Assessing Cade Cunningham, Isaac Likekele, and D.J. Carton

December 5th, 2020

By Alan Lu

This time around, I decided to watch Oklahoma State’s 6-8 freshman point guard, Cade Cunningham play against D.J. Carton and Marquette in an early season, non-conference basketball game that took place four days ago.  Cunningham is currently projected to be the top pick of the 2021 draft, and he is a versatile, very skilled playmaker whose all-around skills may make him head and shoulders above most of the prospects in this draft class. 

I was expecting Oklahoma State to easily win this game, but Marquette played much better than expected as they forced Cunningham into some early turnovers and misses early, but Cunningham was still able to put forth a solid showing, and Oklahoma State played tough, stingy defense to get a comeback win in this game.  I must say, Oklahoma State’s defense was absolutely terrific, especially down the stretch. Here are my thoughts on how Cunningham and the others fared, as well as how their games may translate to the NBA.

Oklahoma State’s 6-8 freshman point forward, Cade Cunningham had a solid showing in his team’s win over Marquette, and he is currently the odds-on favorite to be the number one overall pick by numerous draft analysts around the web for the 2021 draft.
(Photo:
Rob Ferguson/USA Today Sports, via SB Nation’s Anonymous Eagle)

Cade Cunningham played fairly well in his team’s win over Oklahoma State.  He is a very skilled, versatile playmaker that can do pretty much everything on the basketball court.  Though he ran into some turnover prone at times and his tendency to settle for mid-range jumpers seemed a bit much at times, Cunningham’s versatility and ability to make plays on both ends of the floor helped his team get the victory over Marquette.

Cunningham did a great job of scoring in transition.  He is an excellent scorer on the break, and he would run the floor to get the ball, and then score on aggressive drives to the hoop.  He was able to throw down a strong dunk powerfully in transition once, and he also used a pivot move to score on a smooth, turnaround jumper.  Plus, he also showed a solid ability to draw free throws when handling the ball.

Plus, Cunningham also excelled as a scorer in the post.  He was able to score on a nifty, reverse flip layup, and he would frequently draw fouls right after catching the ball on the block.  He also did an adequate job of making pull-up jumpers from the mid-range, and he can use quick dribble moves and ball fakes to create separation away from his defenders.  However, he seemed to take too many mid-range jumpers, which may hurt his shooting percentages a bit, and he also missed on his lone three-point attempt from beyond the arc.  He also used a jump stop to score on a drive in the half court, but he ended up getting his shot blocked on a running layup.

He also displayed adequate playmaking skills.  He is an unselfish player that throws good outlet passes to find teammates in transition to set up scores for them, and he also can throw solid passes both off the dribble and out of the post.  He can routinely find cutters on the move, and Cunningham possesses good court vision.  However, sometimes he would be a bit careless when handling the ball, as he was called for a carrying violation early on, and he also traveled after trying to quickly kick a ball out to a shooter in transition off the dribble another time.  Cunningham sometimes can tend to struggle to protect the basketball, as he ran off of a curl, but exposed the ball and had it taken away from him.  

Also, Cunningham showed a fairly good ability to rebound the basketball.  He would actively crash the glass to get boards on both sides of the ball, and sometimes he would push the ball up the court after getting defensive rebounds.  Sometimes, he would allow opponents to get rebounds over him even when he would try to box out his opponents, as he would get outmuscled by his opponents on rebounding attempts at times.

He also played fairly good defense in this game.  Cunningham is a very active, rangy help defender that excelled at getting steals and blocks for his team.  He would rotate aggressively to block and alter shots off of drives due to possessing good positioning, length, quickness, and timing.  He even managed to rotated quickly to make an impressive two-handed block to force a jump ball.  He also would jump on loose balls, and he also ran in to jump an inbounds pass to get numerous steals for his team.  He also would get his hands on passes to get deflections. 

