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Syracuse basketball storylines in NBA Summer League

No Orange NBA draftees for the first time since 2011, but plenty of former Syracuse stars vying for spots in the NBA will get a chance to prove themselves in the coming weeks.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

No members of the Syracuse Orange were selected in the NBA Draft for the first time since 2011. No ‘Cuse fans will pout over Tyus Battle’s return, as he (and probably Oshae Brissett too) will likely end this short hiatus in 2019. Though it does dry up the excitement of a new breakout Orange star suiting up in the Association.

But Summer League, beginning this week with all 30 teams in Las Vegas for the first time, presents a new opportunity for a short list of young players with CNY ties. Many of these names are why Syracuse has had selections in all but two drafts since 2005, even if they’re no longer on their original team. Others are still early enough in their respective careers that this is just the necessary hill to climb. All will be getting a shot to prove themselves in Vegas.

Below is a rundown of the former Orange standouts to watch:

NBA: Preseason-Detroit Pistons at Philadelphia 76ers John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Gbinije, New York Knicks


July 7: vs. Atlanta Hawks, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

July 8: vs. Utah Jazz, 9 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

July 10: vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Gbinije’s still just two years removed from his surge to the top of Syracuse’s scorers list for 2015-16. He led the Orange to the 2016 Final Four alongside Tyler Lydon and Malachi Richardson, and landed himself a spot in the NBA when he was selected 49th overall by the Detroit Pistons in the draft that spring.

Since then, he’s yet to carve out even a bench role in the league. In 32 minutes during his rookie season, he shot only 1-for-10 (with a shot blocked by Jerami Grant in his 76ers stint). Much of his year under Stan Van Gundy involved stints with the G-League’s Grand Rapids Drive. In fact, he was assigned 13 times before he was cut from Detroit almost a year to the day that he originally signed.

With Grand Rapids, he shot 42 percent with 12 points per game, at least piquing the interest of the Golden State Warriors for a training camp invite. He didn’t latch on with their bench either, and was forced to play on a Santa Cruz contract after Golden State cut him. There he once again shot 42 percent and saw his minutes, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage dip.

Now the Knicks could be his last chance at breaking into the league. Their point guard position is wide open on the bench, so if Gbinije can up his outside stroke and flash some defense to the degree he did with the Orange, he could sneak onto the roster. Only 10 Knicks are under contract for this year, with Frank Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay and Trey Burke seemingly leading the backcourt right now.

NBA: Preseason-Guangzhou Long-Lions at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Chris McCullough, Philadelphia 76ers


July 6: vs. Boston Celtics, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

July 7: vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 11:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

July 9: vs. Washington Wizards, 5:30 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

Movement’s been the name of the game for Chris McCullough’s trek in the NBA, playing 59 games across the Nets and Wizards before Washington declined to pick up his option for the 2018-19 season.

Much like Gbinije’s rocky entrance in Detroit, injuring his ankle early in the 2016 Summer League, McCullough entered the 2015 draft recovering from a torn ACL. That sunk his stock down to 29th, which surprisingly granted him an open opportunity with the Nets due to their infamous trade with the Celtics forcing a pick swap to the bottom of the first round.

The 2015-16 season was mostly about recovery, before some playing time in April allowed him to drop double figures in several games. Back-and-forth between Long Island and Brooklyn in his second season, he woke up to a call he’d been thrown into the Bojan Bogdanović deal and ended up on the Wizards. Without a nearby G-League affiliate, his playing time not only sunk. but his 2017 season also involved trips to Northern Arizona (for the Suns affiliate there).

Scoring 16 points per game landed him in the G League All Star Game that year, but stints with Northern Arizona, Wisconsin (Bucks’ affiliate) and Erie (Hawks’ affiliate) in 2018 didn’t bring much consistency from the field with 40 percent and 27 percent splits from the field and from three.

A front court spot in Philadelphia is a longshot, but an opportunity is an opportunity with Amir Johnson likely to depart.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Sacramento Kings Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Malachi Richardson, Toronto Raptors


July 6: vs. New Orleans Pelicans, 3 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

July 8: vs. Minnesota Timberwolves, 3 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

July 9: vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 3:30 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

The search for NBA staying power from that 2016 Orange squad focuses on Richardson most prominently because of his spot with a contending Raptors team and the fact that he’s only 22 years old.

