Everything seemed to have been going as planned for Elijah Hughes‚Äô buildup to the 2020 NBA Draft. The Beacon, NY native showed character by leading an otherwise feeble Syracuse team. He showed skill by dominating the ACC, and being selected to the all-conference first team. However, what Hughes showed on the court may not be enough for NBA teams come draft time.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that due to the coronavirus pandemic teams will only be permitted to conduct virtual interviews with draft prospects, and cannot request new video footage of the players. This means teams can only judge Hughes by what they see on the other side of a brief Zoom chat and his performance in an Orange uniform.
Every draft prospect is affected by this, but Hughes‚Äô draft stock will especially take a hit. The most common question will go unanswered. NBA teams have no way of knowing if Hughes can play man-to-man defense.
As many Syracuse fans know, SU players notoriously struggle at the next level. Teams will be more willing to take chances on players from blue blood programs, like Duke and Kentucky.
So the coronavirus will hurt Hughes in the draft. But how far will he fall? Hughes was merely a projected second round pick before the workout restrictions. Now, he may go undrafted altogether.
If Hughes goes undrafted, the odds of him making an NBA roster are extremely slim. Only 23% of the players in the NBA this year went undrafted. Only seven percent of the players were undrafted rookies. With a minimal financial commitment to Hughes, teams may very well release him even if he plays in the NBA. Many former SU players like Malachi Richardson, Tyler Lydon and Michael Gbinije have shared this fate, sending many of them overseas into the international basketball scene.¬†
Hughes has until June 15 to withdraw from the draft, which will be held 10 days later. He is only a half semester away from graduating with a degree in human development and family science, but another year would give the ACC‚Äôs leading scorer another chance to carry Syracuse to the NCAA Tournament and prove himself with every scout watching.
Hughes has not closed the book on a return to the Hill.
Besides, a Syracuse player foregoing his final year of eligibility with every mock draft predicting a second round selection, if any, should sound eerily familiar. Tyus Battle did not receive a call on draft day. According to Jim Boeheim, he seems to regret the decision that placed him in the NBA‚Äôs G League.¬†
‚ÄúI anticipate guys going [to the draft]. I don‚Äôt even plan on guys staying anymore,‚Äù Boeheim said. I planned last year, obviously Tyus. His father called me the other day‚Ä¶ and said ‚Äòmaybe he should have stayed.‚Äô‚Äù
With the exception of a second-round minimum salary, Hughes has nothing to lose by staying in school. He can graduate, continue to climb up the Orange record books and elevate his draft stock. But if Hughes decides to stay in the draft, he not only faces the uncertainty of a second round pick or even an undrafted free agent, but also treads the uncharted waters of an abbreviated draft process.