After three unassuming years in the city of brotherly love, Dante Cunningham is finally having his breakout season at Villanova. The senior out of Silver Spring, Maryland has been the focal point of a four headed offensive attack that has pushed the Wildcats to a number 17 ranking in the latest AP Polls. For his part, Cunningham is posting career bests in every major statistical category and has reduced his turnovers from a year ago.
As an undersized frontcourt player on a relatively undersized Nova team, Cunningham gets the bulk of his touches on the block and in the paint. When watching tape, it quickly becomes evident that when posting up he almost always turns to his left shoulder and relies heavily on a fall away jumper. While this is a fairly effective move for Cunningham, it makes his back to the basket game somewhat predictable for defenders. Despite showing nice footwork and good instincts getting his shot off at the college level, its difficult to envision his post-game translating quite that effectively to the next level due to his average combination of size, bulk and explosiveness.
Where the power forward is more likely to make his living in the NBA is with his continually developing mid-range game. Cunningham had proven to be a real threat to catch and shoot from 15-feet this season, connecting on about 50% of these shot attempts according to Synergy Sports Technology. He has good shooting form, with a smooth steady release. At this time, his range appears to be limited to foul line extended shots, so he would go a long to helping himself by extending his range a few more feet. The improvement he has made in the last year to this aspect of his game gives at least some indication that he is capable of doing this.
Making him even more of a headache at the collegiate level and potentially enticing as a pro prospect is how well Cunningham moves without the basketball. He doesnt simply set up camp on the high post looking for the basketball, but rather will flash from the low post, dive down from the perimeter, or rotate behind a play. Clearly, the senior has a good basketball IQ, as well as the hands and length to be an effective finisher.
The biggest struggles facing Cunningham offensively largely stem from his physical limitations. While he shows decent quickness, he is an average athlete at best for an NBA power forward. He also doesnt appear to be completely confident as a ball-handler, which limits his ability to face the basket at the moment. The most important thing Cunningham will need to work to improve on in order to stick in the NBA, though, is his rebounding. While 9 rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted isnt terrible, it could and certainly should be higher. Currently he doesnt rank anywhere near the top of the list for that category as compared to the other power forwards in our database, and considering the complimentary role hell likely play in the NBA if he is to make it, he would be best served trying to become much more productive in this area.
With all of that said though, Cunningham is a tremendously active player who brings a lot of hustle to the court; this is pretty evident on the defensive side of the ball. He is constantly on the move looking to make things happen and has shown both solid anticipation and great timing. Cunninghams lateral quickness is good enough that he is able to step away from the basket and cover perimeter players without being a liability to his team, and in fact forces a fair number of turnovers with his on the ball pressure.
Cunninghams game certainly has several question marks pertaining to the next level. Will his average size and athleticism hinder him? Can he extend his range out to 18-20 feet and be a consistent floor-spacer? Can he rebound well enough to justify his minutes on the court? Can he consistently guard his position? There is also plenty of intrigue to his game as well. Certainly his high energy level, constant hustle, Big East productivity and basketball IQ will earn him more than a handful of looks from scouts. The fact that hes improved so much over the past year, and is still only 21 years old, could mean that he hasnt reached his full potential just yet. If he can make the necessary improvements to his game, Cunningham is certainly capable of impressing enough in individual workouts to land somewhere in the later part of the second round, or to earn a roster spot in training camp. If not, he will likely have a long and productive career playing overseas.