Cade Cunningham arrived at Oklahoma State as the expected No. 1 overall NBA draft pick and did nothing to change that in one season as the Cowboys’ floor leader.
He’s the headliner in this draft among the point guards and overall among all prospects, while Gonzaga freshman Jalen Suggs could also be a top-four pick after leading the Zags to the brink of an unbeaten season.
Here’s a look at some of the top point guard prospects:
The 6-foot-8, 220-pound freshman’s playmaking ability could make him an immediate star capable of working on or off the ball.
STRENGTHS: Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists at the helm of the Cowboys’ attack with smooth ball skills and passing touch, which helped him beat traps, find open shooters or create his own shot. He performed well in two games against eventual national champion Baylor (49 points on 17-for-35 shooting) and also showed clutch swagger by hitting a final-seconds 3-pointer to beat Wichita State. His shooting touch was strong, too; he shot 40% from 3-point range and 84.6% from the foul line.
As Cowboys coach Mike Boynton Jr. put it in March when discussing Cunningham’s chances to go No. 1: ”I’m sure there will be a little bit of debate. But it really shout be a pretty short debate. This one’s pretty clear.”
CONCERNS: Not many, though he’ll need to clean up mistakes that led to turnovers. He had 109 turnovers compared to 94 assists in 27 games, an average of more than four per game. That included eight games with at least five turnovers after Feb. 1, with seven turnovers against one assist in a Feb. 8 loss at Kansas.
The 6-4, 205-pound freshman led a Zags offense that didn’t lose a game until the final night of the season.
STRENGTHS: Suggs brings strong athleticism as a lead guard who also won Mr. Football honors in the state of Minnesota as a quarterback. He was an every-game starter averaging 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He has the strength to attack in transition and be a quality defender (1.9 steals). And he showed a little bit of everything in Gonzaga’s overtime win against UCLA in a Final Four classic, including a dazzling sequence that started with his at-the-rim block leading directly to his one-handed bounce pass ahead for a transition dunk. And oh yes, there was that buzzer-beating banked-in 3, too.
CONCERNS: Suggs needs to prove he can shoot reliably from outside after making 33.7% of his 3-pointers, with most of his success from attacking in transition or driving the lane.
The 6-1, 202-pound Mitchell blossomed as a juniorinto an Associated Press All-American for NCAA champ Baylor, as well as a potential top-10 draft pick.
STRENGTHS: The defense alone is impressive. Mitchell was the national defensive player of the year for the National Association of Basketball Coaches and Naismith with his ability to harass ballhandlers, both with quick hands and ability to move his feet. But Mitchell also made a huge leap offensively, most notably by going from shooting 32.4% on 3-pointers in 2020 to 44.7% last year. He hit at least three 3s in 10 games last year and had matched his 2020 season total (34) by the end of January.
CONCERNS: Mitchell’s offensive leap didn’t include improvement at the foul line. He made 66% in 2020 and 64% last year, low totals for a player set to have the ball in his hands. He also got to the line just 2.1 times per game last year.
OTHERS TO WATCH
– JARED BUTLER: The 6-3, 195-pound Butler was the leading scorer on Baylor’s title-winning team and a first-team AP All-American with the ability to play either guard spot. Butler’s scoring punch (16.7 points, 41.6% 3-point shooting) made him the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player and a first-round prospect.
– SHARIFE COOPER: The 6-1, 180-pound freshman played just 12 games at Auburn due to an NCAA investigation into his eligibility, but he averaged 20.2 points and could go in the second half of the first round.
– AYO DOSUNMU: The Illinois floor leader won the Cousy Award as the nation’s top point guard last season. He averaged 20.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists with the size (6-4, 200) to play off the ball.
– NAH’SHON HYLAND: Nicknamed ”Bones,” the 6-3, 173-pound sophomore averaged 19.5 points at VCU and projects as a combo guard in the NBA.
– TRE MANN: The 6-5, 190-pound Florida sophomore blossomed last year. He went from averaging 5.3 points and shooting 27.5% from 3-point range as a freshman to 16 points and 40.2% from behind the arc. He could go in the second half of the first round.
– MILES MCBRIDE: Nicknamed ”Deuce,” the 6-2, 200-pound sophomore led West Virginia in scoring (15.9), including 30 points in the NCAA Tournament opener against Morehead State. He also shot better than 41% from behind the arc.
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