Jared Cunningham eager to play PG, succeed

When Jared Cunningham was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks on June 28, he had no idea who might be playing in front of him at point guard.

Deron Williams and Jason Kidd? Just Kidd? Steve Nash? Turns out it's none of the above. When Cunningham reports to training camp Sept. 28 (media day; first practice is Sept. 29), he'll likely have a veteran free-agent acquisition ahead of him and then unproven former first-round picks Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones.

The 6-foot-4, 194-pound Cunningham is a combo guard, much like Beaubois and Jones, with designs on becoming a point guard. We likely won't get a chance to see him play in the Las Vegas Summer League that starts Sunday because of a hamstring issue that developed during pre-draft workouts.

It would have been a great opportunity to begin his point guard training. Cunningham believes he's ready for the challenge whenever he's cleared to get on the floor.

"It’s something I have to earn," Cunningham said of playing time. "I’m a rookie and I’m coming in with my work ahead me; just hard work and just determination. There’s a couple of guys in front of me, so I'm just going to go in and try to compete every day."

Coach Rick Carlisle and others have compared Cunningham with Russell Westbrook because of his quickness and athleticism while playing more shooting guard than point guard in college. Cunningham, wisely, dismissed such a comparison to the fourth pick in the 2008 draft and instead described his abilities in his own terms.

"I feel comfortable handling the ball and one of the things I want to do is get my teammates involved, and that’s something I’m going to have to do on this level," Cunningham said. "I’m a unique player and I thrive on defense and whatever they need to help the team win, that’s what I’m about."

Carlisle has done an excellent job mixing and matching lineups in his four seasons in Dallas and often discounts a player's by-the-book position, referring to a player not as a point guard or shooting guard, but as a basketball player. That's the tact he took in describing Cunningham, a combo guard with the Beavers.

"I think he’s a basketball player. I think more and more now in the league we’re getting to guys that are playmakers; point guards that can play off the ball, 2-guards that can make plays with the ball," Carlisle said. "You’ve got to have guys that can make plays offensively and defensively. We see him as a guy that’s got some real dynamic athleticism; he’s got a skill-set that has a lot of upside and we know he’s a hard worker."