Dante Cunningham had an okay year. For his career, Cunningham averages 6 points, 3 rebounds, and about 0.5 blocks a game. For the 2015-16 NBA season, Cunningham averaged 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 0.4 blocks per a game. The funny part? Dante's "okay" year was one of the bright spots in this dark and stormy Pelicans season.
Dante's season stats fall right in line with his career averages? So why did Dante Cunningham have possibly the most successful Pelicans season?
Two reasons: One, he was the only player on the Pelicans entire roster with a guaranteed contract to not miss a single game due to injury. Two, Dante proved that he is a capable shooter from behind the arc by shooting 32% from three point land. Up from his career average of 26%.
Beyond some of the raw numbers, Dante was one of the few Pelicans who seemed comfortable in Gentry's offense. For the entire season, Dante was able to do a lot of the small things that help an offensive scheme work, such as cutting to the basket, and flaring out to the corners to provide space.
On the offensive end, Dante's game doesn't need a ton of improvement. Going into the off-season, I would love for him to work on setting hard screens, and flaring to the three point line, something he rarely did this season.
Beyond that, Dante just needs to work on that corner three point shot, especially on the right side of the court. If he can hit his corner three's at a 37-38% clip next year, he will continue to see more playing time.
The Pelicans have been desperate for a 3&D player for several years. Dante Cunningham is the closest thing the Pelicans have had to that player. But, while Dante did develop his three, he forgot his D.
Statistically, Dante Cunningham had his worst defensive season ever. He recorder career lows in defensive rating (112), defensive plus/minus (-0.1), and defensive win share (0.7). Tangentially related, he also recorded a career low in defensive rebounding percentage (10.4%).
To be fair, the Pelicans defense was a mess the entire season. Thus, some of those numbers are arguably skewed because of the poor defensive play that surrounded Dante. The Pelicans ranked 28th in defensive efficiency.
Predict the Position
Part of the problem for Dante Cunningham, both this year and his entire career, has been he is a bit of a "tweener". This season, the Pelicans lack of wing depth forced Gentry to play Cunningham largely at SF. Dante played roughly 60% of his minutes at SF and about 40% of his minutes at PF this season, per Nylon Calculus.
The statistics behind those splits show that the Pelicans were better off when Dante played PF as opposed to SF. Dante recorded a plus-minus of +0.2 when playing power forward and a plus-minus of -2.1 when playing SF for the Pelicans.
Next season, it would be wise for Gentry to give Dante Cunningham more minutes at the PF spot. Optimally, Dante would be able to fill the void left by the probable departure of Ryan Anderson.
Still, Gentry's ability to do so will be subject to the constraints of the roster. Without a true SF on the roster, Dante Cunningham might find himself back in the same role next year.
Dante had an okay season. He remained healthy and made strides shooting the ball from three point range. If he, and the rest of the Pelicans motley crew, can do the same next year, the Pelicans should be in good shape.
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