Dante Cunningham: 6-8, 230, PF, Sr. (Villanova)
Draft Rank: #25
PF Rank: #5
Has improved drastically each year. Really knows how to do the little things and play the game the right way. Has a very smooth and effortless face-up jump shot. Very soft touch on his jump shot. Will be an effective pick-and-pop big man. Consistently hits everything from the foul line in. Is the best mid-range shooting big man in this year's draft. Plays bigger than his height and has a long wing span. Has a very high basketball IQ. Shoots high-percentage shots. Gets his hands on a lot of balls defensively, which create turnovers. Tremendous motor and doesn't remain stagnant when he doesn't have the ball. Loves to go down low and post up his defender, but when he can't get position he makes sure that he pops back up to set picks. Has good shot selection. Understands positioning on the boards on both ends and uses his body to box his man out and grab boards. Uses a very good jab stop to create space on his jumper. Does a good job of clearing space for his teammates to attack the rim.
Really limited offensively. Doesn't have penetration ability or strong post moves. Undersized for a big man. Doesn't get great elevation on his jump shot. Needs to improve his handle and overall scoring ability. Doesn't have range on his shooting to extend to three-point range. Is robotic while in the post. Doesn't have elite leaping ability or explosiveness around the rim. Doesn't get to the foul line as much as you would like for a big man. Defensively he is an undersized big and doesn't have the footwork to defend wing players.
The only reason Cunningham will make it is his mental makeup. Other players are more athletic, bigger and stronger, but his great basketball IQ and work ethic allow him to compete. Few players have improved as much as Cunningham has in his four years at 'Nova. He came in as a freshman and did the dirty work for a very good team. Year after year he did what was best for the team and this past season he became an important scorer on another very good team. He will be able to contribute at the next level and I believe he will be a solid role player because of his work ethic and team-first mentality.
Comparison: Malik Allen, 6-10, 225, PF/C
Conclusion:Cunningham is one of my favorite players in this draft because he understands what it takes to contribute to a team. He will be a solid backup big man. He will be able to give steady minutes backing up the 4 and the 5 at the next level. His pick-and-pop capabilities will really prove to be valuable in the NBA, a role that almost every team looks for in a backup big. His mid-range touch is something a lot of big men in the draft don't possess and really can separate him from others. The easiest way to make it in the NBA is to excel at one thing and Cunningham does that with his mid-range game.
I compared him to another Villanova big, Malik Allen. Allen has had a solid career as a backup because of his shooting ability and willingness to play a role. Cunningham's draft measurements are similar, with Allen having about an inch on Cunningham. But Cunningham showed a little more strength and athleticism in the combine. As far as production goes, their Villanova numbers are similar. Take a look at how the two mid-range post players compared.
Look for Cunningham to either be a second-round pick or possibly go undrafted, but as I noted earlier he should be able to crack a roster and become a contributor right away. That is why I have him in my top 30. In a weak draft Cunningham has shown he can produce and help a team win. When a team gets into the 20s, it really should look for a guy who is going to come in and work hard to stay in the league. I have no doubt Cunningham will do that and find a role in the league.