Cunningham did a good job of contesting jumpers as well as shots in the paint to force misses, and his aggressive defense made it difficult for opponents to handle the ball or get their shots off.  Sometimes though, he would sag too far off of shooters, but mostly his opponents were not able to take advantage of this even when he would give them ample space to shoot the three-ball.  However, sometimes he would struggle to defend quicker guards off of drives, which would occasionally lead him to commit fouls or allow scores every once in a while.

In general, Cade Cunningham had a solid showing in his team’s win over Marquette.  He played well early and down the stretch, but struggled at times midway through this contest.  He didn’t make a three-point shot, which was a bit disappointing, but he helped his team out in other ways to get them the win.  His all-around skills, high basketball IQ, and versatility combined with his skill set and ability to play multiple positions could enable him to be the top pick of the 2021 draft, and Cunningham could be poised to end up being a solid starter in the NBA.

Oklahoma State’s 6-4 junior guard, Isaac Likekele also played fairly well to help lead his team to a win over Marquette.  He excelled at making plays on both ends of the floor, and his shot-making ability combined with his tough, feisty defense helped his team get the victory.

Likekele did a decent job of scoring on strong drives to the basket.  He has good strength and quickness to get to the hoop, and he can finish plays using either hand. Sometimes though, he would be prone to rushing his shots, which would him to miss some shots in traffic.  He also managed to use a pump fake to score from the post, although he did miss two other times when hoisting up shots from inside the paint.

He also managed to make a corner three, and Likekele was able to take advantage of getting ample space to shoot the basketball, as his improved outside shooting skills could open things up for him and add another dimension to his offensive game.

On the downside, Likekele was quite turnover prone in this game.  For the positives, he can throw accurate passes off the dribble and in transition, and he also would throw entry passes to set up plenty of scoring chances for his teammates.  However, he also would sometimes throw inaccurate passes that would go astray.  He also would sometimes struggle to handle the ball in traffic or create separation when being guarded by a quicker defender, which would sometimes lead him to commit some ball-handling turnovers.

Plus, he also did a fairly good job of rebounding the basketball.  Likekele was quite active on the glass to get boards for his team on both ends of the floor.  However, there was one play where he committed an over the back foul when going for an offensive board once.

He also played solid defense in this game.  Likekele would run in to jump passes to get steals and deflections for his team, and he also did a decent job of contesting threes to force misses.  He also was able to successfully draw a charge when defending a drive another time due to good positioning.  Sometimes though, he would over-rotate off of his man, as he would be caught ball watching, which would lead him to be late to rotate and to allow opponents to occasionally score on three-point shots.

Overall, Isaac Likekele is an athletic, strong combo guard that primarily excels at attacking the rim to score the basketball, and he also is a good defensive player as well.  He will need to trust his outside shot more and be a more consistent player in games, but he is an intriguing prospect that may have the skills to end up being a solid role player in the NBA.

Marquette’s sophomore guard, D.J. Carton put forth an uneven performance in his team’s loss to Oklahoma State.  He made some good plays at times, and he is a very athletic guard that showed some playmaking, scoring, and defensive prowess on occasion, but he struggled to consistently make plays in his team’s loss in this game.

Carton did a decent job of getting scores off the dribble.  On one play, he was able to handle the ball on the break, and he managed to score on a high-flying dunk while getting an extra free throw.  He tends to favor going to his left, and he can quickly get to the rim to draw free throws and to get scores.  However, there was one time where he used a pump fake to go right, but he ended up air-balling a floater from the mid-range.

He also was unable to make any of his three-point attempts, and Carton really had trouble making outside shots in this game.  Unlike his freshman year at Ohio State, Carton has been struggling to make threes, and he was unable to connect from long-distance against Oklahoma State.

