Tyler Ennis & Jerami Grant Are Gone; Syracuse Must Rebuild & Reload

I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need. Bad times are comin’ and I reap what I don’t sow/hey hey/Well let me tell you somthin’ all that glitters ain’t gold

Yes, this is indeed an Aloe Blacc/How to Make It in America reference. What better way to explain the conflicting futures of an institution caught off guard by losing two of its star players to the NBA earlier than expected, and said players on the verge of making bank in the upcoming months?

Wednesday I read a Dime piece by Drew Corrigan detailing what he believed Jabari Parker’s decision should be (spoiler, he should leave). (Eds. note: He listened to us!) This got me thinking about my beloved Orange; what’s going through Jim Boeheim’s head now?

The story in Syracuse is a tad different than the one going on in Durham: I would suspect that Coach K knew there was a high probability of losing his star freshman at season’s end, but entering the season Jerami Grant was considered too raw to really consider going pro, and even fewer suspected Tyler Ennis would succeed the way he did and depart after a surprisingly good first season. The Orange’s bright future went from a refreshing, barely opened glass of Tropicana to a value brand, half-drunk substitute. (Get it, because they’re the Orange?) Losing senior star C.J. Fair, along with the two underclassman, is a serious chink in the armor for the Orange.

Before we go any further, let me preface my points. If an underclassman’s stock is lottery high (picks 1-14), I totally understand their entry in the draft. Remember, these guys were starving in college. (If we are to believe Shabazz Napier, that is.) Regardless of how full their stomachs were, the writing is usually on the wall for them; leave while your stock is high–the longer you stay, the more they critique your every move. This is a business, and the difference between a lottery selection and a low first-rounder or even a second-round pick is money in this player’s pocket. Look at Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart. Smart was projected top five in last year’s draft, but made the decision to stay another year to better his game. He’s now 5-10 spots lower on most draft boards, and was involved in a fight that led many to question his character. Smart lost money by staying another year.

But Ennis and Grant both leaving early comes as a relative surprise to Orange faithful. Most expected Grant to take over as the top scorer next season (and breakout a new and improved jump shot) and Ennis would lead the way at the point. Instead, they are left to pick up the pieces. But did the players make the right decision basketball wise?

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Tyler Ennis
Word from my very reliable Syracuse sources (A.K.A. my former roommate and other Orange faithful) was that Ennis’s decision caused outrage that spread like a plague across campus. Ennis came into the year relatively unknown to the masses, although he was the 20th-rated prospect coming out of high school, according to ESPN’s ratings. The 6-2, 180-pound Ennis burst onto the scene with a 28-point performance against Cal in the sixth game of the year.

Ennis went on to show great poise and patience throughout the year, and led the Orange in assists. He had his fair share of big-time, clutch performances as the season went on, most notably the buzzer-beater to beat Pittsburgh. At one point in the season, analysts called Ennis the top performer of the freshman class. Sit back and think about that for a moment. It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with the statement, just the fact that it was plausible at one time to consider Ennis a better player than Parker, Randle or either Kansas kid is telling enough.

His stock fell slightly as the season came to an end, but Ennis finished with a stat line of 12.9 PPG, 5.5 APG and 3.4 RPG. Yes, 5.5 APG may not sound all that impressive, but consider this: Ennis was the only Syracuse player to average more than two assists per game! He was the only player actually distributing the ball. For those of you who watched Syracuse play, you know just how (to take a meaning from Urban Dictionary) basic the Orange offense looked when Ennis was out of the game. He initiated every possession for them offensively.

I love the way Ennis plays: he’s confident, mature, and seems to just glide across the court. He showed off the ability to get to the rim and only turned the ball over once every 26 minutes! That is quite frankly unheard of for a freshman point guard in the ACC. He shot 35.3 percent from behind the college three-point line, and has been described as a sponge and a perfectionist. These are things you want to hear if you’re an NBA coach. He is coachable and more importantly, actually seems to want to improve his game.

Something that seems to have been forgotten when talking about Ennis is his defense. Ennis led all NCAA freshmen in steals. He’s long (owner of a reported 6-5 wingspan) and uses that and his high I.Q. to read the play and come up with a number of steals in the passing lanes. He’s an above-average rebounder, too.

