Much to the surprise of those of us who followed the various and sundry mock NBA drafts- Wildcat Dante Cunningham was drafted far higher than their recent projections. Accordingly, it was certainly a pleasant surprise, for us Villanova fans.
I have no particular expertise on the NBA, and certainly not on the NBA draft. And so I had no choice, but to scour the many mock drafts available online, for a guess as to where Cunningham might end up...
So I was as surprised as everyone else, when I learned that he had been the third pick in the second round - far higher than any analyst had recently projected.
To be fair to the analysts, they had - at one point - rated Cunningham's stock far more highly. Back in the spring, a consensus of mock drafts at that time rated him as a high second-round pick (i.e., what eventually took place).
However, as I noted earlier this week, Cunningham's stock among analysts had dropped considerably, over the past several weeks.
I researched a dozen mock drafts - not a single one had him drafted, above the 36th selection (i.e., the sixth pick of the second round, and three spots below where he was actually drafted). In fact, most had him in the middle and bottom of the second round - and there were a pair of mock drafts that projected Cunningham to go undrafted completely.
Yet the evidence of widespread NBA interest in Cunningham was clearly visible. The fine site VUHoops assembled the full list of ten NBA teams, for which Cunningham had been invited to work out - one/third of the league, in fact. (Portland, naturally, was one of them.)
It's difficult for me to imagine why a player would be invited to ten camps, and then go undrafted completely, but that's what two analysts had. Others had him drafted, but near the very end of the second round.
Here's a list of mock drafts I assembled yesterday, and where they had Cunningham drafted, in descending order of accuracy:
- DraftExpress.com - 36th overall (the most accurate).
- TheHoopsReport.com - 49th overall,
- InsideHoops.com- Projected him in a group for the 41st-50th selections
- TheDraftReview.com - by Michael Maurer - 53rd overall
- RidiculousUpside.com - which is a great name - 56th overall selection
- HoopsVibe.com - undrafted.
- NBADraft.net projected Cunningham as the 49th selection overall, by the Atlanta Hawks.
- Hoopsworld.com projected him as the 57th selection overall, by the Phoenix Suns (i.e., the end of the second round; there will be 60 selections made).
- MyNBADraft.com did not project him to be selected at all, surprisingly.
- NBADraftDepot.com projected him as the 58th selection overall, by the Boston Celtics.
- NBADraftPress.com projected him as the 45th selection overall, by the Minnesota Timberwolves (who have just traded his former Villanova Wildcat teammate, Randy Foye to the Washington Wizards).
Of these eleven mock drafts, nobody projected Cunningham higher than 36th. In fact, that single draft was the only one that had Cunningham higher than 45th. (If we look at the one that threw him into the group from 41-50, it's fair to say that he had him projected 45th as well, right in the middle). Everyone else had him at the bottom of the round, either in the late 40s or 50s or undrafted.
So why was Cunningham so undervalued?
My best speculative answer:
Cunningham was an unheralded recruit. In addition, he did not emerge as a star player until his senior season, after which he deservedly received the Big East award for Most Improved Player. Draft analysts take their craft very seriously. (I was astonished to see that several weeks ago, they already had mock 2010 drafts in place.)
And since Cunningham would not have been considered a significant NBA prospect for much of his Villanova career, they probably did not have him in mind as a certain NBA draft pick. Essentially, they didn't recognize how much Cunningham had improved as a senior.
But more importantly, ten NBA teams did. Otherwise, they wouldn't have seriously considered drafting him. And Cunningham's high draft choice is a testament to his growth as a player while at Villanova.
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