Carter-Williams Leaves Syracuse for NBA: Fizz Challenges Conventional Wisdom

Just basing a decision on draft place is losing sight of long-term gain in the NBA.

It was an absolute no-brainer for Michael Carter-Williams to enter the 2013 NBA Draft. Or was it? Under the current system and conventional wisdom the answer is definitively yes. Carter-Williams, despite being a sophomore, is already 21 which is old for his draft class. This draft isn’t just weak, it has the potential to be the worst of the modern era. It’s so bad a possible #1 overall pick is injured. This year Nerlens Noel follows in ’00 Kenyon Martin’s footsteps. He was followed by such gems as Stromile Swift, Darius Miles and Marcus Fizer.

MCW will be a lottery pick and might even squeeze into the top 10 with solid workouts and the right draft order. With that projection, the prevailing thought is “go and get your money because you probably won’t be drafted as high next year.” It sounds simple and really is in terms of short-term business. Because of the unpredictable nature of sports, this has become standard wisdom. Should it be?

This isn’t going to be about getting a degree, although there’s unquestionable value in that. This is about basketball. There’s no doubt Carter-Williams  – and almost everyone else in this draft – could use more college basketball before heading to the NBA. Noel has an extremely limited offensive game. Ben McLemore needs to be more aggressive and develop an off-the-dribble game. Marcus Smart’s jump shot is erratic, and he’s very unrefined as a point guard. Those are your top 3 picks.

If those players return to school, are they better players next year? Unquestionably, but for some reason that makes them less coveted prospects. The NBA loves potential and part of that is the unknown. The thought that development stops when a player leaves for the NBA is silly, but you do have to play to develop. Noel, Smart and McLemore will likely play solid rotation minutes next year… but a guy like Carter-Williams is probably looking at a role like Kendall Marshall has with the Suns. He plays less than 15 minutes per game, spending most of his time on the pine, carrying bags and getting donuts for the vets.

If Carter-Williams returned to Syracuse and played 30+ minutes per game, got coaching from a hall of famer, and became a better basketball player, it would surely help him down the road. It could hurt him on his rookie contract, based solely on what pick you are in the draft. But what about all the ensuing contracts that will be based on NBA production?

Think of Shane Battier. He’s been in the league over a decade now doing seemingly the same things he did at Duke. Battier was the rare top 5 pick as a senior, but he was NBA ready as a rookie and has stayed in the rotation for a lengthy career. His teams have always won, and was highly coveted by Miami on the open market. The other end of the spectrum is Sebastian Telfair, who jumped to the pros out of high school. He will never be in a rotation on a winning team and hasn’t played more than 20 mpg for any of his 5 teams the last 4 seasons. Who’s had a more lucrative career? Battier has brought in over $50M in his career since ’01, including $7.3 two years ago in Memphis. Telfair has earned $16M since ’04, topping out at $2.7M last year.

It’s happened to a ton of Syracuse players. Dion Waiters stayed an extra year and it absolutely helped him. Jonny Flynn and Wes Johnson chose to leave early, and it’s seemed to hurt them in the long run.

There are also plenty of guys who have left early (or gone straight to the NBA) and done well. LeBron James is only the best player on the planet. Kobe used to be. But when Cody Zeller might “get exposed” by going back to school that’s a problem in our thinking. Maryland’s Alex Len is slotted one spot higher than Zeller in Chad Ford’s latest mock draft, despite unquestionably not being ready to play in the NBA. If Len declares now but Zeller has a solid NBA career down the road, and earns a bigger second contract than Len who made the right decision?

The nature of sports says we shouldn’t ever look past the first contract, but if we do we’d see the shame in the current setup. What’s best now isn’t really always what’s best later. Where a player is drafted matters, but it shouldn’t be the only thing. What should matter is what’s truly best for the player’s career, which includes everything from short term financial gain, long term success and a degree.

