Syracuse basketball lacks impact talent in NBA

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Jerami Grant and Michael Carter-Williams are among SU’s best NBA talent

If you scoured NBA rosters to build a team made entirely of Syracuse alumni, sure, you could do it. But, it doesn’t seem like it would be a competitive team.

Putting on my general manager/coach hat, the unofficial “Boeheim’s Army” would have a starting five of:

PG: Michael Carter-Williams
SG: Dion Waiters
SF: Carmelo Anthony
PF: Jerami Grant
C: Chris McCullough (closest thing to a center)

The bench would look like:

PG: Tyler Ennis
SG: Malachi Richardson
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Tyler Lydon

With Anthony, you still have a superstar, albeit one on the downside of his career. Waiters brings an improving scorer coming off the best season of his career where he averaged 15.8 points per game, a season that landed him a contract of over $50 million.

The rest of the roster is a list of role players, guys at the end of the bench and a guy in Lydon who has yet to play an actual NBA minute. This team is not winning a ton of NBA games.

Which begs the question: where have all the impact Syracuse players gone at the NBA level?

» Related: What would be the best Boeheim’s Army team?

This is not to say that Syracuse University has been the streamline to NBA superstardom. Dave Bing was the cream of the crop from SU and Carmelo Anthony may very well challenge Bing for that title when all is said and done. But guys like Derrick Coleman, Rony Seikaly and Sherman Douglas came through central New York before embarking on fruitful NBA careers. Heck, Hakim Warrick and John Wallace sustained NBA careers long enough to establish a reputation.

But, several other schools have created far better NBA pipelines than Syracuse. In recent years, Kentucky seems to have built the best collection of NBA talent.

Compare Syracuse’s starting five to this lineup from Kentucky:

PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Alex Poythress
PF: Nerlens Noel
C: Enes Kanter

When you realize that this would be Kentucky’s THIRD-STRING unit, it changes things a bit. Try this starting lineup of Kentucky alumni (if we are to refer to one-and-dones as alumni):

PG: John Wall
SG: Devin Booker
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
PF: Anthony Davis
C: DeMarcus Cousins

Now THAT’S a team that could win some NBA games…maybe even a championship…when you factor in guys that would come off the bench like:

PG: Eric Bledsoe, De’Aaron Fox, Tyler Ulis
SG: Jamal Murray, Malik Monk
SF: Darius Miller
PF: Julius Randle, Patrick Patterson, Bam Adebayo
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein

Man, it’s hard to put Towns on the second unit instead of Cousins. Maybe we go big and create a starting lineup of Wall, Booker, Davis at small forward, Towns and Cousins. Now, THAT is pretty elite.

All in all, there are currently 26 former Kentucky Wildcats on NBA rosters. After Rakeem Christmas (Indiana) and Michael Gbinije (Detroit) were cut by their teams this summer, Syracuse’s tally stands at just nine.

Now, is any of that of concern to Jim Boeheim? Yes and no. His top priority is to make sure the Syracuse teams are as good as possible year in and year out. But, he still has a vested interest in making sure that once his players leave the SU hill that they are in the best position to have success at the next level.

Consistently, though, it seems former Syracuse players have short-changed themselves by leaving early. For, Anthony it was a no-brainer to leave after one year. With Waiters being taken 4th overall, his situation was too good to pass up.

But, too often, guys have left a year too early. Lydon (drafted 24th overall) has a sweet shooting stroke and athleticism for today’s NBA game. But, most scouts agreed he needed to bulk up before entering the NBA. Richardson (22nd) used a great Final Four run to overshadow his streakiness. Grant (39th) had incredible upside, but wasn’t drafted until the second round. With another year, at least a first round selection would have been expected. McCullough (29th) played just 16 games for Syracuse before tearing his ACL. He’s played just 40 NBA games in his first two seasons. Ennis (18th) has been on five different teams in his first three seasons and would have just graduated in May if he stayed all four years at Syracuse. Even Carter-Williams (11th), despite being a Rookie of the Year, still doesn’t possess a viable jump shot.

Joining the likes of Donte Greene and Jonny Flynn, guys who left school too early and fizzled out in their NBA careers, several Syracuse players recently are seeing their career paths plateau at the next level.

Where will the next NBA great from Syracuse come from?

Tough to tell. The next test case is probably Tyus Battle. He has good size and strength to be an NBA wing. He has the ability to get to the basket and can make shots. Is that good enough to be All-Star caliber in the NBA? Not sure. We may soon find out, though, as Battle is probably done with his time in a Syracuse uniform after the 2017-18 season.

As a Syracuse alum and fan who covers the NBA for a living, I see too many former Syracuse players come and go in the NBA recently without ever becoming more than a role player. They look great at the college level, where at least the potential to be a good NBA pro is present. But, for a myriad of reasons, it has not translated to the next level.

Selfishly, despite my ultimate goal of seeing the Syracuse team be good more than individuals become great NBA players once they leave Syracuse, I wish more players turned into really good pros, too. With Syracuse not being like the Kentuckys and Dukes of the world, gobbling up one-and-done guys each and every year, the odds are less likely that the Orange will boast a lineup quite like the Kentucky boys can put together in the NBA.

That’s fine. But, an extra year or two of seasoning at the college level may help some Syracuse guys climb the NBA ranks with more regularity than they have been in recent years.

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Matt Dagostino

About Matt Dagostino

Matt currently works as an on-air talent and producer for Turner Sports in Atlanta, where he is from. Among his responsibilities are voicing over highlights for NCAA.com, NBA.com, WNBA.com, and PGA.com. He has also served as an associate producer for TNT’s coverage of the NBA Playoffs and TBS’s coverage of the MLB Postseason. Matt also has experience as a minor league baseball play-by-play announcer and as a PA announcer in D-I college athletics. Matt graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @MattDags28.
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