As a playmaker, Carton looked to be about average.  He had one really good assist, as he drove up court in transition, and he looked off his defender to make a terrific drop-off pass to set up a nifty score for his teammate due to possessing solid court vision.  However, he can sometimes hold the ball too long, and he also was prone to committing ball-handling turnovers.  He tended to slip on the floor when trying to drive to the hoop to commit traveling violations, and he also had a ball poked away another time.  He also threw a bad outlet pass that was intercepted by a defender.

He also played fairly good defense.  Carton was able to jump a weakly thrown pass to get a steal, and he also managed to backtap an opposing ball-handler to force another turnover.  He also rotated to block a corner three to force a miss.  Also, Carton was able to deflect a pass, and he also contested a three-point shot to get a stop another time.  Sometimes though, he would struggle to defend drives, as he would get outmuscled on those plays, which would lead him to commit fouls and allow scores.  Another time, he sagged too far off of a shooter, which led his opponent to score on a three-point shot.

In summary, D.J. Carton is a very athletic point guard that may possess considerable potential, but he will need to regain the jump shot he seemed to display as a freshman, and he will need to cut down on the mental mistakes he tends to make with the ball in his hands on offense.  At times, he can display tremendous court vision, as shown with the pass he made in transition to get him his lone assist of this game.  However, his play was too erratic in his team’s loss to Oklahoma State.  Carton may not quite be ready to play in the NBA, but his athleticism and upside could make him a mid to late second round candidate for the 2021 draft.

Marquette’s senior guard, Koby McEwen had a strong showing in his team’s loss to Oklahoma State, as he scored 21 points and he also played tough, aggressive defense in this game.
(Photo:
Marquette Athletic Dept Photo, 247Sports)

Marquette’s 6-4 senior guard, Koby McEwen played very well in his team’s loss to Oklahoma State.  In fact, while Carton made more visually stunning plays in this game, McEwen was consistently solid throughout this game, and he actually looked to be Marquette’s best player in the Golden Eagles’ loss to the Cowboys.

McEwen showed a solid ability to score off the dribble, as he would score on strong, aggressive drives to the basket, and he also has good strength to draw numerous fouls upon his defenders to often get to the free throw line.  He also scored on a tough, acrobatic reverse layup in traffic off of a drive in transition.  He also managed to score on a strong, acrobatic layup off of a backdoor cut to the hoop.  However, he seemed to struggle to score more when he would hoist up pull-up jumpers from mid-range.

He also did an adequate job of knocking down outside shots.  While McEwen was a bit streaky in knocking down long-range jumpers, he was able to make three three-pointers, and he was fairly effective in making spot-up threes off the catch.

He also displayed decent playmaking skills in this game.  He is an unselfish player that passes well off the dribble, and he can throw a variety of passes to set up scoring chances for his teammates.  He also handles the ball well, and he was able to use an impressive Euro-step move to kick a ball out to a shooter once.  However, sometimes he would be too aggressive in trying to make plays off the dribble.  On one drive, he collided with a defender to lose the ball out of bounds.  He also was called for a charging foul off of another drive, though his opponent appeared to flop on that play.

McEwen was able to get his fair share of boards on both ends of the floor to help his team get some rebounds.  Plus, he also played very good defense in this game.  He is a very active, tenacious on-ball defender that would apply heavy ball pressure when guarding his opponents.  He would actively guard shooters and contest shots to force numerous misses, and he also made quick rotations to get stops inside the paint.  He also showed a knack for poking balls away to help his team get steals and deflections.  He was able to successfully draw a charge on a drive, and he also successfully defended a 4 on 1 break to force the lead ball-handler to slow up and to run offense instead.  On the downside, McEwen’s aggressiveness would sometimes lead him to commit reach-in fouls, and he also tended to foul opponents in the post.

Overall, Koby McEwen played very well in his team’s loss to Oklahoma State.  He is a versatile shot maker that can ably run the point if necessary, and he also is a tough, tenacious on-ball defender that can lock down his man.  He may be an underrated prospect in the 2021 draft, and he could end up being a worthwhile pick in the late second round if he is available for NBA teams to select late in the draft, as McEwen may have the skills to be an effective role player in the association.

