On a night of surprises at the NBA Draft, former Syracuse forward Chris McCullough didn't follow the trend. He was selected 29th overall by the Brooklyn Nets, just as many expected would happen.
In short, the pick makes sense. McCullough's game needs some polishing, making him a long-term project. Fortunately, the Nets, too, are a long-term project and thus in a position to gamble on a player with McCullough's potential, especially late in the first-round.
But, as we've seen over the years, it's awfully difficult to project how mid-draft players will translate to the next level. It doesn't help that the forward played only 16 games at SU.
With all that being said, here are the best and worst case scenarios for McCullough in Brooklyn:
Best case: Within a few years, McCullough begins to pan out. He erases any doubt about his love for basketball by making real strides with his game. He adds a consistent jump shot to his repertoire. He proves he can score around the basket by developing a post-up game, something he lacked at Syracuse.
On the other end of the court, McCullough becomes a versatile defender. His quickness and athleticism allows him to guard stretch-4s, and he adds weight to this currently thin frame, enabling to be an effective man-to-man defender in the low post.
All of that earns him a starting role in Brooklyn's frontcourt, which is already getting thinner and thinner. The Nets dealt center Mason Plumlee to the Portland Trail Blazers for Steve Blake and 23rd overall pick Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, while starting power forward Thaddeus Young could leave the team in free agency.
Worst case: As each season passes by, it becomes more and more clear that McCullough will never reach his potential. He never fully recovers mentally or physically after his ACL tear and he fails to produce on the court.
McCullough doesn't add the necessary weight, rendering him ineffective around the basket against stronger NBA bigs on both ends of the court. The soft shooting touch that he showed flashes of with the Orange never materializes into a dependable jumper.
He doesn't show a real desire to get better, nor does he seem fully invested, validating concerns that have been raised about his motor. Within a few years, he's out of the league and forced to fly overseas to play basketball professionally.
Bottom line: McCullough certainly has the talent to earn a spot in Brooklyn's rotation for the foreseeable future, even if he doesn't ever become a starter. Whether he realizes his potential could depend on his desire to do so and his health, the latter of which is out of his control.