Summer Reading: Dante Cunningham

This is part of an offseason series on various things of certain natures that each Blazer can work on during the summer to prepare for the 2010-2011 title push. This is strictly about on-court performance, so topics like trades and contracts are not discussed at length. Remember to click “Continue Reading” at the jump.

The difference between year one and year two for Dante Cunningham will probably come down to one word…


This season, Cunningham didn’t face any expectations. No one knew what to expect from the #33 pick in the 2009 draft which led to people expecting nothing. If you recall, shortly after the draft many shook their heads when the Blazers selected Cunningham instead of DeJuan Blair. Then during the Summer League he revealed himself to be an onion who just kept revealing layers, showing athleticism, defense and potential to be a mid-range threat.

Despite all of that, going into the season there were still no expectations for Cunningham. It also looked as if there would be no playing time for the rookie from Villanova. With LaMarcus Aldridge firmly at the 4, Travis Outlaw’s ability to move over and the addition of Juwan Howard it seemed as if Cunningham would only be around during Garbage Time. Then…all of the injuries took place and suddenly opportunity was knocking on Mr. Cunningham’s door. The shocking thing is he not only answered, but he was ready to give it sugar and anything else it may have needed.

The first thing that jumped out to me about Cunningham’s rookie campaign is that he always seemed like he belonged. He clearly had a natural feel about the game and it came off when he was on the floor. As his minutes increased and we got more chances to see him, you never felt like the wheels were going to fall off. Cunningham did the little things all year long, whether that was sliding his feet, boxing out or hedging ball screens, Cunningham did the dirty work. Whether it was crashing the boards, making good cuts or running on the break, he played hard, played with energy and let the game come to him. That’s a lot coming from a rookie.

The good that came from Cunningham’s season also comes with the openness for potential. There were times when Cunningham was on the floor where he could sometimes float and disappear. Sometimes he struggled with bigger players and had ‘no luck’ on the inside. He needs to develop a definite skillset. We know he can do the little things, but he needs the skills to back those up. Cunningham gets a checkbox in the intangibles box but needs work in the skills box. He can shoot…but what else? Dribbling? Post moves? All and all he had his ‘rookie moments’ but for the most part overcame them.

For Cunningham’s summer reading, we’re going to touch on a few different topics:

  • Mid-range jumper: We have said this ever since Summer League, if Dante Cunningham can consistently make that mid-range jumper he will be tremendous for the Blazers. According to Synergy, 71 of his 226 field goal attempts this year were ‘Spot-Up’ shots. In this offense he is going to be open from 15-18 feet and if he can knock that shot down all of a sudden pick-and-pop options open up. If Cunningham comes back with a jumper, watch out.
  • Defense: This applies to both post defense and on-ball defense. There were a couple times when Portland would switch ballscreens with Cunningham in the lineup and…well it didn’t always work out. The thing is he showed the potential to make that a weapon for the Blazer defense. You know there were times when you like the switching and others when you saw a guy like Collison or Nash measuring poor Dante up and thinking ‘ruh-oh’. Also, he has to work on the subtle, little things to be more effective on defense in the post. Coup brought up a guy like Chuck Hayes who does an unbelievable job of using his body to disrupt large opponents in the post. Now, Cunningham is a little taller, more athletic than Hayes but he is not as strong. He has the work ethic to be a good post defender, he just needs more reps. I’d recommend he watch a guy like Gerald Wallace, an energetic and athletic guy who has worked well on defense.
  • Post-Up Game: According to Synergy, only 3.4% of Cunningham’s offensive plays came from in the post. Cunningham needs to show an ability to work in the post.
  • A Definite Positon: Exactly…what is Dante Cunningham? He needs to figure out what he wants to be. Is he a 4 man or is he a 3 man? Remember how when he was drafted there were instant comparisons to Travis Outlaw? Me too. Yet he hasn’t quite shown the ability to create his own shot. Most of his offense has come off offensive rebounds, cuts and spot up shots. Is he a 4 man? Not quite yet, as shown above he posts up very little. This early in his career he can make the choice to leave tweener-ville.

Coup likes to use the example of Gerald Wallace not only because of their shared athleticism but Wallace’s aggression and ability to play both the 3 and 4. If Cunningham can show that ability to create his own offense and to slash just a little more, he can generate so much more for the Blazers.

For me, I think Cunningham reminds me of is Antonio McDyess. He has the skillset to be what McDyess is now, solid, hard-working with a mid-range shot. I’d be fine if just brought that to the table. The thing that no one remembers about McDyess is how much of an athletic beast he used to be before injuries. The same injuries that forced him to become what he is today. Cunningham has the youth and athleticism to be a glimpse of what McDyess used to be.

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