Commitment evaluation: Sam Cunliffe

Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley landed his first high school commitment this week, 6-foot-6 Top-100 prospect Sam Cunliffe. We recently saw Cunliffe in action at the Pangos All-American Camp and have this evaluation.

Versatility and a smoothly broad skill level are hallmarks of the game of Sam Cunliffe, a 6-foot-6 Seattle (Wash.) Rainier Beach player who gives coach Bobby Hurley the first high school commit of his Arizona State tenure, and a really good one.

Cunliffe recently entered the Scout.com Top-100 at No. 97 overall and No. 21 at small forward in the 2016 class, and we consider that a starting point. It's more likely than not that Cunliffe will further help his cause through the all-important July evaluation period.

Because he wasn't really seen much by most national evaluators before this spring there's going to be some initial conservativeness by responsible professionals who will prefer to go by AAU team basketball to camp settings, which can be somewhat misleading.

In keeping with that, we will be wanting to see Cunliffe more in July before coming to a firmer conclusion on just how good of a prospect he is, but we have a lot of comfort saying he's a minimum Top-100 prospect. Some west coast analysts are very vocal in the opinion he's a Top-25 prospect, but it's just too early to say that. He doesn't play for a loaded AAU program either, so he's likely to be the star of the team and have the ball in his hand a lot, so that won't hurt.

Why do some people like Cunliffe's game so much?

He moves very fluidly for his length, and is a good shooter, which he leverages to a great degree by how well he handles the ball for a wing. For as tall as he is, Cunliffe can play relatively low to the floor with the ball in his hands, and can manipulate it very effectively -- though at times he'll over-dribble as he attempts to unbalance a defender -- which keeps defenders from getting into him as easily or being as disruptive extended out onto the floor.

Off the bounce Cunliffe has a very clean pull up jumper with mechanics he repeats with a lot of efficiency. ASU hasn't had a guard with this combination of length, mobility, handle, and pull up shooting ability in a very long time. James Harden was much more of a catch-and-shoot or hold-and-shoot player, in addition to being a tremendous attack guard. His mid-range game and pull-up ability developed later and made him lethal.

Though he's not nearly as good as Harden when attacking, Cunliffe, conversely, scores at all levels already in high school. As a result, he is a very good end of shot clock or end of game isolation player. He'll also be a challenge for defenses to manage when he has the ball in ball screen actions atop of the floor, especially if paired with a versatile post who can pop or roll and be a big finishing or catch and shoot target.

Cunliffe is much more comfortable as an attacking scorer going to his right, but doesn't have elite initial quickness in this aspect of the game, and it's one of the things he'll want to work on developing. To maximize his capability, he will want to get better at attacking the shoulder of the on ball defender as opposed to trying to go around the player.

If he's able to get stronger and a little more of a potent slasher, Cunliffe's offensive repertoire can really become excellent because he has very good court awareness and effectively connects on a lot of difficult passes to cutters and kick outs in his full field of vision. To pair that with an ability to finish more in traffic and through contact near the rim would elevate his prospects even further.

Overall, Cunliffe has some attributes that should enable him to initiate offense and play some point guard despite being 6-foot-6, though a lot of that will be determined by how he continues to mature defensively. The good news for Cunliffe is he appears to be a willing defender, even in a camp setting, and will sink into a functional stance on the ball and use his hands and feet appropriately to move and attempt to be disruptive. If he keeps working hard and developing and getting stronger and more explosive without losing his graceful, smooth mobility, Cunliffe could be one of the better guards to play at ASU in a long time, and play a major role if not start as a freshman.


Sun Devil Source Top Stories