Jared Cunningham: Star Standout In Down YearPosted by rtmsf on February 2nd, 2012
Kenny Ocker is an RTC correspondent.
True star players often have a way of making it obvious how good they are and how prodigious their talents are. Jared Cunningham is one of those players, and he has the market cornered in the Pac-12 this season. The Oregon State junior guard’s game against rival Oregon last Sunday clearly illustrated how Cunningham’s ability exceeds that of any other player in the conference. Despite shooting 1-for-7 in the first half against the Ducks and scoring just three points, Cunningham went off in the second half and scored 24 points and — offensively, defensively and emotionally — led the Beavers to a come-from-behind, 76-71, road victory in a game that their rivals could ill afford to lose.
“I felt more vocal. I was trying to get Ahmad (Starks) going,” Cunningham said of his fellow guard, who also had just three points in the first half, but finished with 15. “I talked to him at halftime and just told him to play hard and get his shot going.” Oregon State — especially Cunningham and Starks — took advantage of Oregon’s porous perimeter defense in the second half, but the 6’4” shooting guard from Oakland led the way, shooting 5-for-7 from the field in the second half, demonstrating that he was far and away the best player on the court and likely the best player in the conference.
Statistically, Cunningham’s performance this season stands out in a historically elite conference that is having an otherwise-awful year. (To put how bad the Pac-12 is in perspective, its 12 teams have combined for one RPI top 50 non-conference win this season.) Cunningham’s 18.2 points per game lead the Pac-12 and he’s tied for 14th in assists, leading his team in the category along with teammate Joe Burton.
There’s more to Cunningham’s game than just scoring, though. He’s one of the Pac-12′s premier perimeter defenders, ranking third nationally with 2.81 steals per game, which is nearly a full steal per game more than his closest conference competitor. And despite his Beavers owning the conference’s highest tempo, Cunningham ranks fourth in the conference in minutes played with 34.1 per game, and the only players above him play for USC and Arizona State, two of the worst three teams in the conference.
Admittedly, there is some tempo discrimination in these statistics, but it does show how much Cunningham stands out among his peers. A player of his caliber has been something not seen in Corvallis since Brent Barry was taken #15 overall in the 1995 NBA Draft. Cunningham’s ability to take over a game is something unseen throughout the rest of the Pac-12, and the conference’s down year is obscuring a standout season from one of its best players in recent years and Oregon State’s best player in more than a decade.