NBA Draft 2021

2021 NBA Draft: What is projected No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham's ceiling?

As deep as the 2021 NBA Draft is expected to be, there is one player who stands out from the crowd: Cade Cunningham.

In his one and only season at Oklahoma State, Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game on .438/.400/.846 shooting splits. He was a consensus first-team All-American, as well as the Big 12 Player of the Year.

As NBA.com's Kyle Irving put it, Cunningham is a "franchise-altering talent that fits in to any box possible because of his size and skill set."

Unique as Cunningham is, what sort of player will he be at his peak? Our NBA.com Staff debates.

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): I have to be honest, I loved Cunningham's confidence on J.J. Redick's "Old Man and the Three" podcast when he said, in paraphrase, "the best of all-time at my position" for where he sees himself at the end of his career.

I'm not going to go anywhere near as far as saying Cunningham will be better than "Big Guards" of the likes of LeBron James and Magic Johnson, but I do believe that at his peak, he can be one of the best Big Guards we've seen.

A popular player comparison for the future No. 1 pick is Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic, which is high praise considering what Doncic has already accomplished just three seasons into his NBA career. But I truly think that if Cunningham maximizes his potential, he'll be right up there, side-by-side with Doncic as their careers progress.

That first matchup between those two young stars will be something special, and I'm already looking forward to it, even though it's four months into the future.

Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): I look at Cunningham and I see shades of Grant Hill.

Hill was more efficient in his final year at Duke than Cunningham was in his lone season in college basketball, but the tools are similar. Both 6-foot-8 wings with the ability to play the lead guard position. Both aren't afraid to use their size and play with their backs to the basket. Cade has all the tools Hill had in his day.

I don't expect Cade to become an All-Star as a rookie like Hill did, but I do feel he can turn his potential team from a lottery team to a playoff team by his second season as Hill did with the Pistons.

Whoever ends up with Cade will be getting a stud prospect and if he becomes as good as Grant Hill was prior to the injuries, they'll have a piece they can build around for years to come.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Part of what makes Cunningham so special is his versatility and ability to do whatever is asked of him at multiple positions - whether it's as a lead guard, a scoring guard or a forward on the wing.

Should he land in a spot where there are already a few ball-dominant guards - and we have reason to believe he will - I can see Cunningham being a scoring wing who is also looked upon to create, when necessary.

And when I see how Cunningham got to his spots last season, I see plenty of flashes of Jayson Tatum.

To be fair, Tatum is only 23. We haven't even seen him at his peak, and Cunningham could very well exceed whatever Tatum is to become. But Tatum is a very special player. Watching some of Cunningham's actions from last season, I appreciate the way he gets to his spot in the halfcourt, with plenty of possessions ending with a similar side-step triple to what we've seen Tatum punish defences with over the past few years.

Now, I think Cunningham is already a few steps ahead of Tatum as a playmaker, but Tatum did average a career-best 4.3 assists per contest this past season and racked up a 50-point, seven-assist game out of necessity these past playoffs.

Cunningham has a real opportunity to surpass Tatum, but an All-Star and All-NBA calibre player capable of going for 50 in the playoffs isn't a bad peak, either.

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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