Anyone who’s still paying attention may have noticed that the NBA decided to get up off of its own sword and have a season. An NBA season means an NBA draft, and what does a draft mean?
The Orange sit atop of the college basketball world, and that spotlight is bound to catch the eye of analysts, scouts and GMs. Let’s take a look at what they’ll be seeing.
Gone, one way or another
We all know the prevailing wisdom about seniors in the draft: “If they were good enough to get picked, somebody would have picked them by now.” I’d love to be able to sit here and tell you this is a special group that bucks this trend, but, well, it’s basically true.
Kris Joseph is the would-be breakout star of the team whose breakout never really happened. Some of this can be attributed to the depth Jim Boeheim has gathered in the last couple of years, but a lot of the blame falls on the player.
While Joseph’s deferential attitude has gotten a lot of press, it’s actually developed into one of his more desirable traits. He doesn’t bring A-level Wesley Johnson athleticism to the floor, and while he’s a solid ball-handler, he hasn’t shown great playmaking skills (1.4 APG), limiting his potential as a big-time NBA player. However, his shooting has improved greatly (40 percent from 3 so far this season), and he’s a good rebounder at the position. He projects as a James Harden-Lite type of player, which has him on the cusp of the first round.
Scoop Jardine fits the prevailing wisdom to a T. The backcourt depth that has emerged this season has, in ways, highlighted the weaknesses in Scoop’s game. Of all of the guards in the rotation, he’s the smallest, oldest (24 next summer) and least athletic, particularly on the defensive end. As a shooter from distance, he’s no slouch (35 percent for his career), but in typical Syracuse fashion, he’s regressed every year from the line. In all, he’ll have too little upside, too little consistency and too many years for any team to take a chance, even in the second round.
While none of the other seniors really factor in to the draft picture, Nick Resavy may have a future in reality TV.
Revving up the hype engine
The team’s success is bound to boost the draft chatter surrounding at least a couple of Syracuse players, and Dion Waiters seems like the leading candidate so far. He’s made a considerable leap from last season, particularly on defense (5.9 steal percentage) where he’s been key in the emergence of the pressure defense. While his 3-point shooting hasn’t improved (32 percent, 33 percent last year), he’s been effective at using his size and explosiveness to get to the basket. He’s not showing up on mock drafts yet, but with the NBA getting a little long in the tooth at shooting guard, Waiters can work his way into the conversation if he sustains his recent performance level.
Maybe next year
This is where most of the chips fall for this Syracuse team. We’ll start with Fab Melo. If he’d come in last year with the season he’s put together so far this year, he’d be in the first round discussion, though more on potential than actual performance (see Jordan, DeAndre). He’s in the top 20 in the country in block percentage (12.7 percent), and has been pulling down the offensive boards (3.9 per game). If he can develop a more refined offensive game, maybe there’s a future in the league for him. For now, it’s just about making up for his disappointing freshman year.
C.J. Fair came in as the classic tweener. Not tall or muscular enough to play the 4 and not enough ball skills to play the 3, he got by last year on effort and the zone defense. This year, he’s stretched his range out to the 3-point line (40 percent) and improved his on-ball defense, but it will take a year of filling Joseph’s shoes in the starting lineup for him to garner enough shots and attention to get any draft attention.
Brandon Triche could be up one section with Dion Waiters if he wanted to be. They’ve combined to be the top backcourt combo in the zone and shown equal prowess as playmakers. Triche has been the less consistent scorer but the better rebounder and better at the line. Essentially, as seems to fit his personality, Triche has settled in to the supporting role and won’t get enough credit to gain any consideration.
James Southerland’s situation has been a bit of a mystery. By all but one of the numbers, he’s been one of the team’s best players. His PER is more than 30, his offensive rating is top 10 in the country, and he’s shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, the one number he isn’t blowing away is minutes. Even at 15 minutes a game, he may be the biggest casualty of this year’s long rotation. His athleticism and shooting may grab some attention, but he’s still way too inconsistent.
Making themselves comfortable
The fact that Baye Keita leads all of college basketball in offensive rating speaks far more to metric than it does to his limited contributions to that end of the floor. He’s been a solid backup at the college level, rebounding and blocking shots at a high rate and converting on feeds and putbacks, but unless he develops those skills to the elite level, he’ll be here for his degree.
On a Jim Boeheim-coached team with this many veterans, Michael Carter-Williams and Rakeem Christmas have done wonders just to get themselves as many minutes in meaningful games as they have. Neither has shown the ability to score consistently, but the CW has been an enthusiastic defender and distributor, while Christmas has been rebounding well and providing a weak-side, shot-blocking presence. The potential is there, but neither will have the opportunity to show anything worth gambling on this year with so many bodies in front of them.