For a guy like McLemore, there’s zero question he should go. His mom struggles to keep the power and heat on. He needs to take care of his family right now. Carter-Williams might very well be in that same boat. There’s no question his family could use some immediate money after their house caught fire. For those two cases, and many others, the answer might be an overwhelming “go.” But the next time a player’s decision to leave early is called a “no-brainer,” it’s time we started using our brains.

Posted: Craig Hoffman

20 Comments on this Post

  1. AlbanyCuse

    Best of luck to him!

  2. Carlton

    I already said this. The 2nd contract is the richest. NBA rookie contracts are based on a sliding scale. Anyone /w a brain knows he’s not rdy. No jump shot. Not strong enough to finish through contact(ex: Michigan game anyone?). Suspect decision making at times.

    He will be drafted somewhere between 10-15. If he came back and he improved he probably find himself back in that same range. Wish him the best but probably will be in the D-league from day 1.

  3. I don’t think he’s gonna spend a ton of time in the D-League but he might spend some. His length and vision will help him and he can work on his shot this summer and while he’s in the league. There’s zero question another year would benefit him though. As long as you don’t fall out of the first round (where contracts are guaranteed) then dropping a few spots if it’s better for you in the long term shouldn’t matter.

    That said I think my last point is important. Michael’s family might need money now because their house burned down. If that’s the case, go and get it.


  5. The picture at the top of your MCW article clearly shows one of Williams’s ballhandling deficiencies ,the high dribble which makes for easy steals an turnovers.Williams will be missed for his height on top of the zone and his ability to go inside for points and rebounds. Other than that kid,Stay out of trouble and good luck.

  6. Team automatically gets better with him gone. Too selfish in my opinion. Michael started to hang his head after the 1st foul was called against him. when the 5th fouls was called,he not only let himself down but gave up on th e team when they needed him the most.

    I wish him well in all of his future endeavor’s. But I for one am glad that he’s leaving.

  7. I’m sorry I was talking about the Michigan game in the Final Four about his giving up.

  8. 1) I would never say he gave up. You can question his decision making. You cannot question his heart. Kid played very hard. 2) You guys do realize he had one of the best seasons in SU history for a point guard and led his team to the Final Four right?

  9. Ed Brooks

    MCW was a first year starter. All he did was lead the team to the Final Four, and people are hating on him? Wow. There is no Final Four without him leading the team, and his game against Indiana showed what he can do. He didn’t have a great game against Michigan, but neither did senior James Southerland, who played so badly he had to be benched for part of the second half when, not coincidentally, SU got back into the game. Is MCW’s game perfect? No, but Nerlens Noel has no low post game and he will be the top pick. Ben McLemore can’t hit an outside shot on the road or on a neutral court (check out his splits, they are scary), but he’s probably going #2. NBA drafts on upside. Players who stay an “extra year” rarely see that pay off. Going back in time, John Wallace did that, and ended up being drafted later in the first round after his senior year than he was projected to go after his junior year. This year, there’s a kid from Texas State who was projected to be a first rounder last year. He came back, and now may not get drafted in the first round at all. Coming back when you’re a projected lottery pick is a mistake 100% of the time. MCW is a projected lottery pick. This was the only rational decision that could be made. Case closed.

  10. AnaheimOrange

    My opinion is that of a greedy Syracuse fan. I don’t want anyone that talented to leave early. I got upset when Carmelo announced. Yes, I was one chanting “one more year” and when asked what more number 15 could do for Syracuse, I’d say “win another 3 NCAA Championships!”

    Clearly, I knew there was nothing left for him to prove, but still…!!!

    Just imagine how good we would have been this year if Dion returned as a junior… man.

    I know, I’m daydreaming my life away.

  11. Anaheim – I’d much rather see your “irrationality” as a fan than people who are irrationally unappreciative. Wanting what’s best for your team is exactly what a fan should want!

    Ed – I blatantly say in my article that draft stock shouldn’t be the end all be all of what was the right decision which is exactly what you say. That’s wrong. However in Michael’s case going might very well be what he needs to do for the immediate financial security even though coming back is probably the best move for his career. It does work.

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