As the 2021-22 NBA season moves along, Detroit Pistons rookie Cade Cunningham continues to prove the hype around him was more justified. He’s quickly becoming one of the league’s rising young talents. Cunningham’s latest performance against the Denver Nuggets has put him in the same category as Hall of Famer Michael Jordan.
Cade Cunningham continues to shine in his rookie campaign
Before the 2021 NBA Draft, Cunningham was unanimously seen as the top prospect in his class.
The Oklahoma State product experienced a bumpy start due to an ankle injury, resulting in early shooting struggles. However, he’s demonstrated steadily improving play as he’s become the Pistons’ go-to offensive factor, opening the door to numerous productive performances.
He leads all rookies with 16.2 points per game while tallying 11 contests with at least 20 points. Cunningham has now added another stellar outing that has placed him alongside Michael Jordan.
Cade Cunningham joined Michael Jordan in the record books and proved his Rookie of the Year credentials in a single night
Despite the Pistons’ continued struggles, Cunningham remains the shining light for the franchise’s future.
The Oklahoma State product showcased that again by going toe-to-toe with reigning league MVP Nikola Jokic. Cunningham posted a career-high 34 points on 14-of-26 shooting, including knocking down six of nine attempts from 3-point range.
The 20-year-old’s stellar outing wasn’t enough to lift the Pistons over the Nuggets. However, it put him in the NBA record books alongside Michael Jordan as the only rookies to record 34 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, and four blocks in a single game.
After the loss, Cunningham expressed his appreciation for his teammates’ trust in his ability, which gives him the opportunity to excel.
“I’m happy with how much my teammates trust me with the ball more than anything,” Cunningham said after Tuesday’s contest. “They want me to make plays for us. They want me to be aggressive. I have worked really hard to get to where I am at in basketball, so to have guys trust me with the ball, and trust the work I put in means a lot to me.”
Whenever a player is mentioned in the same breath as Jordan, it’s an extraordinary accomplishment. Cunningham may only be in his first NBA campaign, but his progressively improving play suggests an extremely bright future lies ahead.
Aiming for the Rookie of the Year award like MJ
Performances like Tuesday’s night only further strengthen Cunningham’s case for Rookie of the Year
The 2021-22 rookie class features talented young players such as Scottie Barnes, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, and Franz Wagner. However, it hasn’t stopped the 20-year-old from eyeballing the prestigious honor.
“It’s definitely a goal of mine,” Cunningham said via Bleacher Report. “I feel like I am the best rookie. So winning that award would validate that to me and the world, but at the end of the day when I go and play a basketball game, I’m not thinking of Rookie of the Year trophies or anything like that. But it would be great to have when the time comes.”
Cunningham began the season behind the eight ball due to injuries, but he’s continued to improve. Beyond his historic outing against the Nuggets, he became the ninth-youngest player to tally a triple-double.
He also joined LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Alvan Adams, and Ben Simmons as the only player to notch at least 240 points, 100 rebounds, 75 assists, 20 steals, and 10 blocks through their first 17 career games.
With roughly less than half of the regular season left ahead, Cunningham will have every opportunity to strengthen his Rookie of the Year bid.