Last year, almost exactly year ago, actually, I ranked the NBA Draft prospects for the 2015-2016 Syracuse basketball roster. The purpose wasn’t about who might be the best player on the roster, or who could possibly be the best draft prospect by the time they left school, whenever that might be. It was to look specifically at the 2016 NBA Draft, and try to sort out which Orange players had the highest pro upside, for that draft, and that draft alone.
And you know what? I think it’s high time we did it again. Now, it’s a little tricky because I don’t believe the roster is complete. There are only eight scholarship players on Jim Boeheim’s squad right now, with the potential to add more in the coming weeks or, more likely at the pace we’re on, months. I feel like by the time the first game of the season tips off, there will be either nine or ten players on the roster, rather than the eight there are now.
That said…let’s take a look at this year’s roster, and how the players stack up as NBA prospects solely for the 2017 NBA Draft.
8. Dajuan Coleman
With his age and injury history, the longest shot for an NBA career on next year’s roster is also, ironically, the lone McDonald’s All-American on next year’s roster. Coleman finally remained healthy last year, but he was never the same player we hoped to see coming out of high school as his injuries were shown to have taken a pretty big toll on him, limiting his athleticism. He’ll still be a key member of the roster and in all likelihood will get the start at center, though I fully expect Paschal Chukwu to get the bulk of the minutes at center when it’s all said and done.
7. Matthew Moyer
I firmly believe that young Matthew Moyer has a bright future ahead of him, but the spotlight is still a couple of years away for the talented, 6-foot-8 forward. He’s a solid athlete with good length and tenacity, and has an expanding game that should enable him to be a tough matchup for other power forwards, with his ability to handle the ball and still attack the glass. Moyer has the look of a prospect who will be a three or four year player in college, so it’s far too early to start projecting him as an NBA Draft pick at this stage.
6. John Gillon
If he were a little bit bigger, Colorado State graduate transfer John Gillon would likely rank higher on this list. After all, he’s an explosive athlete with the ability to hit from long range and penetrate the lane, and his reputation is that of a tenacious, supremely quick defender who can score at all three levels. But for the purposes of the NBA Draft, he’s got a couple things working against him. One is that he’s a fifth year guy, and pro scouts tend to hold a player’s age against him. The other is that he’s only about 6-feet tall, and while the NBA has become a more guard-oriented league, 6-foot scoring guards are few and far between, with only a few noteworthy exceptions.
5. Tyler Roberson
Tumbling a little bit from last year’s rankings after falling short of what I’d hoped to see last season, Tyler Roberson checks in at number five this year after ranking third last season. Roberson could still carve out a role in the NBA down the road, as a journeyman forward who acts as a spark of energy and provides tough rebounding off the bench, but it’s becoming more and more clear that he’ll never morph into the all-around prospect many of us were hoping for when he came out of high school. Still, with solid size and athleticism, and his uncanny knack for rebounding, I’m still holding out hope he latches on with an NBA team once his career is done at Syracuse. However, I’m expecting him to maybe play a bit in the D-League before finding a career overseas.
4. Paschal Chukwu
Now this is the player whose stock could soar more than any other on the roster next season. We don’t really know what we’re getting from Chukwu, but at 7-foot-2 and with his athleticism and ability to protect the rim, it could be argued he should be higher on the list. However, he barely made anything resembling a splash in his one season at Providence (averaging 2.6 points and 2.4 rebounds as a freshman), but those who have seen him play, even in limited action, gush about his tremendous potential and, to use a term NBA-types love, “upside.” If his offense has come along even a little bit, he could start hearing some buzz in the NBA scouting circles based solely on his very, very high ceiling.
3. Franklin Howard
I thought long and hard about swapping Chukwu and Frank Howard, but at the end of the day went with the big lead guard over the big center, specifically because we’ve actually seen a little bit of what Howard can do. He’s got a long way to go, and still certainly has flaws in his game, but a 6-foot-4 point guard with good athleticism and terrific court vision is always going to be an intriguing prospect. The biggest question marks about Howard heading into next season are whether he can be more efficient and worry less about making the dazzling play, and if he can show any ability to score the basketball, and not just set up his teammates. That said, I think there are only two legitimate prospects at Syracuse for the 2017 NBA Draft, starting with…
2. Tyus Battle
I’m not sure Jim Boeheim has ever brought in a more prototypical NBA shooting guard than Tyus Battle. I’ve raved about his ability many, many times over, to anyone who will listen, and maintain that if he stays healthy he’s a one-and-done type of talent. At around 6-foot-6 (maybe even 6-foot-7), and already possessing an NBA-ready body, Battle is the type of scoring guard that will have NBA scouts drooling. He’s a very good athlete, with exceptional quickness for a player his size. He can handle the ball, he can get into the lane and finish, and he’s got good floor vision that will enable him to become a combo guard. About the only question mark surrounding his game is how consistently he’ll be able to knock down perimeter shots, but even that won’t stop NBA teams from lining up to grab him.
I firmly believe that Tyus Battle will be a first round draft pick next season. But he’s note quite the best prospect on the roster just yet…
1. Tyler Lydon
…because for the second straight year, I’m calling Tyler Lydon the best pro prospect on the Syracuse basketball roster. I admit, I’m absolutely the type to toot my own horn, and last year I’m so very, very happy to bring attention to the fact that I was calling both Lydon and, on the football side of things, Eric Dungey difference makers months ahead of most people. Excuse me while I go run a couple quick victory laps.
Now that that’s done, let’s talk about Tyler Lydon. Frankly, if he had come out after the season he just had – in which he averaged 10.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, and shot 40.5% from three point range – there’s a chance he could have snuck into the lottery, and at worst would have been picked in the 15-25 range in the first round. With another year under his belt, and about 15 more pounds of muscle on his 6-foot-9 frame, the sky is the limit. He’ll be the offensive focal point now that Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije, and Malachi Richardson are gone, and it’s not unreasonable to project him averaging about 16 points and eight boards per game while continuing to shoot better than 40% from deep. Add in his ability to protect the rim, his athleticism, and the fact that – with Coleman and Chukwu – he’ll be able to spend a lot more time at both small forward and power forward – and I don’t think there’s any real question about Lydon becoming a lottery pick next season.
Enjoy Tyler Lydon while we’ve got him, folks. Because unless he just decides that he wants to stay at Syracuse out of love for the program, next year’s the last we’ll see of him in Orange.