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 Oshae Brissett declare for the NBA draft?
Like Tyus Battle, both Brissett and Frank Howard should request the NBA draft evaluation. Yes, even Frank Howard. Howard will play professionally somewhere after next season and getting another analysis of his game, including what needs work, cannot hurt. Hearing advice from a different voice could spark additional improvement.
Unlike Battle, Brissett should not declare for the draft. With his long, lanky body, Brissett showed some compelling skills as a freshman, but also a number of holes in his game. Often driving to the basket against bigger, stronger bodies, Brissett struggled to finish, as evidenced by his 35.4 percent field goal mark.
The freshman forward also showed streaky tendencies from three-point range. Brissett made at least two threes in 17 games, shooting 45.5 percent from deep in those games. In SU’s other 20 contests, Brissett was 10-for-67 (14.9 percent) from long range.
Brissett, however, is a tantalizing athlete. Listed with a 6’8”, 210-pound frame, it is very easy to imagine him adding an extra ten or 15 pounds of muscle (and even an extra inch) without jeopardizing his athleticism. Brissett’s best athletic trait is how quick he jumps, often gaining an advantage by rising for rebounds before other players. That jumping ability, combined with his nearly seven-foot wingspan, helped Brissett post 13 double-doubles as a freshman while leading the Orange in defensive rebounding and showing some ability as a weakside shotblocker.
Early in the season, Brissett showed some driving ability and a crafty spin move to finish in the paint, but as the season progressed, the move appeared in opponents’ scouting reports and they focused on taking it away. The freshman showed limited passing skills, as well, committing just over twice as many turnovers (69) as he handed out assists (34).
Like Battle, Brissett’s free-throw shooting suggests an strong fundamental shooting base, leading to a simpler path to developing a consistent NBA three-point shot. Brissett led the Orange in free throws attempted and made, connecting on 78.7 of his shots from the stripe, and set a school record with 16 free throws in a game without a miss.
With the shift in recent years to stress position versatility and three-point shooting, NBA teams will value Brissett as a prototypical three or stretch four after another year of development in college.
Obviously, Brissett opting to stay would be a huge bonus for Syracuse for the 2018-2019 season, particularly in light of McDonald’s All-American Darius Bazley’s sudden decision to opt for the NBA G-League instead of enrolling at Syracuse.
With the expectation that Battle will opt for the draft, Brissett would inherit the role of primary option offense. The starting lineup would mirror this season’s, plugging Elijah Hughes, the East Carolina transfer who redshirted this season, into the shooting guard spot. Jalen Carey backs up the starting guards with Howard Washington and Buddy Boeheim fighting for the fourth guard spot (both could still possibly redshirt). Paschal Chukwu would be backed up by Bourama Sidibe once more.
Marek Dolezaj’s continued offensive development in the offseason is now crucial with Bazley not coming to Syracuse. As Dolezaj became more willing to shoot late in the season, it provided an extra option for the Orange offense, even with his range limited to 15-to-17 feet.
Should Dolezaj simply get more comfortable from that range and show the ability to make the occasional three-pointer, it will help open the paint. Opponents playing man defense sagged into the key all season long and, in SU’s NCAA Tournament loss, Duke’s 2-3 zone simply moved their wings up to the breaks of the three-point line, essentially ignoring the paint in favor of cutting off driving opportunities with double-teams and challenging three-point shots.
Even if both forwards improve their three-point shooting, Hughes will also have to show a more refined shooting stroke than he displayed as a freshman at East Carolina. Hughes made just over 27 percent of his treys as a Pirate.
The good news is, even without Battle, the defense should be relatively comparable to what it showed this past season when it finished fifth in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive ratings.
Bazley’s decision all but assures the coaching staff will now look to add either a graduate transfer or a junior college forward, as there are no true reserve forwards on the roster. Like Battle did sparingly this past season, Hughes could fill in at forward in an emergency. With multiple scholarships available, the much more likely path is simply adding another player to the mix.
With Howard, Brissett, Dolezaj, and Chukwu returning as the backbone of the roster, Syracuse is probably around the fringes of the top 25 in next year’s preseason polls (Battle’s return, unlikely as it is, would vault them to the top 15, as it is essentially a more experienced version this year’s Sweet Sixteen team). Bazley’s decision hurts, but Syracuse is still looking up.