It is embarrassing to actually have to start this column this way, but sadly, it feels like a requirement:
If a college athlete decides to declare for the draft in their respective sport, you thank them for what they accomplished in college and wish them well chasing their lifelong dream. There is no other option. It is the athlete’s decision, it is the athlete’s life, it is the athlete’s dream. Period. Thank you.
So, with that taken care of, you know what’s coming next. Should Tyus Battle declare for the NBA draft?
First, Battle should all request the NBA evaluation. Unless the evaluation says he is in no way ready for the NBA (spoiler: it won’t), Battle should also declare for the draft and attend the combine. Yes, it will put the Syracuse coaching staff into a bit of limbo after the academic year ends, but this is the best move for Battle.
The sophomore guard had a strong season, riding his 19.2 points per game to All-ACC Second Team honors and helping power Syracuse to the Sweet Sixteen. Battle paced the Orange in scoring, three-pointers, free throw percentage, and minutes as the go-to-guy on offense and added 1.5 steals per game as half of the top line for the 2-3 zone, which stands fifth in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive rankings.
All around, a productive season, but not an ideal one.
As that go-to-guy, Battle was forced into a lot of tough shots, leading to a lot of missed shots (39.9 percent field goal shooting). Battle’s true shooting percentage, which is weighted to take into account three-point field goals, two-point field goals, and free throws, was 52.9 percent. Despite taking and making a lot of foul shots to prop up his true shooting percentage, Battle finished outside the top 50… in the ACC.
Battle’s shooting stats also regressed from his freshman season, when he showed his ability to fit into an offense and convert open looks as a supporting player. Battle slid from 43.3 percent from the field to 39.9 percent while increasing his field goal attempts per 40 minutes by almost 45 percent. His three-point accuracy slid, as well, dropping from 36.6 percent to 32.2 percent while taking not quite five percent more threes per 40 minutes than as a freshman.
Obviously, being an opponent’s defensive focus is responsible for some of the difference, but it is not all bad for Battle. His results at the free throw line improved from just under 80 percent to just under 84 percent while his free throw rate increased. Battle’s foul rate decreased and his turnover rate was slightly up in spite of a large jump in usage.
When you look at Battle, everything pretty much checks out. Good, but not great athlete capable of some explosion. Listed at 6’6” and 205 pounds with a slightly longer wingspan, Battle has prototypical NBA two-guard size with pretty good strength and it is not hard to imagine him adding a few more pounds to his already durable frame.
One plus Battle showed while carrying the SU offense was his ability to create space for his jump shot. At the same time, Battle often settled for fadeaway and stepback jumpers in the 17- to 20-foot range, bad shots for their inefficiency alone. When driving, Battle showed the ability to get to the basket and finish through contact.
Battle also displayed the ability to score points quickly. The sophomore rolled up 11 points in three-and-a-half minutes against Kansas, had nine points in a two-minute span and ten in the second overtime against Florida State, and added a pair of nine-point spurts against Boston College that took less than five minutes combined.
While not a lights out shooter, one of the greater positives for Battle is his free throw shooting. Based on the high number of trips to the line he took and making 83.9 percent of those foul shots, Battle showed a solid, repeatable stroke that scouts look for as a foundation for developing as a shooter in the future. Battle’s shot need not be overhauled, but rather given repetitions to improve in both consistency and range.
Going to the draft combine will give Battle a chance to show where he stands in a couple areas not on display often at Syracuse – his ability to create for others and his man-to-man abilities on defense. The feedback in these areas will likely exert a strong influence on Battle’s decision-making process.
I think Battle will go pro, even as a prospect currently projected around the fringes of the NBA’s first round. While staying in school to try to become a first round lock makes sense, it is easy to understand that Battle could perform well enough at the combine and in team workouts to boost his draft stock to be solidly in the first round this year.
Of course, this analysis would not be complete with factoring in how Battle’s early departure would affect Syracuse for the 2018-2019 season.
Should he stay, Battle would be the offensive leader of a stacked team that loses only Matthew Moyer from this year’s 23-win, Sweet Sixteen team.
Battle’s return would create a starting five of Frank Howard and Battle at guard, Brissett and Bazley at forward, and Paschal Chukwu at center. Incoming freshman Jalen Carey backs up Howard and Elijah Hughes, the East Carolina transfer who redshirted this season, supports Battle. Marek Dolezaj plays both forward spots as a reserve and Bourama Sidibe is the back-up center. Howard Washington redshirts to fully recover from his knee injury and Buddy Boeheim redshirts to get stronger, especially with minimal opportunities to play as the fifth guard on the active roster.
Simply put, that is a strong roster. Maybe a project big man gets offered a scholarship or, if Sidibe’s knee injury does not present a quick, easy path back, the Orange add a graduate transfer big man as injury protection.
As players get better over the offseason, both individually and as a unit, the offense should end up more efficient, as having a stronger fourth offensive option available (Bazley or an improved Dolezaj) opens up the paint more. Battle, Brissett, and Howard all could easily improve their statistical efforts from this year (better shooting percentages overall and from three-point range, turnovers drop and assists trend upward) as the offense functions at a higher level.
One of the best defenses in the nation returns intact and Dolezaj’s presence on the bench nudges Bazley toward being up to snuff on that end of the floor.
SU would almost certainly be a top-ten preseason team with great expectations and, if they do not open the campaign that high, they will not be far away.
Should Battle opt for the NBA draft, Hughes likely steps into the starting slot and Carey backs up both guard slots, likely spending more time at the two. If Washington’s rehab goes well, he does not redshirt. If it does not, Boeheim inherits the fourth guard spot. The frontcourt remains the same, only the coaching staff may look at adding a graduate transfer swingman for depth.
In this scenario, the Orange are still likely a top-20 preseason squad.
Things are looking up again for Syracuse, even if they lose a Battle.