Marquette’s 6-7 senior forward, Jamal Cain is an athletic, skilled player that generally excelled making plays on both ends of the floor in his team’s loss to Oklahoma State.  He is an effective spot-up shooter that can knock down open threes off the catch to provide floor spacing for his team on offense.

He also is a solid athlete that can ably score on hustle plays.  He was able to cut to the hoop to score on a baseline jam, and he also ran in to score on an impressive tip dunk after swooping in to get the offensive rebound.  However, sometimes Cain would miss on put backs, as he would not always gather himself or operate under control.

He also displayed decent playmaking skills.  Cain is an unselfish player that will find the open man to set up scores for his teammates, and he also can handle the ball in the open floor.  However, he seemed to have more trouble handling the ball when crowded, and he also threw a bad no-look bounce pass that ended up getting picked off late in this game.

Cain did a very good job of rebounding the basketball, and he would often leap up to aggressively get boards on both ends of the floor.  He also played solid defense.  Cain was able to race in to jump on a ball his teammate poked away already to help his team get a steal.  Plus, Cain showed that he can contest shots out on the perimeter, and he also has the strength to hold his ground when defending in the post to get numerous stops for his team.  On the other hand, despite trying to hustle back to make a play defensively to stop a team in transition, he fouled an opponent that led to a dunk and free throws instead.

All in all, Jamal Cain is an athletic swingman that looks to be an intriguing 3 and D candidate for the NBA.  On the downside, his shooting percentages have fluctuated considerably throughout his career, and he will need to be a more consistent outside shooter in games.  After having made a sterling 47% of his threes as a freshman, he only made 27% of them as a sophomore, prior to making threes at a solid 38% mark as a junior.  This year’s he has made 33% of his threes, which is passable, but not outstanding by any means or stretch of the imagination.

If Cain can be a more consistent outside shooter in games, that could help him lock down a role as a 3 and D wing player in the NBA.  Right now, he may not have much draft stock right now, but his athleticism and defensive prowess could certainly help his chances to lock down a roster spot at the next level, and with continued development, Cain could end up being a rotation-level player in the association.

Oklahoma State’s 6-4 freshman guard, Rondel Walker played very well in his team’s win over Marquette, and he is a very athletic combo guard whose versatile scoring skills, defensive prowess, and strong physical tools could have him rise up draft boards in no time, especially with so many eyeballs being on Cade Cunningham, eventually they will notice that he has other good players on his roster like Walker that may draw attention from NBA teams and scouts later on this season.

Walker showed a good ability to score on strong drives to the hoop.  He is a crafty ball handler that can use power dribbling moves to create separation, and he is a solid finisher that can score on tough layups, and he also was able to score on an emphatic dunk while getting an extra free throw another time.  Sometimes, he can be prone to taking too many tough, contested shots, but Walker has shown that he can ably score them in traffic. 

While he didn’t look to take many jump shots outside of the paint area, he was able to make a pull-up, mid-range jumper, but he missed on both of his three-point attempts from beyond the arc.

On the downside, he was quite turnover prone in this game.  Walker tended to play with tunnel vision, and the surprising fact is that, even though he is a 6-4 guard, he technically has zero assists this season.  That means he did not get an assist against Texas-Arlington, Texas-Southern, or Marquette, and when I saw him play, he showed off heavy score-first tendencies.  Though he is a much better scorer than anticipated, he tended to show frequent bouts of tunnel vision, as he seemed to be mostly consumed with the idea of scoring on offense that he would not get his teammates the basketball very often.  When he would look to pass, he would tend to throw inaccurate, off-target passes that would be very tough for his teammates to catch.   In this game, he also had a couple of ball-handling turnovers, including one where he was back-tapped by a defender when handling it to lose it to his opponent.

Walker only came away with one board in this game, but he was able to quickly run down a defensive rebound, as he managed to push the ball quickly up the court afterwards.

