In just over a week, the 2020-21 NBA season kicks off, seemingly just minutes after the last season concluded. From the middle of October, we saw the end of the NBA Finals, then the draft, free agency, the start of training camp and preseason games are now in full swing, all in the span of less than two months.
As we gear up for the quick turnaround, there are still a handful of Syracuse names in the league, while others are searching for a way back…
Jerami Grant. The biggest Syracuse story of the NBA offseason was the free agent courtship of Jerami Grant. In recent seasons, Grant has blossomed into a versatile two-way wing, going from a second-round pick to a starter on a Denver Nuggets team that made the Western Conference Finals in the Orlando bubble.
Due to cash in as a free agent, not many envisioned Grant getting as much money as he ended up signing for, or changing teams, for that matter. But, despite reportedly being offered the same contract to remain in Denver, Grant signed a 3-year, $60 million deal to move to Motown and play for the Detroit Pistons.
There is a Syracuse connection in Detroit: former Syracuse assistant coach Troy Weaver is now the Pistons’ general manager. Now, for Grant, going to Detroit (a rebuilding team) makes sense for a guy looking to expand his game and take on more of a focal role. But, Detroit is a curious team in that it has Blake Griffin who, when healthy, will be the starting power forward. That pushes Grant to the small forward, which he can play. But, he’s more suited for the other forward position in today’s game.
Grant’s game looks like it’s about to take off. Rather than doing so in Denver, where he was a bit more of a role player, Grant will look to develop into more of a go-to option on a team trying to get back into playoff contention.
Carmelo Anthony. The renaissance man, Anthony, enjoyed a very comfortable fit in Portland once signing with the Trail Blazers last season. In 58 games, Anthony averaged over 15 points and six rebounds a game as as third option behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum for Terry Stotts’ club.
After losing to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs last season, Portland went out and re-tooled very nicely in the offseason, according to most pundits. Among their moves:
– got Robert Covington in a trade from Houston and Enes Kanter from Boston
– signed Derrick Jones Jr. and Harry Giles III, while re-signing Rodney Hood in free agency
– will welcome back Zach Collins from injury
All this to say: while Anthony will still be part of the rotation, the Blazers are a team that could run 12 deep, if they wanted to. At 36 years old, Anthony may see less than the 32 minutes per game he averaged less season with a bunch of younger legs in the wing rotation. Maybe that helps him stay fresh down the stretch and in the playoffs for Portland. Either way, there was no reason for either Portland or Anthony to walk away from the relationship after a successful season last year.
Elijah Hughes. With the 39th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz selected Syracuse’s leading scorer last season, Elijah Hughes. A professional scorer at all three levels, Hughes led the ACC with 19 points per game last season. With guys like Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale manning the wings for the Jazz, Hughes may be hard-pressed to find minutes in his first NBA season and may spend some time seasoning his game in the G League.
But the way for young NBA guys to crack the rotation is to do one thing really well. And Hughes can put the ball in the hole. There is no doubt that if he can find a way to do that at the next level, coach Quin Snyder (one of the best coaching minds in the NBA) will find a way to utilize him.
Michael Carter-Williams. Carter-Williams is back with the Orlando Magic on a 2-year contract after re-signing with them in the offseason. He averaged 7.2 points per game in 45 contests in his second season in Orlando.
Oshae Brissett. The last Syracuse player that is officially listed on an NBA roster is Toronto’s Oshae Brissett. Last season, Brissett played in just 19 games, averaging 1.9 points per game in just over seven minutes per contest.
Other Syracuse guys of note:
Andrew White. White recently signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the New York Knicks, but was waived just hours later. Typically, that type of transaction is a way for a franchise to bring back a player to their G League team.
Dion Waiters. For the first time in nine NBA seasons, Dion Waiters is not currently on an active roster. He ended last season as an NBA champion as a member of the Lakers. But, after averaging 11.9 points in just seven games for them during the regular season, Waiters logged only 38 minutes in the entire postseason and scored 10 points.
Of all the former Syracuse players floating around overseas or elsewhere other than the NBA, Waiters has, by far, the best professional resume. But is it fair to say Waiters may have played his last game in the NBA?
Between a perceived lack of effort to get in shape and his documented off-court distractions, NBA teams may be turned off by having Waiters take up a roster spot. Still just 29, Waiters may have to earn his way back into the league.
Darius Bazley. One small programming note…while never officially donning the Syracuse orange, former Syracuse recruit Darius Bazley is beginning his second season as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. While he averaged just 5.6 points and four rebounds in 61 games during his rookie season, Bazley came into his own a bit in the Orlando bubble: three times scoring over 20 points (including one double-double) and nearly seven points and seven boards in the Thunder’s first-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets.
While some may have sworn off Bazley for his about-face with Syracuse, the promising young forward is primed for a breakout season as Oklahoma City underwent a massive overhaul in the offseason and is under a full youth movement. He will have his chance to shine.