With Elijah Hughes climbing up the mock draft boards, he is set to become the 54th player to come through Syracuse before playing in the NBA. In this piece, we rank the top five former Syracuse players in NBA history.
5. Sherman Douglas
Douglas is indisputably the best point guard SU has ever had. He ranks 6th in school history with 2,060 career points (14.9 points per game), and holds the top spot on the assists list with 960. Douglas dished 251 more assists than Jason Hart, who is second on the list. But it wasn’t just sustained excellence for The General. He shined in the big moments, tying an NCAA record with 22 assists against Providence in 1989, and facilitating the Orangemen to the NCAA Championship game in 1987.
At just 6’0” and 180 lbs, Douglas fell to the first pick of the second round in the 1989 NBA Draft where the Miami Heat took him. The General made all-rookie honors, kicking off an 11-year career where he averaged 11 points and 5.9 assists per game. He showed flashes of excellence, but seemed to peak early. In his second season, Douglas averaged a career high in points (18.5) and had his second best passing season (8.5 assists). He was traded from Boston to Milwaukee in 1995, but never lived up to the Bucks’ expectations. The General played a few more injury-riddled seasons for the Clippers and Nets from there.
4. Rony Seikaly
It’s fitting that Douglas and Seikaly are back-to-back on this list because they tag-teamed on the Hill and in the pros with the Heat and the Nets. In college, Seikaly was a dominant interior force. He snagged 319 rebounds for the Orangemen, tied for fourth most in school history. The Lebanon native replaced senior Andre Hawkins in the starting lineup in his freshman year and never looked back. Seikaly made Big East All-Freshman honors, and All-Big East in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. Seikaly led the Orangemen in scoring his senior year, rounding out his mid-range game.
The Heat drafted him 9th overall in the 1988 draft. Seikaly hit the ground running in the NBA. He scored nearly 11 points and snagged 7 rebounds per game in his rookie year, and won Most Improved Player after his second season when he jumped up to 16.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. It only took Seikaly six seasons to score the sixth most points (6,742) and pull down the third most rebounds in franchise history (4,544). He went on to play for the Magic, Warriors and Nets. Seikaly’s 10 year career ended with career averages of 14.7 points and 9.5 rebounds.
3. Derrick Coleman
This is the last of the mid-80s big-three. No matter how good Douglas or Seiklay were, everybody knew that Derrick Coleman stood alone. Coleman averaged 15 points and 10.7 rebounds per game for the Orangemen. His 2,143 career points ranks second in program history.
It didn’t take long for NBA scouts to notice, and the Nets pounced on him with the top-pick in the 1990 NBA Draft. Coleman began his 15 year career by winning rookie of the year in 1991. He played five seasons for the Nets. Had New Jersey been able to hold on to him longer, he likely would have ended up on the Nets’ Mt. Rushmore. Coleman averaged 20 points and 10.6 rebounds. He represented the Nets in the 1993-1994 All-Star game. Injuries plagued his next five seasons, playing only 220 games in that stretch. Coleman bounced around with the 76ers, Hornets and Pistons until his mid-30s. He retired with a career average of 16.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
2. Dave Bing
Bing is the type of player fans marvel at on paper, and wish played in today’s era. The guard averaged 10.3 rebounds per game for the Orangemen in his three seasons on the Hill at just 6’3”. His 24.8 points per game is still a school record. Bing undoubtedly would have held the school scoring record with a larger sample size. Seasons were shorter when he played in the 60s. Bing only laced up for 76 games. Some of the other stars on this list played in nearly double that amount. Even with limited opportunity, Bing is ninth on SU’s scoring list with 1,883.
He was taken second overall by the Pistons in 1967, and won Rookie of the Year. Bing scored at least 20 points per game in each of his first seven seasons in the league. He averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists in his 11 year career. A 7x All-Star, scoring champion and 3x All-NBA selection, Bing became the second SU player to be inducted to the Hall of Fame (The first was Vic Hanson, who played in the American Basketball League in the 1920s).
The era Bing played in factors into his ranking. Whether it helps him or not is up for debate. Had he been playing today, Bing likely would have been a one-and-done player at SU. That would have afforded him at least two more years of his prime in the league. Bing also missed the three-point line by one season. It’s safe to assume that Bing would have been a respectable perimeter shooter given his strong 44% from the field. However, there is no way of knowing how the arc would have affected his assist numbers.
1. Carmelo Anthony
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Anthony is the crown jewel of Syracuse basketball, leading the Orange to their only title in 2003 as a true freshman. Widely regarded as the best one-and-done player of all time, Anthony’s Syracuse pit-stop was short and sweet. He shattered Donte Greene’s freshman scoring record by 158 points with 778 of his own. Melo averaged 22.2 points and 10 rebounds per game in college.
The Denver Nuggets drafted Anthony 3rd overall in the stacked 2003 NBA Draft. LeBron James was taken with the top-pick, and edged Anthony for rookie of the year. But Melo emerged as one of the league’s elite scorers. He averaged over 20 points per game in each of his first 14 seasons. Anthony was crowned scoring champion in 2013 with the Knicks, averaging 28.7 points per game. He also made the All-Star team 10 times, and was selected to an All-NBA team six times.
Bing and Anthony both have a case for the top spot on this list, but Melo’s historic scoring pace, longer list of accolades and longevity gives him the edge. Recency bias might also hurt Melo’s stock on this list. Many basketball fans have forgotten about his glory days on the Nuggets and Knicks, and instead now know him as the disgruntled “score-first” isolationist who was cut by the Rockets after 10 games in 2018 and couldn’t get a job this season until November. Anthony’s best days are well behind him, but he has already proven himself as a future Hall of Famer worthy of the top-spot.
There is one thing missing from each of these five decorated resumés. None of these SU-pro stars won an NBA Championship. Marty Byrnes is the only Syracuse alum to win an NBA Title, and he didn’t even score for his Lakers in the 1980 Finals.
Syracuse alums are notorious for underachieving in the NBA. Tyler Lydon, Malachi Richardson and Dion Waiters are recent examples. It should be noted that all but one of the players on this list are retired. Hughes has a chance to reset the league-wide perception of Syracuse products not only by winning a title, but by picking up where he left off on the Hill.