Also, Walker played very good defense in this game.  He would frequently leap up high and jump passes to get numerous steals and deflections, and he is a pesky defender that also would poke balls away from opposing ball handlers to disrupt their ability to make plays on offense.  He also excelled at challenging shots in this game.  He was able to rotate to block a shot hard off of a drive to a teammate, and he did a good job of contesting jumpers to force misses.  Sometimes though, he would gamble a bit too much and reach in for steals, which would sometimes put him out of position, which would lead him to commit reach-in fouls.

Overall, Rondel Walker had an impressive showing in his team’s win over Marquette, as his strong athletic gifts, combined with his scoring and defensive prowess, helped his team get the victory.  Even though he did not make a three-point shot and technically has no assists on the season, Walker could be a promising prospect whose scoring and defensive abilities could enable him to end up being a reliable bench player in the NBA as a microwave type of scoring guard at the next level.

Marquette’s 6-7 freshman forward, Justin Lewis put forth a fairly good performance in this game, and he was able to show some intriguing skills at times in his team’s loss to Oklahoma State.  He showed off versatile scoring skills, and he also defended well.  He did commit too many turnovers, but Lewis has the potential to turn in a very good freshman season, and he may be one of the most talented players on Marquette’s roster this year.

Lewis is a high-motor combo forward that generally excelled at scoring on hustle plays, and he would crash the offensive glass to get scores and free throws after wards.  He also made an impressive spot-up three off of a pick and pop play.  He did get his shot blocked on a put back, and also missed on a pull-up jumper from mid-range, but Lewis’ ability to make shots both inside and out could really help Marquette this season.

He also played solid defense in this game.  He is an active defender that can defend on and off the ball.  Lewis was able to rotate to block a shot off of a drive.  He also will jump on loose balls and get his hands on passes to help his team get steals and deflections.  He was active in contesting shots inside the paint to force plenty of missed shots.  Every once in a while though, he would give up too much space to his man, which would cause his team to allow scores.

He also did a tremendous job of rebounding the basketball.  Lewis was a rebounding machine, as he hauled in an impressive 13 rebounds in just 22 minutes off the bench, and he was an absolute force to be reckoned with on the boards, as he proved to be unstoppable on the glass.

Lewis also was able to throw an entry pass to set up a scoring chance for his teammate, and he also found an open teammate to get an assist another time.  However, he was fairly turnover prone in this game, mostly due to carelessness.  Lewis didn’t quite catch an inaccurately thrown high entry pass, and he ended up losing the ball in traffic.  Another time, he had a ball ripped away when in the post.  He also telegraphed a pass that was intercepted by a defender.

Overall, Lewis played fairly well in his team’s loss to Oklahoma State.  Though he was plagued with turnovers on offense, he showed off versatile scoring skills, solid defensive abilities, and tremendous rebounding prowess.  That combination could potentially enable him to even be Marquette’s best player by the end of the season.  He was a great addition to Marquette’s team this season.  If Lewis cut down on his turnovers, he could be a very good player at the collegiate level, and he may have the skills to end up being a solid role player in the NBA.

In a separate game that was played days later on December 4th, Marquette’s 6-7 freshman forward, Justin Lewis scored on a game-winning tip-in to propel his team to a win over Wisconsin.
(Source:
Twitter/Marquette Basketball via FS1)

Side note:
I am also aware that Justin Lewis scored 18 points and had 8 rebounds last night, and that he made the game-winning tip-in to beat the favored Wisconsin Badgers, and that he made two threes off the bench.  My assessment of him was not solely off the game he played against Oklahoma State, but more of a combination of what I saw, and what he is currently doing to help his team in the moment. If Lewis can get significantly more playing time than his season averages in his first 4 games, that could help Marquette get substantially more wins than expected this season.

