Houston Rockets: Cade Cunningham historical comp #1
Ceiling: Larry Bird
Deciding between Larry Bird and Cade’s soon-to-be contemporary, Luka Doncic, was a struggle. Either outcome, of course, would have to be considered a tremendous success for Cunningham. Ultimately, we went with Bird because frankly, the comparison is a little more fun.
Like Bird, Cade does not have the athletic advantages of many of his peers. If Cade is like Bird in any other respect, it won’t matter an iota. It’s almost pointless to post Larry Bird’s stats. They called him Larry Legend for a reason (and Kodak for…less obvious reasons?): he was one of the two best players of his era. If you don’t have him in your top ten, your top ten is wrong. Here’s one stat in case you need a fix: from 1984 to 1989, Bird never posted a PER under 24 (peaking at an absurd 27.8 in the 1987-88 season).
Instead of dominating the game with physical advantages, Bird asserted his will with an off-the-charts IQ and court vision, an astute understanding of how to manipulate angles, and in his prime, lights-out three-point shooting. His highlight reel looks like a member of the Harlem Globetrotters if the Washington Generals were actually trying, and somehow, just failing anyway.
These are all traits Cunningham shares with the Legend. If he is at all lacking in Bird’s uncanny feel for the game (which, for the record, he may not be) he compensates with superior athletic abilities. Cade may lack the quickness and bounce of some of his peers, but Bird played like somebody’s Dad took a mad scientist’s basketball serum.
If Cunningham has even 85-percent of Bird’s craftiness, touch, and vision, he may be able to make a similar impact as the man who ushered the Celtics through the 80s. Raphael Stone should be willing to part with significant assets to see if Cunningham can do the same for Houston through the 2020s.