I believe in Ennis, and from a money standpoint I understand his decision to leave. Why? Because he has his faults. He gets into the lane, but he isn’t a great finisher yet, nor is he extremely accurate from midrange. (Ennis shot only 41.1 percent from the floor.) He lacks the upper-echelon level of athleticism that so many point guards posses now (that Westbrook, pre-injury Rose kind), and he isn’t particularly fast. All of this leads to concerns about his ability to score at the next level.

As with most Syracuse alumni, scouts question his ability to defend one-on-one because of the patented 2-3 zone the Orange employ defensively. He has a lot to improve on, and I think he’s the kind of player who’ll continue perfecting his craft. All and all, Ennis projects to be an above-average player, but nowhere near a mortal lock for stardom. With most mock drafts predicting he goes 8-14, I don’t see how another year improves his stock. But with no backup point guard in place, Syracuse will have to rely heavily on Trevor Cooney and a freshman yet again to initiate the offense.

Hit page 2 for more on why Grant might’ve made the wrong choice…

Jerami Grant
Grant is the polar opposite of Ennis. The son of former NBA player Harvey Grant and the nephew of the goggled Horace Grant, Jerami possesses the requisite physical tools necessary to succeed as an NBA small forward, but hasn’t shown a steady enough ability in the actual “basketball talent” category. Grant stands 6-8 (depending on who you ask), 210 pounds, and has an incredible 7-2 wingspan (or as Jay Bilas would say, WINGSPAN).

Grant is an excellent athlete. But right now, that’s about it. He isn’t particularly good at one thing offensively and scores the majority of his buckets in transition or on second-chance opportunities. There were flashes; Grant tried to add a three-point jump shot to his arsenal, but it really never appeared. He hasn’t even shown a reliable midrange jumper for that matter.

Defense is another story. Grant has all the makings of a great defender, someone capable of defending positions two through four out on the court. He rebounds well and should put on enough weight to play a small-ball four effectively. But will it translate?

Do you remember how enamored scouts were with Marvin Williams when he was the sixth man for North Carolina back in the early 2000s? His potential led to him being selected before Chris-fricken-Paul. HE DIDN’T EVEN START. Grant reminds me a lot of Williams, except Marvin Williams was probably more polished coming out of college. (Did you think you’d ever read that about Williams?) Grant put up 12.1 PPG on 49.6 percent shooting and 6.8 RPG this past season. But outside of the spectacular dunk (and he had quite a few memorable ones), Grant never really stood out to me.

Apparently I’m not alone in this regard, as most scouts feel like he projects to be quite the project at the next level. The ceiling player he’s compared to? Luc Richard Mbah a Moute… which doesn’t exactly scream “draft me.” As a basketball player, I think Grant would have greatly benefited from another year in the Cuse. He would have been the featured offensive scorer next season, and could have spent the offseason improving his jump shot.

But you can’t exactly blame him for leaving either. Right now, Chad Ford of ESPN has Grant going somewhere in the 12-20 range of the first round (late-lottery to mid first-round pick). The chances of him coming back, a year older (which means a lot to most NBA teams selecting a potential building block) and actually exceeding his current stock is slim. Slimmer than Shady, or Jim, or any other Slim-related peoples.

Grant is taking the money and running. If he excels in workouts and can convince teams to bite on the athleticism and potential, he’s about to make a ton of money. But if he comes back, scouts can pick him apart even more. What if he isn’t ready to lead the team in scoring (a legitimate question), or what if he didn’t come back more polished offensively? Grant could easily have slipped to the late first round or second-round pick area. (He still can if he doesn’t perform well in workouts) This was a financially wise move, but I think Grant is at least two or three years from being an NBA-caliber player.

Both of these moves were financially motivated, but losing both is a hard pill to swallow for Syracuse fans. With Christmas, Cooney and Gbinije returning, Syracuse is by no means out of the picture. They return stud big man DaJuan Coleman from a leg injury that forced him to miss the last half of this past season, and they have some talented players coming in, as per the usual. But this upcoming season became an uphill battle with the loss of Ennis and Grant

Did they make the right choice?

Follow Ian on Twitter at @Ian_Flick.

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