Scouting reports and team fits for 3 of the top NBA draft prospects

Stanford forward Ziaire Williams (left), Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham (center), LSU guard Cameron Thomas (right)

With the NBA playoffs in full swing, few fans are directing their attention to the upcoming NBA draft. That is not the case for teams who have already been eliminated, as they began their search for their next franchise cornerstone the minute their season concluded. With many prospects to cover, here are scouting reports and team fits for three of the draft’s top prospects.

Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Cade Cunningham (2) shoots while Oregon State Beavers guard Jarod Lucas (2) defends during the second half in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Season Averages: 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists (27 games played)

Shooting Splits: 43.8 FG%, 40.0 3PFG%, 84.6 FT%

It is only fair to start this series off with the draft’s biggest star. Cunninghams’ one and only season lived up to the hype and guaranteed him a selection within the top 3 picks come draft night.

Cunningham will improve any offense he is inserted too with his feel for the game and scoring from all three levels. He operates well out of the pick and roll, patiently reading the defense’s movements before finding his shot. His hulking 6’8, 220-pound frame allowed him to finish at the rim against opposing big men. He is an outstanding passer, hitting pocket passes and skip passes to find teammates for wide-open looks all season long. His mid-range jumper tends to go cold at times, converting on just 30.9% of his shots from that region this season. However, his strong three-point percentage suggests that his mid-range woes are amendable with time.

Source: CBB Analytics

Defensively, Cunningham brings a lot of versatility to the table. He is constantly reading the game, always alert to pick off a skip pass or pickpocket a ball-handler. His stout frame allows him to compete inside with big men while his wingspan is disruptive to smaller guards. Check the smart weakside contest and harassing on-ball defense versus Kansas.

Team Fit: Houston Rockets

Okay, this isn’t a real team fit. The team fit is whoever is drafting first overall, as Cunningham is too good to pass up on no matter who ends up with the first pick. The Rockets already have very competent ball-handlers in Kevin Porter Jr. and John Wall. However, the franchise can’t afford to pass up on a player like Cunningham no matter the current roster makeup.

Cunningham will likely be in the lineup from Day 1, starting next to Porter Jr. or Wall. The Rockets could even fit the three of them into a lineup at once, as Cunninghams’ size allows him to play 1-3 on both sides of the ball. Given Porter Jr and Wall’s playstyles, Cunningham could end up in an off-ball role. While it is not the most effective way to utilize him, his cutting and smart movement make it possible.

Cunninghams’ only concern at this point has been his high volume of turnovers. He tends to try and make the highlight reel pass too often, which led to his 18.9 turnover percentage. As he matures and his feel for the game continues to improve, his turnover numbers will certainly decrease. Cunningham is the quintessential top prospect and could be the last piece the Rockets need to make their long-awaited championship run.

Ziaire Williams, F, Stanford

Stanford Cardinal forward Ziaire Williams (3) shoots the basketball against Oregon Ducks forward Eric Williams Jr. (50) during the second half at Maples Pavilion.
Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Season Stats: 10.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists (20 games played)

Shooting Splits: 37.4 FG%, 29.1 3PFG%, 79.6 FT%

After a historic and highly publicized stint at Sierra Canyon High School, Williams had a rather underwhelming season with the Cardinal in the Pac-12. Despite the meager numbers, his skill set translates well to the offensive game, and it keeps him projected in the top-15 for the upcoming draft.

Williams brings a lot to the table offensively despite his stats. He can create his own shot with above-average ball-handling skills at 6’8, 185 pounds. In addition to creating for himself, he has potential as a playmaker. His 16.3% assist percentage ranked in the 78th percentile amongst all forwards in the Pac-12 last season.

The main concern has been his dismal shooting from the outside. His 29.8% from beyond the arc won’t cut it at the next level. However, there is reason to believe his shot will improve with time. First, his free throw percentage on the season was 79.6%, a solid mark and a good indicator of his true form. Secondly, just watching his shot, there is no glaring mechanical issue, meaning that a leap in efficiency is very plausible. Finally, his best performance from the perimeter came in a conference game against Utah. The shots he was making off the dribble and out of the pick and roll were very encouraging signs.

