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Early Departures: Could CJ Fair Follow MCW & Leave Syracuse for the Draft?

Update: Wednesday, 8:09p. Michael Carter-Williams, as expected, has declared for the NBA Draft. Jim Boeheim issued a statement through the university.

“Michael has informed me of his intention to enter the NBA Draft. He’s coming off a tremendous season and we appreciate all he’s done for Syracuse basketball. We wish Michael the best of luck as he pursues a pro career.”

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The Orange Nation speculation surrounding Michael Carter-Williams this season has been constant, and won’t stop any time soon. Not until SU Athletics sends out that fateful email. Will the sophomore stay at SU or leave for the NBA Draft? Following a trip to Atlanta that ended too soon, Syracuse fans are trying to figure out how much of the team remains in tact.

James Southerland and Brandon Triche will graduate. It’s likely MCW is gone as well. It only took Dion Waiters a few days after the Orange was eliminated a year ago to let the fans know he was declaring for the draft. That eventually became a forgone conclusion as his stock rose over March. MCW projects on most mock draft boards anywhere from pick #9-12. While he could use more seasoning (witness his dreadful Final Four performance), it seems likely he’ll bank on that lottery status.

But is there a case for another Orange starter making the leap to the NBA as well? CJ Fair, once again, quietly dominated during Syracuse’s run to the Final Four, averaging 15.4 PPG, 6 RPG and shooting 46% from the field. He provided a majority of the offense against the Wolverines when SU’s rotations became stagnant. Few draft experts project CJ as a first-round pick in June, though. Chad Ford of ESPN said last night CJ could even go undrafted despite his athleticism and vast improvement throughout 2013.

“He’s an elite athlete, and after being a tweener for his first two years at Syracuse, has settled into the role of small forward this year. He’s dramatically improved his 3-point shooting and clearly has the ability to guard 3s. He’s been consistently good in the NCAA tournament with one exception: He’s just 2-for-6 from 3. Most scouts feel he needs another year to get firmly entrenched as a 3, but if he were to declare now, he’s a likely second-round pick.”

The truth is, there is no reason for CJ to declare now. The small forward has developed his game so much over the last two off-seasons, and would greatly benefit from one more. Many say that Fair’s game has hit a ceiling, and that there isn’t much growth left for the 6’7” small forward. This idea couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Think about his progression. As a freshman, his range was 12 feet from the basket, and he could knock down baseline jumpers. His sophomore year that range stretched out to about 15-18 feet, and we saw him become more active driving to the paint. This past season, the guy is knocking down 3’s and going one-on-one with other forwards, clearly out-maneuvering them with his agility. To say he can’t get better is ludicrous. It would also be a poor business decision to risk dropping to the 2nd round and be given no guaranteed contract, instead of returning and helping your draft stock.

The element of CJ’s game that he can take to the next level is his iso play. He showed the ability to knock down shots from 3-point land this season, but now can he become more of a threat off the dribble? There were many points throughout this season where Fair went one-on-one from the top of key, and settled for pull-up jumpers and fade aways. According to Draft Express, back in March Fair was shooting 34% on iso situations. That’s not terrible for someone who doesn’t do it often. Chris Bosh has about 3 or 4 inches on CJ, but his game is one that Fair can mimic. Bosh has a great ability to hit pull-up jumpers and also drive to the rim. A lot of that is due to his 6’11” frame, but Fair has a similar lanky frame, and uncanny ability to shift past defenders especially on the baseline.

Fair simply shouldn’t force his draft entry. Fair led a Final Four team in scoring during the NCAA Tournament, and still didn’t really receive much national exposure. Super Agent David Falk joined my talk show Sunday night on Z89 (89.1 fm), “Call it a Wrap,” and said players should not be allowed to leave after their first two seasons. His proposal to the NCAA: Three years minimum for all college players before declaring.

“Now we have a situation where kids can come out after 1 year. And the problem with that is, even though these kids are extraordinarily talented… the average fan does not know most of these high school kids. The average fan is not going to know [freshman] Ben Mclemore unless Kansas wins the Tournament, they’re not going to know [freshman Marcus] Smart from Oklahoma State, and I think it hurts the business of the NBA for the fans not to be connected to the players.”

His point is college hoops fans have more of chance to connect with players who stay in school for four years and build their brand, as opposed to one-and-dones. If Fair sticks one more year, he would greatly improve his stock. The sky would be the limit for the head-band king.

Posted: Kevin Fitzgerald

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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