The Syracuse men’s basketball team has gone two consecutive years without a player selected in the NBA Draft — the first time that has happened since 1998.
This begs the question: how does Elijah Hughes, the Orange’s lone entrant into this year’s draft, stack up against SU’s prior selections?
The redshirt junior led the ACC in scoring at 18.8 points per game and was selected to the ACC’s all-conference first team. But despite these accolades, Hughes has largely been absent from NBA mock drafts until recently.
One knock on Hughes is his age. He turned 22 in March, which makes him relatively old by NBA Draft standards. But with the NBA on pause due to COVID-19, scouts have had a chance to reexamine Hughes’s game with growing appreciation.
The 6’6’’, 215-pound shooting guard has the prototypical body of an NBA shooting guard. Although he is mostly known as a long-range shooter, Hughes’ playmaking is an underappreciated aspect of his game. He averaged 3.5 assists per game last season and honed his downhill attacks to the basket in his final season.
Many mock drafts now project him to be selected in the late 1st or early 2nd round. That would make him SU’s first selection since Tyler Lydon was picked 24th overall in the 2017 draft.
Success for young NBA players is as much about opportunity as it is about talent. Lydon ended up buried behind several experienced power forwards on the Denver Nuggets roster, playing just 96 minutes in two years before the team declined to pick up his third-year option.
Injuries also play a role. Lydon tore his meniscus in his left knee in his first season, limiting his ability to crack the rotation. Other recent Syracuse draft picks have suffered similar fates.
Michael Gbinije suffered an ankle injury in Summer League before his first pro season. Malachi Richardson partially tore his hamstring in his first year (and also found himself on a roster full of shooting guards.) Chris McCullough’s injury during his time at Syracuse kept him on the sidelines for most of his rookie season with the Nets.
None of the five SU players drafted since 2014 have played more than 100 games in the League. The Orange’s highest pick in 2014, Tyler Ennis, managed to play 186 games in his four seasons, but he never lived up to the hype of the 18th pick in the draft.
Ennis’s career was also a victim of circumstance. He was drafted onto a Suns team packed with talented guards and didn’t last a full season before he was traded to the Bucks. His most successful season came with his fourth team, the Lakers, but he was ultimately waived as the Lakers cleared cap space to bring more help for LeBron James.
Due to injuries and circumstances, the bar of being SU’s most successful NBA player since Jerami Grant (also drafted in 2014) is not high.
Although Hughes never shot a high percentage from 3 at SU, his technique, deep range, and high free throw percentage suggest he could be successful as a sharp-shooting role player in the NBA. Based on his college statistics, the website Tankathon projects he could shoot close to 38% in the League, which would make him one of the Orange’s best NBA shooters.
If Hughes can find a team where he can find a role right away, he has the tools to carve out a long NBA career.