There’s time, but it’s draining for another SU player shipped quickly from the team that drafted him. Charlotte selected him 22nd, only to ship him off to Sacramento (a tough landing spot for anyone) on draft night. The Kings then traded him to Toronto in 2018 for Bruno Cobocio. He averaged 3.5 PPG with Sacramento before playing in only one game for the Raptors on their way to a one-seed.

In 30 games between Raptor 905 and Reno, he shot only 30 percent on the way to 8.8 PPG. Efficiency, as it was in his year at Syracuse, remains his largest issue while attempting to sell himself as a scoring punch off the bench. His shooting splits decreased across the board when he transferred from Reno to Toronto’s G-League affiliate. His stints in Reno proved electric going back to 2016, but he’ll need a substantial percentage boost to get a third season in the NBA.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Lydon, Denver Nuggets


July 6: vs. Minnesota Timberwolves, 11 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

July 7: vs. Boston Celtics, 11 p.m. (NBA TV)

July 9: vs. Milwaukee Bucks, 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Tyler Lydon became a point of NBA Draft contention when the Nuggets traded to the 24th pick to grab him from the Jazz. Skeptics like Tom Crean debated his readiness to battle with NBA athletes, which incited Jim Boeheim to call him an idiot, but ultimately Lydon’s only played two minutes in the league to-date.

He tore his meniscus in January, but had spent the first half of the season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Rockets’ affiliate), where he posted 12.7 PPG, 8.3 rebounds per game and 2.1 assists per game. Playing in Houston’s system allowed him to attempt over five three-pointers per game at a 37.7 percent efficiency before the injury.

Off the court, he worked on strength training and recently returned to basketball activity in May. He’ll be active for Denver’s Summer League but sits behind Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic, Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee, Darrell Arthur and Juan Hernangomez in the long pecking order that is Denver’s frontcourt. On a roster that stars frontcourt players, NBA minutes figure to be difficult to land for Lydon in Denver even posting solid shooting numbers as he did.

Perhaps desire for his services at a very manageable $1.8 million emerge elsewhere.

Former Syracuse basketball player B.J. Johnson shoots against Rhode Island Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

B.J. Johnson, Charlotte Hornets


July 6: vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

July 8: vs. Miami Heat, 5 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

July 9: vs. Boston Celtics, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

This one’s fun. B.J. Johnson could’ve, by exception, been considered a Syracuse draftee entering the 2018 class as a La Salle transfer (back in 2016) from the Orange. Instead, he went undrafted and finds his first professional opportunity with the Charlotte Hornets.

After only finding 12 minutes per game with SU, he moved back near his home in Philadelphia to play for La Salle. An abundance of shots and floor time allowed him to rack up 19 points per game over two seasons with seven rebounds and solid three-point and free throw percentages. He’ll battle alongside Clemson standout Gabe DeVoe for attention from the Charlotte brass where there’ll be plenty of opportunity for young players as the Hornets likely transition toward a rebuild this year.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew White III, Atlanta Hawks


July 7: vs. New York Knicks, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

July 8: vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 5:30 pm ET (ESPN2)

July 10: vs. Chicago Bulls, 6 pm ET (NBA TV)

Andrew White III smoothly cruised onto campus and swished 112 threes to break GMac’s single-season record, then flew out the door shortly thereafter. He did his best to provide the scoring punch that ill-fated 2016-17 team needed in a rough defensive season. But it wasn’t enough and his brief Orange career is already feeling underrated less than two years later.

As a pure shooter, he may have more of a role in today’s NBA than anybody on the list. Nobody drafted him in 2017 after his NCAA eligibility expired, but he latched onto the Cavaliers and eventually the Celtics through the Summer League, and earned a preseason spot (but not a locker) with the C’s. White and the other four players invited to training camp packed their stuff into the middle of the locker room floor before they were all eventually let go.

Fortunately, two factors opened up a NBA chance for White. The first season of two-way contracts coincided with his rookie year and the Hawks tanked away to eventually draft Trae Young (via trade with the Mavericks). Now, he’ll play alongside the former Oklahoma star this summer to try and continue what’s been a fruitful year. In February, he poured it on against the Pistons for 15 points over 17 minutes; a crucial performance for a make-it-or-break-it role he’s in.

That and his 36.7 three-point percentage will all have to be on the table this summer as he shares the court with Young and John Collins. He shot 40.9 percent from downtown in 39 G-League games last year between Maine (Celtics’ affiliate) and Erie, so he’s poised for more. Still, the roster race in Atlanta will be competitive. Every three this summer is going to have tons riding on it on its 24-foot (or more) ride to the rim.