Oklahoma State’s 6-2 senior guard, Bryce Williams played very well in this game.  He is a spot-up shooter that excelled at making threes off the catch, and he also showed off a lot of range on his shot.  He also is an unselfish player that threw good passes on the break, and he also was able to throw an accurate lob pass in transition to get an assist. 

He was able to score once on a drive in transition after having gathered himself to do so, but Williams generally struggled more to operate off the dribble.  He did miss two times when trying to score on half-court drives in traffic.  Williams even botched a 4 on 1 breakaway by mishandling a ball in front of a defender that forced him to slow up and have to pull back and retreat to set up a half-court offense instead.  Williams’ ball-handling can use some work, but his strong ability to make spot-up threes really helped Oklahoma State on offense.

He also was able to get a pair of defensive rebounds to get his fair share of boards when he was on the floor, and he was able to push the ball up the court off of one defensive rebound.

Williams also played solid defense in this game.  He did a terrific job of getting steals and blocks, and he is an active help defender that really made things difficult on his opponents.  He would often jump passes and poke balls away from his opponents to get steals, and he also blocked a shot off of a drive.  He also is a scrappy player who was able to dive on a loose ball on the ground to nearly get another steal, and his tenaciousness in making plays on the ball really helped Oklahoma State defensively as well.  On the downside, he was a bit foul prone, as he ended up committing fouls on a couple of jump shots in this game.

Overall, Bryce Williams had a solid showing in his team’s win over Marquette.   He is a good spot-up shooter that passed and defended well in this game.  On the other hand, he had more trouble trying to consistently create shots for himself and others, and he appeared to be much more comfortable in playing off the ball rather than being the lead ball handler.  Still, his jump shot and defensive skills helped Oklahoma State get the win in this game, and Williams has the potential to end up in the NBA as a serviceable role player off the bench in the association.

Marquette’s freshman big man, Dawson Garcia started off well, but he put forth an uneven performance in his team’s loss to Oklahoma State.  For the positives, he showed that he can score on left-handed drives to the hoop, and he can score when going to his dominant hand.  He also ran the floor to score on a powerful dunk.  However, he missed too on too many jump shots and was inconsistent as a scorer in the post, and Garcia was unable to capitalize on the pair of free throws he obtained when he was fouled in the post once.

Garcia is an unselfish player that will look to find the open man, but he struggled to handle the ball in traffic.  On one play, he had trouble handling the ball when pressed by an opponent, and he ended up committing a traveling violation.

He also didn’t rebound the ball very well.  On the plus side, he played fairly good defense in this game.  He was able to jump on a loose ball to get a steal, and he also did a good job of contesting shots off of drives to force misses.  He did commit a foul another time, but Garcia generally was active in making plays and getting stops for his team.

Overall, Garcia struggled in this game, as he only made 2 of 9 shots from the field and scored just 4 points, and he also had a meager 2 rebounds, which is atrocious for a 6-11 big man.  Still, he did some good things in his team’s loss to Marquette.  He showed that he can score when he goes to his left, and he is an athletic player that can score and defend in transition.  He will need to improve his jump shot, ball handling, and rebounding abilities, and he will likely need to stay in school for at least another year, but Garcia is a skilled big man that could be a prospect to keep an eye on in the future.

Marquette’s 6-9 senior center, Theo John didn’t have his best game, but he did score efficiently in very limited touches.  He was able to score on a jump hook from the post, and he also made an impressive bank three off the catch.  He showed some scoring versatility, but what was a bit disappointing was that those were the only two field goals he took the entire game.  He did score 6 points after also having made two free throws elsewhere, but John was not able to take many shots on offense. He did show some shot blocking prowess, and he would rotate to swat shots off of drives to get stops for his team.  However, he was saddled with turnovers and fouls, as he tended to commit plenty of them in the post.

Overall, John is a strong, mobile big man that has the potential to be a backup big man in the NBA, but he will need to cut down on turnovers and fouls in the meantime.  With continued development, he could potentially end up being a defensive specialist in the association.

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