As the season has drawn closer, hype has been building that the 2016 Syracuse men’s basketball team may have multiple future 2017 NBA Draft picks on its roster. But while Tyler Lydon has appeared on draft boards for a year and Tyus Battle has the reputation as a potential one-and-done freshman, not much of that talk has focused on senior Tyler Roberson.
Until now. Roberson is listed as the 29th pick going to the San Antonio Spurs in the October 2 update of NBADraft.net’s 2017 mock. Could Roberson switch from being coached by Jim Boeheim to Gregg Popovich next season?
It would not be out of the ordinary for Syracuse to have one of its elder statesmen selected in the Draft. According to Basketball Reference, Syracuse has had the 4th most NBA draft picks of any school since 2007: tied with Duke at 15 players and only trailing Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina.
But seven of Syracuse’s draft picks during that span were over the age of 22 – the most of any school. The Orange is also tied with Florida State as the only schools to have four players drafted over the age of 23.
Looking more recently, the elder effect is even stronger. Six of Syracuse’s 12 draft picks since 2010 were over age 22 and four were over 23, both the most of any school in that span.
Since 2010, SU has had the same percentage of players drafted who were over the age of 23 as Kentucky has had of players who were under 22: 8.8 percent of each age group, respectively. Now that’s pro development.
This bodes well for Andrew White III and John Gillon (and their decisions to join SU for their graduate transfer years), but what about Roberson?
Roberson has always had the athleticism and body of an NBA prospect, but he was unable to put everything together on the offensive end in his first three years. Who does that remind you of?
If you said Rakeem Christmas, you’re on to something. Both Christmas and Roberson came to Syracuse has highly touted recruits. Christmas was ranked 21st in the 2011 RSCI composite high school rankings (four spots ahead of Michael Carter-Williams), and Roberson came in at No. 37 in the 2013 composite (ahead of the likes of Zach LaVine, Terry Rozier, and Kennedy Meeks).
It took Christmas three years to get comfortable in the SU system and become a go-to option on offense. His junior season he played 58.6 percent of minutes and was used on just 13.3 percent of offensive possessions. These metrics jumped to 85.1 percent of minutes and 25.7 percent of possessions his senior year.
Roberson is in a similar position. He played 76.2 percent of minutes last year with usage on 17.9 percent of possessions. What are the signs he’s ready for a breakout season?
Both Roberson and Christmas exhibited similar improvement from freshman to junior year. Christmas improved his effective field goal percentage from 53 percent sophomore year to 61.3 percent junior year. His offensive rating jumped from 105.3 to 125.7. Roberson’s effective field goal percentage jumped from 29.8 to 44.3 to 52.4 percent in his first three years, while his offensive rating followed a similar trajectory: 88.7 to 103.1 to 110.7.
Christmas and Roberson were also excellent offensive rebounders and improved their rebounding over their careers. Christmas went from grabbing 9.6 percent of offensive boards his freshman year to 10.2 percent his senior year. Roberson jumped from 10.1 to 14.8 percent in his first three years.
This is a valuable NBA skill, but to get drafted Roberson will need to improve the jump shot that has been his Achilles heel. Roberson used to hit mid-range jumpers regularly in high school, so his disappointing shooting at SU has been a regression. He has worked on shooting each of the last two summers, and players have commented that he looks more confident heading into this season.
In terms of the scouts, the opinions are mixed. While NBADraft.net has Roberson at No. 29 in their mock and 35th on their big board, DraftExpress does not list him in their 2017 mock draft and ranks him only No. 48 among returning seniors.
NBA Draft Room lists Roberson at No. 43 in their 2017 mock and comments, “A superior athlete with good length and developing skill set. Plays both ends of the floor. Stronger Jerami Grant.” Chad Ford does not list him among his top 100 prospects.
Perhaps the biggest factor will be the depth of the Orange. On the one hand, with multiple options at each position and several proven scoring threats, it’s unlikely that Roberson will become a go-to player like Christmas was on SU’s 2015 team that had few other scoring options.
On the other hand, a rising tide can lift all boats. Kentucky has demonstrated this with classes full of one-and-done freshmen who share the limelight on successful teams but hear their names called on Draft night. If Syracuse is the Kentucky of upperclassmen – and they will be both good and full of upper classmen this season – Roberson has a good shot.