have felt ready to challenge professional basketball players after his excellent freshman college season, but Cunningham is now little more than a player who shoots a lot, handles the ball a lot, and turns it over A LOT.

The maturation of Cade Cunningham, who could be in his fourth college season this year, but instead is being asked to shoulder the on-court leadership of an NBA team, will decide the future of the Pistons

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