Who is better? Cade Cunningham vs. Scottie Barnes a matter of context

Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors defends as Cade Cunningham #2 of the Detroit Pistons. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors defends as Cade Cunningham #2 of the Detroit Pistons. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

Cade Cunningham and the Detroit Pistons will take on Scottie Barnes and the Toronto Raptors in what is becoming a fun rivalry for a couple of reasons.

The first is Dwane Casey, former head coach of the Raptors and current head coach of the Pistons, who was fired by Toronto after winning Coach of the Year.

Casey has gotten the better of his former team in the head-to-head matchups, winning 7-of-10, including four in a row.

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The game also features two of the NBA’s top rookies in Cunningham and Barnes, with both in the running for Rookie of the Year. These two guys are very familiar with each other, as they played against one another in high school.

Cade recently overtook Barnes on the Rookie Ladder, inching a little closer to the top spot after some of his strongest games of the season. (Let’s all just collectively forget that Chicago game ever happened, ok? Good).

But which one of these two players is better? It really depends on what you like and context.

Cade Cunningham vs. Scottie Barnes by the numbers

If you just look at the traditional stats these two are pretty close, as Cade Cunningham averages 15.4 points and Scottie Barnes notches 14.7 points per game.

Barnes has the edge in rebounds (8 to 5.7) and Cade has the edge in assists (5.4 to 3.5) which you would expect given that Barnes is a forward and Cade is playing the point. Cade averages 1.3 steals per game (2nd among all rookies) and Barnes is right behind with one per game, while both average less than a block per contest.

The advanced stats favor Barnes at times and Cade at others, as Barnes has a impressive 1.7 offensive win shares to Cade’s -1.5 with defensive win shares about the same.

Barnes’ true shooting percentage is 54.3, while Cade’s is 49.8 percent, but Cade has the ball in his hands a lot more, with a 25.8 usage rate to Barnes 18 percent.

The last stat is the one that really stands out to me, as Barnes’ superior efficiency mostly comes down to having the ball a lot less and the types of shots they are taking.

While Cade is mostly creating his own shots and taking a lot of 3-pointers (6.9 per game), Barnes is getting a lot of his shots playing off teammates and taking far fewer shots from beyond the arc (2.3 attempts per game).

The biggest difference between these two (and I would include Evan Mobley in this as well) is that Barnes is a secondary player on the Raptors who is surrounded with talent, while Cade is the primary playmaker for the Pistons who doesn’t have other teammates getting him easy buckets.

I think Mobley and Barnes have had a lot easier time adjusting to the NBA, as they don’t have to be the primary scorer/playmaker nor face the other team’s best defenders as Cunningham does pretty much every night.

I don’t think you can go wrong with either guy, but moving forward I’d much rather have Cunningham, who is a more versatile scorer and playmaker.

Context matters, and it is much more difficult to be the centerpiece of a bad team than to be a secondary player on a good one, as Barnes has been allowed to stay in his lane and let the game come to him while Cade is expected to pretty much do everything for the Detroit Pistons.

This rookie class has been outstanding so far, and I look forward to watching these two do battle for many years to come and I am sure we’ll be re-visiting this debate along the way.

Next. Way-too-early 2022 mock draft: Pistons drop to 3rd. dark