The penultimate individual season review covers the player many consider the ultimate young-guy prospect, one Dante Cunningham. And there's reason to be excited about this guy. Not only did he do several things right, he did them with impact...a trait which I find endearing in rookies. Coaches can teach footwork, shooting form, boxing out. Teaching a guppy to become a piranha is infinitely harder. No training is required on that account for Dante. Every time he took the court he looked like he wanted to play. Most of the time he looked like he wanted to do bad things to the opponent.
The bulk of Dante's measurable damage came on the offensive end. He shot a respectable 49.5% from the field...not bad when 3 of 4 attempts came off of jumpers. No matter how sporadic his opportunities, Cunningham looked comfortable and confident shooting the ball. That's a great attribute for a bench player. Cunningham's free throws drawn were sparse, not a great trait for an energy guy. He suffers from generally poor ball-handling which doesn't help. His 64.6% free throw percentage isn't anything to write mama about either.
Dante also generated excitement on the defensive end, as much because of hustle as any inherent defensive specialty. He's got strength, a good body, and throws both around willingly. Much like Jeff Pendergraph he tends to end up a little shy on the rebounding end and go a little heavy on the fouling. Technique and court awareness should address both.
Cunningham had modest positive effect on Portland's offense, a modest negative effect on the defense. He ran a +0.9 plus-minus. Because of situational and teammate issues team stats are tricky with rookies buried deep in the rotation, though.
In the end, Dante's best attribute was his ability to produce no matter what the occasion. You can count his poor outings on less than one hand. He even stepped it up a little in the playoffs. A rookie who just comes out and plays his game is a rare commodity.
The fun of players like Dante Cunningham comes in speculating about their future. He's not a threat to crack Portland's starting lineup and probably not the upper rotation anytime soon. The exciting prospect is him becoming a high-octane guy off the bench in the Ruben Patterson-Anderson Varejao mold. He has a long way to go even to get to that point. It'll be interesting to see how his sophomore season goes. The expectations will be higher and the explanations less forgiving. For now, though, you have to say this was a fine season for DC.
Season Performance: B+
Biggest Question Marks: Ball-handling, learning the craft
Future with the Team: Probably a keeper unless highly valued in a trade.
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