Carmelo Anthony may have played his last NBA game. But that doesn’t mean a Houston Rockets castoff and former Syracuse Orange standout isn’t hanging on tight among the NBA ranks. In fact, the race for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff seed may swing on two former Syracuse players.
Opportunities dwindled this year for former Orange standouts — it was the first season that SU didn’t send a player to the league since 2011. However, Michael Carter-Williams got a 10-day chance with the Orlando Magic and he’s now on the front lines holding off Dion Waiters and the Miami Heat from making their own postseason run.
Carter-Williams and Anthony made Houston the center of Syracuse in the NBA entering the season. Then Houston’s defense capsized, the team gave in on the Anthony experiment after 10 games and Carter-Williams shot 40 percent, leading the Rockets to bench him in 13 of the team’s 14 games before they cut him. Nearly three months later, the Magic signed Carter-Williams on a 10-year deal for reinforcements at the guard position.
The Lakers called Anthony three weeks ago, to no avail on either side. Orlando actually has playoff hope, unlike LA, with a half game on the Heat and 1.5 games on the Hornets for the final spot.
Point guard DJ Augustin is killing it for Orlando, the team’s scoring 124 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. Terrence Ross, Jonathan Simmons and Jerian Grant all posted negative net ratings — opening a need for post-trade deadline help.
Since signing Carter-Williams, coach Steve Clifford has rotated him in for 17.4 minutes per game in five straight victories. He’s posting a +4 net rating in his lineups and after a 2-for-9 start, unloaded a massive block alongside 15 points, six rebounds, 3 assists and a pair of steals in a 21-point blowout over his former 76ers.
Midway through the second quarter, in a 33-33 game, he drilled a corner three with the defense playing off him while Aaron Gordon drove inside. Several possessions later, he ran down the baseline as Joel Embiid turned toward the basket to strip him and set up an Evan Fournier transition layup.
In the third quarter, he didn’t do his shot much justice when he sprinted to the rim immediately after firing up a three knowing it would miss. The sprint earn him the rebound and a put-back though, pushing the Magic ahead by double digits for the rest of the night. Carter-Williams finished 5-for-8 from the field. He hit a three and posted six rebounds and six assists the next night in a five-point win over Miami — a key win in the playoff race.
Carter-Williams earned 10 extra days to make his statement for staying in the NBA. Every year NBA teams can add players on 10-day, or three-game, deals starting on Jan. 5 and can extend it to 20 before they must decide on if they’ll keep them around for the rest of the year. That date falls on Apr. 4 for Carter-Williams.
Given his role on the team and Orlando’s friendly welcome across media circles to his debut, the team could keep him around for the playoff push. Elsewhere in Florida, Dion Waiters is still averaging double figures as he has in all but one professional season. He scored 26 points on 10-for-18 shooting in the loss to Carter-Williams and Orlando, which landed them in the back seat in the push to play Milwaukee in round one.
Waiters’ 37-game absence to injury got Miami off to a rocky start. He’s back, and in March he’s shooting 42.5 percent from three to bolster them to 9-4 this month. Quietly, Waiters has carved out the most consistent, and important, Syracuse NBA career in recent years.
Whichever of them makes the playoffs, they’ll join Jerami Grant as the former Syracuse tandem in the postseason. Grant’s thriving after signing his extension with Oklahoma City, averaging 13.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and a block per game in the rotation hole left by none other than Anthony. His rim-running and defensive activity bolster arguably the best defense in the NBA. They’re swooning, losers of five of six, but they’re squarely in the playoffs 6.5 games ahead of the Kings.
The Nuggets recalled Tyler Lydon from the G-League this week for the stretch run. He isn’t expected to receive any minutes, as the move falls in line with the end of the Capital City Go-Go’s season. Neither he nor Malachi Richardson had their options picked up in Denver and Toronto respectively for next season, putting their NBA futures on the line this summer.
Lydon will spend some of that time in Syracuse, hosting a basketball camp with former teammate John Gillon. After a rare G-League trade between Erie (his former team) and Greensboro (his new location), Gillon has averaged 13.4 points and 6.0 assists per game in 46 games with the two clubs.
Speaking of the G-League, Hakim Warrick is finishing up his comeback season with the Iowa Wolves, 14 years after leaving Syracuse for the NBA. Somehow, his pro career outlasted Melo’s. He’s averaging 12.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in 20 minutes.
Tyus Battle, reportedly moving on to the NBA himself, is likely Syracuse’s only hope to avoid a two-year draft drought for SU. The NBA Draft combine begins May 14 in Chicago, with actual selections occurring a month later on June 20. No word yet on what Frank Howard and Paschal Chukwu plan to do post-Syracuse, though both will likely try to catch on with teams in the NBA Summer League if they do eventually try to make it playing abroad/in the G-League.