The NBA Combine officially gets underway in earnest today, and you had better be rooting for Tyus Battle if you are a real Syracuse fan.
One would think it would be self evident to root for the success of a player who played as hard for the Orange as Battle did. All he did was lead the nation in minute played – setting a Syracuse record – carry an undermanned squad to the Sweet Sixteen, and hit countless clutch shots, including multiple game-winners.
But let’s face it: even if you’re outwardly rooting for him, a part of you secretly hopes he returns to SU because just image how good the team will be! Or perhaps you’re part of the riff raff who complains every time a Syracuse player commits to the draft. (If you are, stop doing that!)
Regardless of how much convincing you need, here are some reasons why you should be firmly on Team Tyus this week.
1. When SU players are drafted into the NBA, it helps recruiting
Last summer, I did an analysis on Syracuse’s player development. It turns out that SU produces more NBA draft picks beyond what would be expected given the rankings of incoming recruits than any other team in the country, including Duke and Kentucky.
The reason is that Syracuse has a lot of players drafted (11 in just the last six years) but most of these players were not 5-star recruits coming out of high school. The chances of getting drafted drops from virtual certainty as the top-ranked recruit to around 50 percent as the No. 20 player in a high school class.
SU has had such success in developing players that it’s easy to forget this and take it for granted that a top-30 recruit coming to Syracuse will be one-and-done or two-and-done. But as the No. 31 player in the 2016 class, Battle only had a 30 percent chance of getting drafted when he chose the Orange.
In the one-and-done era, Syracuse has produced 9.14 draft picks above expectations given the rankings of incoming recruits, which is the best in the country. If Battle is drafted, it would add an additional 0.7 to this number. This will help recruit new top-ranked players to Syracuse in future years.
2. Now is likely Battle’s best chance to be a first round pick
If you think that Battle needs to come back to SU in order to “get more exposure” on a highly ranked team, you don’t know how the Draft or the NBA work.
Players improve their stocks by returning to school when they can take on a new role and showcase different skills to NBA scouts. Yes, they have to improve weaknesses and develop skills, too, but the NBA drafts based on potential. If a player is not in discussions as a first round pick, it is not because they haven’t sufficiently developed specific skills – all player in the draft have weaknesses – it’s because they haven’t demonstrated first round potential in the role they have played.
Coming back to school can present an opportunity to take on a new role. For example, if a player moves from a role player to a team leader, he can showcase his potential in new ways. Or if a player gets to play a new position because a talented teammate has departed, he can showcase new skills.
Unfortunately for Battle, he’s coming off a season where he was already the alpha dog and led the nation in minute played. NBA Scouts have a good read on his potential, and coming back to play the same role on a better team presents little opportunity to improve his stock.
But, I hear you say, what if he improves his jump shot or his passing? This is expected. The natural development of players is already baked into NBA evaluations, and a player – particularly a rising junior, like Battle – would need to far exceed developmental expectations to rise on a draft board.
Next year’s draft is projected to be weaker, and some have argued this is why Battle should stay one more year. There’s a chance this proves to be correct, but Battle is already 21 (a year older than the Celtics’ Jason Tatum) and age will work against him even more next year.
3. The team will still be good without him
Don’t get me wrong: Syracuse will be better and more talented if Battle returns for his junior season. But all is not lost if he chooses to stay in the Draft.
The Orange bring in top-50 combo guard Jalen Carey, who is considered one of the top scorers and offensive creators in the 2018 class. He is perfectly positioned to step into Battle’s role alongside Frank Howard.
Syracuse will also have greater depth in the backcourt than it has had in recent years. Elijah Hughes will be eligible after sitting out a year following his transfer from East Carolina. Howard Washington should return from injury to provide a reserve at point guard. And Buddy Boeheim will join the Orange as the top 3-point shooter on the high school AAU circuit.
It will hurt the Orange to lose Battle’s experience, leadership and explosive scoring. But there are only so many shots, and only one player can play with the ball in his hand. If Battle returns, the above players will have less opportunity to grow and develop.
Syracuse has lost plenty of players as early entrants to the NBA draft before, and the team always seems to bounce back with younger players filling the void. Next year will be no different.