Mixed Juice: On Chris McCullough’s decision to leave Syracuse

McCullough is a possible first round pick
McCullough tore his ACL midway through the season

In the latest edition of a multi-part series, editorial staff of The Juice Online discuss various topics on Syracuse basketball. Today’s topic: Chris McCullough will declare for the NBA Draft, but was it the right move for him? The Juice Online’s Saugat Sen and Wesley Cheng explored.

Wesley Cheng: So, Saugat, it was reported on Thursday, and confirmed by sources by The Juice Online, that Chris McCullough will forgo his final three years of eligibility and leave for the NBA. What do you think about his decision?

Saugat Sen: It’s tough. He was expected to be a lottery pick (don’t ask Boeheim) at the beginning of the year. Then he had a bit of a slump and then he got injured against Florida State. From a basketball perspective, he probably could have used another year of rehab and game speed to get ready for the NBA.

WC: I’m always very mixed on the argument of staying another year in college basketball. Obviously, the television exposure and the ability to develop your skills among your peers in a college setting is a great experience, but here’s a counter argument I always use: Isn’t it better to play against better competition? Even if McCullough ultimately ends up in the NBDL, players there are older and more experienced, and almost all of them are fringe NBA players. In other words, the players in the NBDL from the top to bottom of a roster are better than their counterparts at the college level. Wouldn’t you develop just as much, if not more, playing in the NBDL? You also make a small salary and don’t have to worry about staying eligible or going to class. That way, you can focus all of your time on becoming better at your craft. The downside is that the NBDL doesn’t have nearly as much exposure (many games are broadcast over YouTube as opposed to ESPN or CBS) and the college experience allows for growing in a lot of other ways outside the basketball court.

SS: Sure he would develop in the NBDL, but he will also miss out on a possible guaranteed contract the next year. Chad Ford of ESPN has him at No. 43 overall. NBAdraft.net still has him as the No. 5 pick for 2016. That right there is a difference of millions of dollars from one year to the next. And like you said, with a better Syracuse team that can make a run in the tournament, his draft stock will be a lot higher than what it is today. Our friend, Adam Zagoria spoke to a few NBA scouts who both have McCullough as late first or second round pick. One even went as far as to say, “(Chris) should have stayed in school.”

» Related: What should Syracuse basketball expect from Kaleb Joseph in year two?

WC: You’re presupposing that McCullough’s stock stays just as high. As you saw this year, an injury can happen at any point, which can torpedo a draft stock. While you would like to think that McCullough would return, play well, and becomes the No. 5 pick, there’s no guarantee that it happens. The alternative is that McCullough returns, plays poorly, and falls completely out of draft consideration. At least at the moment, he’s still got a (small) chance at being a late first round pick.

SS: That is very true. Plenty of players “play out” of the lottery, like Paul Harris. But McCullough is guaranteed a starting spot when he returns from injury and he would be back in time for ACC play. So the stage was set for him to showcase all of his talent and build the case to be a lottery pick. I suppose he can do the same through the D-League, minus the increased exposure of the college schedule.

WC: The last thing I’ll point out is that we don’t really know all of the motives for McCullough leaving Syracuse. McCullough is about to become a father, and we know the financial responsibility that it comes along with. If McCullough needs to start making money right now as opposed to later just based on this, I can’t fault him for that. He can begin providing for his family while also improving his game and he can still increase his earning potential for later years. It may mean forgoing a possibility of a first round guaranteed contract, but on the flip side, he obviously he can’t make any money if he stays another year.

SS: Great point. But let’s not forget the most important reason for McCullough to stay at Syracuse. Because the Twitter trolls told him to.

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About Wes Cheng 2907 Articles
Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also been a contributing writer for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), for SportsNet New York (SNY) as a news desk writer covering all of New York professional sports, and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005 with a degree in journalism. Contact him at wes[at]sujuiceonline.com.