Oklahoma State freshman Cade Cunningham was the presumptive favorite to go first overall to the Detroit Pistons in the 2021 NBA Draft. He had all the attributes teams look for in a franchise player. He’s big, strong, can score, and can facilitate. Jalen Green, who took the G League Ignite path to the NBA rather than the college route, was set to go No. 2 to the Houston Rockets. His athleticism and ability to create his own shot from anywhere on the floor were attractive to teams as NBA stars continue to head in that direction.
The two players faced off for the first time in the Las Vegas NBA Summer League and a matchup of the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks didn’t disappoint.
Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green were both worthy of being selected with the first pick in the NBA draft
Cunningham came into college with an NBA-ready body at 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds. He was the No. 1 recruit in the high school class of 2020. He didn’t do anything during his one-and-done season with the Cowboys to disprove the notion that he was the best player in college basketball.
Essentially a point guard despite his size, Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.6 steals per game in Stillwater. He was efficient, shooting 46.1% from the floor and 40% from three. This despite being surrounded by an average at best supporting cast.
Green decided to start his career in the G League, and he didn’t disappoint either. Playing against professionals rather than college players, Green scored 17.9 points per game. He shot 46.1% from the floor and 36.5% from deep on a team-high 5.7 attempts. He was the best player on the Ignite.
Cade Cunningham vs. Jalen Green did not disappoint
The highly-anticipated matchup lived up to the hype. Green’s Rockets beat Cunningham’s Pistons 111-91, but that wasn’t the story. Green and Cunningham went one-on-one continuously throughout the night and each had his moments.
Green finished with 25 points, five rebounds, three assists, and a steal on 6-for-11 shooting. His game-high 11 free throw attempts showed his athleticism and ability to get to the rim.
Cunningham played well himself, scoring 20 points and adding four rebounds, three steals, and a pair of assists. He shot 4 of 9 from three.
The Cunningham vs. Green matchup gave NBA fans a peek into the future
Cunningham bullied the smaller G League alum, putting his back to the basket and powering his way to the rim. Green used his quickness and athleticism to blow by the former Cowboy and score inside. At one point, he drilled a three in Cunningham’s face and stared him down.
It was the two players’ first matchup and just their second NBA game. But both rookies have the games to become stars in the league. That was evident as the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks went head-to-head in Vegas.