In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.
Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989 (Syracuse)
1. Carmelo Anthony (2003)
2. Derrick Coleman (1990)
3. Sherman Douglas (1989)
4. Billy Owens (1991)
5. Hakim Warrick (2005)
Sixth man: John Wallace (1996)
The rest: Fab Melo, Kris Joseph, Wesley Johnson, Andy Rautins, Jonny Flynn, Donte Greene, Demetris Nichols, Damone Brown, Etan Thomas, Jason Hart, Dion Waiters, Lawrence Moten, Conrad McRae, David Johnson, LeRon Ellis
Why they're ranked where they are: Syracuse cracked the top 20 largely due to the overall success of Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Coleman. Anthony is a future Hall of Famer and has plenty of time to boost his accomplishments. Coleman (16.5 PPG career average), an enigma throughout his time in the NBA, earned rookie of the year honors in 1991, made an All-Star appearance in 1994 and was twice named to the all-NBA team. Billy Owens and Sherman Douglas were decent pros too. And Dion Waiters, who averaged 14.7 PPG in his debut last season, could blossom into an NBA standout in the coming years -- and certainly could crack the Cuse top five in the near future. But let's be real: Syracuse squeezed into these rankings. Sure, the Orange boast 21 draft picks since 1989. Few, however, have actually succeeded at the next level. And there are multiple guys on this list who were projected to be stars but were ultimately professional letdowns. The Minnesota Timberwolves chose Jonny Flynn over Steph Curry with the sixth pick in the 2009 NBA draft. Curry led his team to the NBA playoffs this year. Flynn played in Australia. That’s why Syracuse stands at No. 20. Too many disappointments. It’s a surprising reality for a college program that boasts one of the game’s most fruitful legacies. Syracuse has earned most of its accolades, however, with players who weren’t admirable NBA contributors.
Why they could be ranked higher: Syracuse’s sheer numbers are impressive. Even though the program hasn’t produced many high-level professionals since 1989, it has sent nearly two dozen players to the league in that time span. Plus, the list features a bunch of young players who have been in the league for a short time, so their success is difficult to assess at this point. If this were a quantitative measurement alone, Syracuse might have a case for elevation. Producing one of the NBA’s best players doesn’t hurt its argument either. Coleman, Douglas and Owens held their own for years in the league too.
Why they could be ranked lower: If we’re real about this thing, then we’ll admit Syracuse hasn’t exactly been a factory for NBA talent since 1989, the year that the two-round system was implemented. After Anthony, there’s a major decline in the talent pool. And when you move beyond Coleman, you won’t find many players who competed at a high level for more than a few years in the NBA. Many failed to live up to the hype. Warrick averaged double figures for three of his first four years in the league, but the 19th pick in the 2005 draft has bounced around the NBA since then. The Timberwolves selected Wesley Johnson at No. 4 in the 2010 draft, when Greg Monroe, DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George were available. Johnson could be a solid role player with the Phoenix Suns, but he’s no star. Etan Thomas was the 12th pick in the 2000 draft. He averaged 5.7 PPG over a nine-year career. We had a lengthy discussion about this list. Trust me. Syracuse wasn’t a sure thing when that discussion started. Considering all the players who fizzled at the next level, I think Jim Boeheim's program is lucky to have a slot. Without Anthony, the Orange wouldn’t be on this list.
What’s ahead? There are still a few unknowns in the discussion about Syracuse’s NBA legacy. Anthony continues to grow as a player. He has scored 17,846 points in 10 seasons. And he just turned 29 this week. As I mentioned earlier, Johnson could continue to mature and play a more significant role in the future. Waiters is an athletic winger who had a strong year with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Is he a future All-Star? Maybe, maybe not. But there are a lot of talented prospects who failed to average 14.7 PPG in a season during their careers. The Boston Celtics envision a bright future for Fab Melo, a 7-footer who’s still raw. It’s also important to monitor the players who will enter the draft in the coming years. Michael Carter-Williams might be a lottery pick this summer. C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant could warrant spots in the first round next summer. The perception about Syracuse’s ability to produce NBA talent could change in the near future. There are still a variety of young players with the ties to the program who can’t be thoroughly analyzed at this point in their NBA tenures.
Final thoughts: There are a few ways to look at this list. Yes, Syracuse is at No. 20. That’s probably surprising considering the program’s stance as one of the most consistent and successful units in college basketball. Anthony, however, is the only true NBA superstar that the squad has produced since 1989. But I also think this list helps the Orange. Boeheim’s guys haven’t found a lot of success at the next level, yet the team is a perennial national title contender. That’s impressive. This is a specific barometer. It was not created to assess a program’s collegiate value. Syracuse’s consistency is notable, despite the struggles its players have had in the NBA. Still, the Orange’s standing in the league could change in the coming years. A number of players who are in the NBA now or will be in the league soon could push Cuse up this list and others like it. Right now, however, No. 20 makes sense.