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What’s the Actual Difference between Cade Cunningham’s First and Second Halves?

The numbers might surprise you.

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[Photo via Courtney Bay/OSU Athletics]

Cade Cunningham has made a habit of taking over games in the second half this season, but that’s led some to question the superstar freshman’s first frames.

Cunningham scored 21 of his 26 points against Kansas on Monday in the second half, as Oklahoma State fell in Allen Fieldhouse 78-66. Against TCU last week, Cunningham scored all 19 of his points in the second half, again in a loss.

Those recent second-half performances ending in losses have added fuel to the question marks that surround where Cunningham is in the first half, why he isn’t as aggressive from the jump. But how big is the actual difference between first-half Cunningham and second-half Cunningham?

Here are Cunningham’s stats this season in the first half and second half of the 16 games he has played in. These numbers don’t include overtime stats from Texas Tech or Texas.

Points per game Makes-Attempts Field-goal percentage
First half 6.4 35-97 36%
Second half 11.8 61-122 50%

There are a few ways to look at that.

Yes, Cunningham is scoring more in the second half of games, almost doubling his first-half average. However, to do so, Cunningham is only taking about 1.6 more shots in the second half than he is in the first, on average. The big difference in that data is Cunningham’s percentage.

The biggest difference in Cunningham’s first and second halves are his free throws.

In the first halves of games this season, Cunningham is 18-for-22 from the foul line. In the second, he is 53-for-63. He has taken nearly triple the amount of foul shots in the second half of games than he has in the first.

So, is Cunningham not being aggressive enough and settling for jumpers too much in the first half? Not necessarily. In the first halves of games, Cunningham is 15-for-34 from 3-point range; in the second halves of games he is 14-for-36. That two shot difference across 16 games isn’t anything major.

Cunningham’s averages in rebounds, assists, turnovers, fouls, blocks and steals between halves are all similar, so one of those statistics isn’t necessarily differing the data. He is playing a little over two more minutes a game in the second half. That’s adding to the perception.

So, why is Cunningham’s field-goal percentage better in the second half and how is he getting to the foul line more? Some of it probably has to do with tired legs from defenders. Cunningham explained a little on one of his theories after the Kansas game.

“It just so happened that in the second half is when I’ve got to get it going, but I know every team is starting the game with the scouting report fresh in their minds trying to make a stand up against me,” Cunningham said. “I’m just trying to play the game with genuine intentions and just trying to make my team better.”

With teams fresh and in their system about stopping Cunningham, it would make sense that they would have a better grasp of how they want to defend him at the beginning of games. As legs start to tire and defenses start to loosen late, Cunningham has been able to take advantage and find holes.

Even with his “slow” first halves, Cunningham is leading the Big 12 in scoring at 18.7 points per game. That’s a point and a half above Texas Tech’s Mac McClung (17.2), TCU’s RJ Nembhard (17.1) and Baylor’s Jared Butler (17.0). Cunningham has also done it on fewer baskets, as he has made 97 shots this year while those other three have all made 100 or more.

Cunningham coming on late in games certainly isn’t a bad thing, as OSU has played in seven games this year decided either by a basket or in over time.

As for the man himself, he said he isn’t too worried about the differences in his halves.

“If it’s not my coaches, my teammates or my family, I don’t listen just because I’m worried about what’s best for my team,” Cunningham said. “Every game I’m going to approach it the same way. I’m going to try to make plays for my team whether it’s in the first half or the second half.”

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