Judging a player’s potential is never an easy task as so many variables exist in any athlete’s path. In the NBA, it’s even harder because you are supposed to decide on a player before he even played a single minute in the league. Potential, also known as a ‘ceiling’ in NBA terminology, is a polarizing question around any young player. It’s also a 50-50 lottery as you never know which potential will materialize. In this comparison, we will take a look at Cade Cunningham vs LaMelo Ball.
Cade Cunningham vs LaMelo Ball comparison
Ball is already an NBA player as he was chosen as the 3rd pick in the 2020 NBA draft by the Charlotte Hornets.
His path to the NBA featured stints abroad but only the one in Australia can be considered serious. Ball played professional basketball for the Illawarra Hawks and he was solid. He averaged 17 points per game, 7.4 assists and 6.8 rebounds for the Hawks in 31.2 minutes of play.
The Australian League is not any world beater but he was a boy playing among men and he held his own. The team played at a fast pace similar to what the Hornets employ which is where LaMelo excels.
LaMelo Ball strengths and weaknesses
His strengths translated well to the NBA because the team that drafted him decided to embrace him. They did not force him to fit into a system. Instead, they reshaped the system around his strengths. He is a very good ball-handler. He’s fast and crafty in traffic. He has deep range despite some funky mechanics and he can hit the ball at a decent clip (37.5 % on the season). His court vision and passing are absurd for a player his age and he excels at that especially in the open court.
LaMelo is not an exceptional athlete but he showed his game does not rely on his athleticism so that is not considered a huge minus. What is a huge minus is his defence, as he doesn’t play any and often takes possessions off on the defensive end. That is in line with most prospects coming to the NBA in the past decade so it was expected. His basketball IQ should allow him to become an average defender down the line especially when he fills his frame and ups his effort on that side of the ball.
Cade Cunningham strengths and weaknesses
Cade Cunningham has never played in the NBA as he will enter the league following the 2021 NBA draft.
Cunningham is widely regarded as the best player in this year’s class and will most likely end up being the number one pick. He played college basketball at Oklahoma State and he was exceptional. The guard recorded 20.1 points per game, 3.5 assists and 6.2 boards.
He is a floor general that you rarely see at the college basketball level with his game being very fluid and polished. He excels at pick and roll play which should translate to the NBA well and his passing is great. His shooting is solid with his athleticism lacklustre but also underrated.
He seems like the perfect player, right? Well not quite. He lacks explosiveness which might prove troublesome as he will need to rely on crafty play in traffic to finish at the rim. He won’t beat elite NBA defenders off the dribble. That is not a huge issue if you are Luka Doncic but despite being compared to him, Cunningham is lacking the experience Luka brought with him to the NBA.
As any young player, his defence leaves a lot to be desired at the moment but down the line, he should become an average defender possibly even a plus defender.
Comparing LaMelo and Cunningham on potential is a tricky task as they are very different players that do similar things well. Ball is a guard who is an offensive initiator able to run a team. He is not a natural scorer but he is more than adept at doing that if his team needs it.
He has displayed the clutch factor in games this year as well which is a plus. Cunningham is a point forward who is also an initiator on offence able to run a team with the ability to guard all five positions as well. The value of that in today’s game is immense.
Cade Cunningham is the real deal. pic.twitter.com/oR7koKCBHr
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) December 12, 2020
His best skill is passing and he is more of a natural passer than a scorer. There are no evident holes in his game except the lack of explosiveness which should not doom him at the next level. He is certainly the most complete player to enter the league in several years with a role there for him as soon as he steps on the court. He will be good at it but whether he will be great will depend on his ability to become a scorer for his team. After all, it all comes down to whether you can will your team to victory.
LaMelo Ball vs Cade Cunnigham: Verdict
If we go by raw potential Cunningham is the clear winner here.
There are no holes in his game and he has shown ways to overcome his lack of explosiveness. How effective he can be against the best defenders waiting for him in the NBA remains to be seen but at the very least he projects to be a good NBA player. He can potentially become great but his development will need to be consistent. If everything falls into place for him he could end up becoming a Doncic type of player, which would put him among MVP candidates.
As good as Ball is, his future is much more uncertain.
He will need to fill out his frame if he wants to become a consistent driving threat in this league. He will most likely never become a plus defender but his court vision and passing should allow him to be successful in the league for a very long time.
Ball has experience on his side already showing the ability to become successful in the NBA. That is something that Cunningham has yet to do and in the end, you never know how a player will adapt to the best league in the world. If he does, as one expects him to, he should end up being the better player overall.