Last week was the NBA Draft, and for the first time since 2011 and just the fifth since 2000 a Syracuse player did not hear his name called.
This was no surprise. After Tyus Battle decided to return to school, no Orange players were declared for the draft.
So let’s turn our attention to the 10 former Orange stars currently (or recently) under NBA contract. As we head toward the 2018-2019 NBA season, here’s how I would rank them.
1. Jerami Grant – It may be surprising to not see Grant’s OKC teammate Carmelo Anthony atop this list, but the choice of Grant at No. 1 is not solely based on Anthony’s disappointing season with the Thunder. Grant has earned the spot.
Those who watched the Thunder regularly noticed how Grant would regularly outplay Anthony. This was highlighted in the playoffs as Grant sparked a 25-point comeback against the Jazz in Game 5 with Anthony on the bench.
Grant led all Syracuse players in both win shares (5.4) and player efficiency rating (16.2) last season. Now he enters unrestricted free agency as a coveted two-way player who can play multiple positions. He will likely earn a mid-level exception contract in the realm of $8 million next season, and OKC may not be able to bring him back due to a tight salary cap made even tighter with Anthony opting into his $28 million option for next year.
Grant is only 24 years old and will likely be at the top of this list for the foreseeable future unless the next player can knock him off.
2. Dion Waiters – The year after “Waiters Island” emerged and Dion became legendary for his clutch shots immortalized in gifs ending with his arms crossed nodding at the crowd, the season that was meant to be the encore to his breakout ended in disappointment. Waiters injured his ankle in a Dec. 22 game against the Mavericks and opted for season-ending surgery not long after.
Because of the injury, I’m giving Waiters a pass on his decline in production relative to 2016-2017. After steadily improving his effective shooting percentage to .488 two seasons ago, it dipped back down to .461 last year. Despite his historically poor shooting, it is Waiters’ defense that puts him in this spot above Anthony. After rating as one of the worst defenders in the league in his first few seasons, Waiters has improved significantly. He is not an all-NBA defensive player, but he is a two-way player.
At 26 years old, Waiters should be entering the prime of his career.
3. Carmelo Anthony – If I had made this list each of the last 15 years, Anthony would have been on top in the previous 14. As a future Hall of Famer, perhaps he should get a pass for one poor season but he will turn 34 next year and is firmly on the downslope of his career.
In 78 games with the Thunder, all starts, he posted career lows in minutes per game, points per game, assists per game, and PER. Never known for his defense, Anthony was as much a liability at that end of the court as ever. It was not a great year.
Unless OKC finds a way to move his massive contract, he will return to the Thunder and once again play in a system ill suited for his isolation style. If he is able to find a new team, however, Anthony may have enough gas in the tank to make his way back up to the top of this list during the 2018-2019 season.
4. Wesley Johnson – Despite being stuck in an endless gif loop tripping over his own feet and falling over as he is crossed up by James Harden, Johnson is still grinding is way through an impressively mediocre career. The former SU star has averaged 7.2 points in 22 minutes per game over his career. Those statistics have dipped slightly in his last three seasons with the Clippers, but Johnson is an above average defender and will likely stick as a role player on an NBA roster for a few more seasons.
5. Tyler Lydon – This spot was a difficult call. Lydon has played just one NBA game and is coming off knee surgery. But Syracuse’s other better-known NBA players are all struggling. This pick is more about potential and the fact that Lydon has one quantity in spades over the other former Orange vying for this spot: 3-point shooting.
The Nuggets have the best passing big man in the league in Nikola Jokic, and he should be able to help Lydon be an effective spot-up shooter. But first Lydon will have to get healthy and make the roster. He could quickly fall from this spot if he is unable to find a role in Summer League.
6. Michael Carter-Williams – The Rookie of the Year days seem like a distant memory. Carter-Williams’ production has fallen off a cliff since he left Milwaukee two seasons ago. He is unlikely to be brought back to the Hornets and will have to find a new home where he can hopefully repair his confidence.
7. Tyler Ennis – Ennis had an opportunity last season to prove himself as a back-up in Los Angeles but failed to stand out. He will likely be moved in the offseason as the Lakers revamp their roster.
8. Andrew White III – As with Lydon, this is more about his 3-point shooting skill and potential as a role player than anything else. The Hawks are building a faux Warriors offense and there may be a spot for White.
9. Chris McCullough – McCullough is an unrestricted free agent this summer and will play Summer League ball with the 76ers. Thus far in his career he has not shown the outside shot or defense to be an effective big in today’s NBA. He is still just 23 years old, however, so if he can find a team to take a chance on him he could rise up this list.
10. Malachi Richardson – A 3-point specialist at Syracuse, Richardson has struggled from beyond the arc during his brief NBA career, shooting just 29 percent. Injuries have played a role in his struggles, however. Now healthy, he will play for Toronto’s Summer League team and hope to find a spot.