With the NBA Draft only days away, ex-Syracuse power forward Chris McCullough remains an enigma.
Midway through high school, McCullough was ranked as high as the seventh-best prospect nationally by ESPN. But after playing for three different high schools, his stock dropped to the mid-to-high twenties by 2014. McCullough then bounced back in the beginning of his freshman season at Syracuse, and was widely viewed by experts as an NBA lottery pick.
Things then took another torn. After a string of poor performances, he tore his ACL — putting his NBA future in doubt. In the immediate aftermath of McCullough declaring for the NBA Draft, many scouts saw him as a second-rounder and questioned his decision.
“The decision hasn’t been thought through,” one scout told Syracuse.com’s Mike Waters. “He tore his ACL. He should be staying in school, getting healthy and coming back next year and having a big year.”
Yet, over the past few weeks his stock has risen, once again, and McCullough is now predicted to be drafted in the late first round, according to ESPN, Yahoo Sports, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated, and SB Nation. The one-time top-10 high school recruit is now being called “a classic boom or bust NBA Draft prospect” — someone with “lottery talent” who is still raw and comes with plenty of weaknesses.
“Any time I leave him a little bit of space this dude was going to shoot it and he’s going to make it, he’s not going to miss,” his teammate Doyin Akintobi-Adeyeye told Business Insider. “If he’s going for the shot he’s not missing it. He’s not missing. Even if I put a hand in his face, he’s not missing. It was usually kind of like that. Not matter what I did, he’s making it.”
McCullough showed exceptional promise at the beginning of the season, where in his first eight games he averaged 14.4 points, shot 56% from the field, grabbed nine rebounds, and nearly two blocks. Most importantly, he showed he’s a big men who can score from the perimeter.
When asked, he’s able to shoot the deep-ball:
He also has a solid mid-range game:
Up close, he has the athleticism to finish around the rim with dunks like this:
However, as with any boom-or-bust prospect, McCullough certainly has his share of weaknesses. In addition to a torn ACL, scouts are also concerned about his thin frame (he’s only 199 pounds) leading many to question whether he can succeed defensively in the NBA. Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony describes McCullough’s defensive limitations as such:
“McCullough still has a long ways to go before he can be considered an adequate defender at the NBA level. …His rail-thin 199 pound frame hasn’t developed much over the past few years, as he’s added just four pounds of weight since the first measurement we have on him three years ago, which is somewhat concerning. His lower body in particular needs a lot of work, as he gets pushed around frequently on the interior, giving up deep position, and not looking overly physical or tough trying to deny stronger players from asserting their will on him inside the paint.”
Just a slight bump here allows the California offensive player to get an easy bucket on McCullough (via DraftExpress):
Scouts also question his intensity, believing he can sometimes take plays off. Here his lackadaisical transition defence results in him giving up an easy alley-up dunk:
ESPN’s basketball analyst Jay Bilas described McCullough as someone who if you’re drafting you’re “betting on his future”:
“I tend to think that coming out is kind of a mixed bag. You’ll have some people that think, ‘We don’t know’ but you have other people that think if the knee is sound, he could be worth it. …Chris McCullough hasn’t bloomed yet. We don’t know when he’ll bloom or how brightly he’ll bloom. It’s a roll of the dice.”
While experts constantly refer to McCullough as a boom or bust prospect, Akintobi-Adeyeye remains fairly confident in his belief that McCullough will thrive in the NBA.
“Me personally, I’m going to say he’s a ‘boom’ because I know the type of work ethic he has,” he told BI. “And I know he’s not going to give up. This is his dream. He has the type of drive where he’s going to get better, no ifs ands or buts.”
In his latest mock draft, ESPN’s Chad Ford has McCullough going to the Brooklyn Nets at 29.
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