In the wake of Malachi Richardson’s decision to leave Syracuse and keep his name in the NBA Draft pool, let’s take a look at how recent Orange alumni have fared at the professional level. We’ll limit the sample to first-rounders, as ESPN’s Chad Ford ranks Richardson 13th in the 2016 class.
Since 2012, five players have gone from Jim Boeheim’s tutelage to a spot in the top 30 — that’s a rate of more than one first-rounder per year, and makes SU one of only six schools to produce at least five over the past four drafts.
That doesn’t mean former Orange standouts have found a ton of success in the NBA, though.
Chris McCullough snuck into round one last year when the Nets selected him 29th. It’s impossible to judge his professional performance after he missed most of his rookie season while recovering from a knee injury he suffered with Syracuse.
Tyler Ennis’ only season in Central New York ended when he missed a three-pointer against Dayton that could have sent SU to the Sweet Sixteen (he could hit a game-winner from 40 feet, but not 25). That brick aside, his freshman campaign was extremely impressive, as he was one of 10 finalists for the Naismith Award. But after the Suns grabbed Ennis with the 18th pick in 2014 and crammed him into a backcourt that already featured three above average point guards (Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, and Isaiah Thomas), he frequented the D-League as a rookie and was dealt to Milwaukee at the trade deadline. Through two seasons, the 21-year-old has averaged less than four points and just over two assists per game.
Ennis isn’t the only former Syracuse point guard to struggle in the NBA. Michael Carter-Williams ditched the ‘Cuse after two seasons, leaving eligibility on the table after leading the Orange to a Final Four (sound familiar?). The 76ers chose MCW 11th in 2013, and the lanky floor general immediately showed promise in Philly; he was named the 2014 Rookie of the Year after joining Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson as the only players to average at least 16 points, six rebounds, and six assists in their first year. But Carter-Williams never developed a reliable jumper (he’s a career 25.5 percent three-point shooter), and was shipped to the Bucks in the same trade as Ennis.
In 2012, the Cavaliers made Dion Waiters the fourth overall pick. After a promising first season, the former SU sixth man devolved into somewhat of a laughing stock, known more for calling for the ball — demanding the rock with his hands up like a child begging for candy — than for any positive impact. He’s now coming off the bench for the Thunder.
Like Waiters, Fab Melo left the Orange after his sophomore season and heard his name called in 2012’s first round. The Celtics took him at No. 22, but he lasted only two seasons in the NBA — and spent most of that time in the D-League — before beginning to play in his native Brazil.
That’s not exactly a dazzling list of future Hall of Famers. Granted, each of those players is still under 25 years old, but all possess career-crippling flaws. Go back a few more years, and you find a couple more colossal busts — Wesley Johnson (2010) and Jonny Flynn (2009) were both drafted in the top six by the Timberwolves, and neither has turned into a starting-caliber player.
The elephant in the room when discussing Syracuse pros is the 2-3 zone, which is almost never employed by NBA coaches and sometimes inflates stats and hinders defensive development.
Now, Richardson will attempt to buck the trend of SU players floundering at the next level.