Williams’s length and athleticism make him disruptive at the defensive end. In addition, his IQ and ability to read the eyes of opposing ball-handlers provided scouts with some encouraging signs of a good team defender. While he needs to put some weight on his slender frame, he will likely guard 1-3 at the next level.

Team Fit: Orlando Magic

After a midseason firesale that saw the team trade away Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, and Evan Fournier, the clear indication from the Magic front office was that the team was headed toward a rebuild. As a result, Williams is the perfect high-upside player to take a chance on with one of their two top-10 picks.

The Magic are loaded in the backcourt, with Markelle Fultz, R.J Hampton, and Cole Anthony all competing for minutes. The frontcourt, however, is much more open. James Ennis and Moritz Wagner saw meaningful minutes at the two forward spots this season for Orlando. However, the odds are neither player is a part of Orlando’s long-term plan. In addition, Jonathan Issac will return next season after missing this year’s campaign with a torn ACL.

Williams can come in alongside Issac and bring a lot of versatility to this ascending Magic team. His secondary playmaking ability can be well utilized next to the teams’ ball-dominant guards. His strong off-ball defense will also improve the Magics’ dismal defensive rating that ranked fourth-last in the league last season. Williams’s high floor makes him an appealing pick for a team looking for another franchise cornerstone.

Cam Thomas, G, LSU

 Louisiana State Tigers guard Cameron Thomas (24) goes up for a shot during the first half in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament against the Michigan Wolverines at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Season Stats: 23 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists (29 games played)

Shooting Splits: 40.6 FG%, 32.5 3PFG%, 88.2 FT%

After reviewing two of the draft’s top prospects, we take a look at Thomas. While still a great player in some respects, there are holes in his game that will likely cause him to fall towards the bottom of the first round on draft night.

Thomas is a pure scorer at all three levels. At the rim, he can finish through contact despite his undersized frame. He is a mid-range savant, shooting a strong 42.8% on 133 midrange attempts this season. He runs off of screens on the perimeter and frequently gets to the charity stripe with his aggressive drives.

While his 32.5% three-point percentage looks underwhelming on paper, it is important to factor in the variables surrounding Thomas. His LSU teammates provided little spacing for Thomas to find open shots. On top of the poor spacing, his usage was one of the highest in the country, making it hard for him to be an efficient scorer. Nevertheless, he demonstrated that he could hit the deep three if left open on more than one occasion. Even with Michigan constantly harassing him, Thomas could always find just enough room to get his quick release off.

At 6’4 and 210 pounds and above-average athleticism, Thomas has all the tools to be an impact defender. We have seen flashes of it over the course of the season. The issue is, it has only been flashes. His defensive effort fluctuates, and that won’t fly in the NBA. However, if a team can encourage consistent defense out of him, he has the potential to be an above-average defender.

Team Fit: Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are very familiar with microwave scorers who thrive in the midrange. Lou Williams was one of the team’s most consistent players for multiple years before being dealt to the Atlanta Hawks before in a midseason deal. Thomas can step in and operate like Williams’s previous role.

The Clippers lack true shot creators outside of superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Terrence Mann has made an enormous leap in his second year in the league, but the Clippers will still be looking to add more weapons to the bench with the upcoming draft.

Thomas would form a nice pick-and-roll partnership with current rookie center Daniel Oturu. The Lou Williams-Montrez Harrell was a staple of the Clippers’ second unit offense for years until both left in the past year. Thomas can replicate similar success with Oturu, who can stretch the floor for Thomas as well. Thomas also would fit perfectly next to Leonard and George in the starting lineup if called upon. His smart cutting and relocation off of off-ball screens are invaluable to any team. Thomas could find himself in the perfect situation if the Clippers take a chance on him in the late first-round range.

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