Reevaluating ‘The Decision’: Jared Cunningham
Published: Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 19:07
My initial reaction to Jared Cunningham’s decision to leave school early for the NBA draft was probably similar to that of a lot of people who follow Oregon State University basketball: “Oh *&%$, now what?”
My second thought was, “What is he thinking? He’s not even going to be a first-round pick!”
My third (and far less relevant revelation) was, “Wow, the highlight video before every home game is going to be pathetic without Cunningham’s dunks and blocks in it. What are they going to fill it with, Angus Brandt jump hooks?”
While the basketball team undeniably underachieved this year, it still felt like 2013 could easily be the year the youth finally matures into a contender.
But the second Cunningham made his announcement, my expectations for what could have been vanished.
Most people figured Cunningham’s draft stock for his senior year would rise from mid-second round, to the middle of the first, and potentially all the way into the lottery.
Experts also thought with Cunningham at the helm, the talented Beavers had a legitimate shot at winning a Pac-12 title, or at least making their first NCAA tournament since 1990.
I spent the next couple of weeks berating Cunningham’s decision, complaining about the stupidity of the whole thing to anyone who would listen.
Why would arguably the most celebrated athlete at Oregon State University want to leave early, only to be selected in the second round? In a round where he will not only earn far less money, but more importantly, he would not even be guaranteed a roster spot?
How does a program seemingly on the brink of long-awaited success replace 17.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals every single game?
I was distraught, dismayed and devastated, not only for Oregon State, but also for a player who I’ve followed since he first committed three years ago.
I couldn’t understand how an undersized combo guard –– not a good enough ball handler to play the point, but too small to be a shooting guard –– without a reliable jump shot was going to make it in a league of the 450 best players on the planet.
For Oregon State, I couldn’t figure out how they could improve sufficiently enough to compete for a Pac-12 championship without their unquestionably best player on the roster.
But as reality set in, and the NBA draft loomed nearer, I began to cope with the departure, and gradually became at peace with the situation.
All of a sudden, Cunningham was dominating his draft workouts, creating a buzz among NBA general managers and draft experts.
By all accounts, he’s been the best player among the select few he has competed against for various teams, and is quickly rising up NBA draft boards.
In one of ESPN draft expert Chad Ford’s mock drafts, he has Cunningham as the second player left out of the first round with the potential to slide into the top 30 picks –– a possibility I thought ludicrous initially following Cunningham’s announcement.
On the Oregon State side, things aren’t looking as bleak as I originally thought.
New recruit Langston Morris-Walker could have an instant impact. There’s also no reason to think the now-experienced nucleus of Roberto Nelson, Ahmad Starks, Devon Collier, Eric Moreland and Joe Burton can’t raise their game to another level this coming season.
While Cunningham’s absence will be difficult to replace, the increased minutes and responsibility that will undoubtedly be given to Nelson could be the best thing that ever happened to the Beavers.
Though less athletic, Nelson is a much better shooter and all around scorer than Cunningham. His role was limited because of the need to play Cunningham 35 minutes a game, while relying on him as the primary scorer.
We’ve seen flashes of Nelson’s offensive prowess, the 34-point explosion against Arizona State two years ago is an obvious example. And with Cunningham out of the picture, that type of performance could become something of a consistency for Oregon State.
Defensively, OSU might suffer slightly because of Cunningham’s knack for racking up steals and applying defensive pressure, but offensively they could blossom even more beautifully than they were last year.
Tomorrow is the NBA draft. Like Cunningham said when he first declared, it only takes one team to fall in love with him to get selected in the first round.
But whether he does go in the first round, I’ve changed my mind. He made the right decision, not only for himself, but for Oregon State as well.
Yes, Cunningham may have benefited from an extra year to hone his jumper in the college ranks, and Oregon State would have been a good team with him, but both parties needed the change in order to grow.
Don’t be surprised if Cunningham is drafted to a contender, such as San Antonio or Chicago, and immediately has an impact as an Avery Bradley-type player –– a young guard who ignited an aging Boston Celtics with lockdown defense and athleticism on the perimeter this year.
As for OSU, don’t be surprised if Oregon State makes the jump Beaver Nation has been waiting for the last couple of years, and plays its way all the way to the big dance in March.
Andrew Kilstrom, sports writer
On twitter: @AndrewKilstrom