13 April 2011
Author's Note: This will be my last article on Beyond The Beat. If you have enjoyed my articles on the Portland Trail Blazers and Oregon Ducks, you can head over to my personal blog, Swamigp's Sports Blog, where I will cover both teams in the future while also continuing my baseball, basketball, football, and golf coverage. Thanks for reading.
Gerald Wallace is making noise with his new team, the Portland Trail Blazers, but the Charlotte Bobcats return in the February trade raised some eyebrows as well. Dante Cunningham, Wallace’s replacement at small forward, worked his way into a starter’s role for the downtrodden Bobcats and consistently excelled.
It wasn’t easy for Cunningham after being traded. Used to playing every night for Portland, he appeared in just three of his first six games with Charlotte, scoring seven points in a grand total of 40 minutes.
“It was tough at first coming here and not playing and coming from Portland where I was playing night-in and night-out knowing what I was going to get and come here and sit, it was frustrating,” the 23-year-old second-year player out of Villanova said in a March interview with Rob Jones of the Charlotte Examiner.
“But I am getting familiar with the system. I guess you have to start at the low totem pole and work your way up.”
In time, Cunningham earned minutes from head coach Paul Silas and made the most of them. After the aforementioned six-game stretch he scored 34 points in three games, shooting an incredibly efficient 16-24 from the field. With a larger role he significantly helped the Bobcats with the mid-range jumper and aggressiveness Portland had come to expect.
"Cunningham is just a very solid player," Silas said, as documented by Derek Page of Hoopsworld. "He understands how to play: cutting to the hoop, getting layups [and getting] rebounds. He has some toughness about him and I really like his game, I really do."
“He’s really progressing,” added Silas to The Charlotte Examiner. “The thing I like about him is that he hit the boards for me and once he gets the concepts of the offense and defense at the three positions I think he will be fine. He’s doing a good job.”
Though his minutes fluctuated for the rest of March he continued to bring what Silas applauded. And then his role was significantly increased, albeit due to the injury to starting small forward Stephen Jackson.
Jackson severely injured his left hamstring in the second quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and in stepped Cunningham. All he did was score 12 points on 6-10 shooting in 29 minutes, playing an integral role in a one-point victory.
It became evident that Jackson wouldn’t be returning anytime soon, so Silas stuck with Cunningham and the hard-worker continued to pick up the slack and be a bright spot amidst Charlotte’s struggles.
During the month of April, spanning seven games, he has scored in double-figures five times, including a career-high 21 points against the Orlando Magic. Averaging 13 points on 13 shots in 33 minutes per game this month, he has two double-doubles, highlighted by his 16-point, 10-rebound performance in 45 minutes against in a second matchup against Orlando.
He has transformed since the trade, growing more comfortable with his new team. Said Silas to the Charlotte Observer, “he was so quiet when he first got here, and now he's talking like you wouldn't believe."
As a new vocal leader and a dependable option, Cunningham is a key impending free agent who, as his all-around performance under Silas suggests, is a good fit for Charlotte’s system. Silas doesn’t want him to get away, yet if Cunningham doesn’t re-sign, he will certainly have suitors waiting at his doorstep.