No prospective 2016 NBA draftee had a better week than Syracuse's Malachi Richardson.
The McDonald's All-American guard, who led the 13-loss Orange to March's legendary comeback triumph over No. 1 seed Virginia, seemed to come out of nowhere in the tournament, even to many scouts. Despite his raw talent, size and scoring skill, most assumed a shaky freshman campaign would prevent Richardson from leaving Syracuse after one season.
Then came the explosion against UVa, followed by a solid outing in SU's national semifinal loss to North Carolina. Front offices raced to the film room. Scouts liked what they saw. Richardson, free to test the waters under new NCAA draft rules, decided to see where he stood.
At last week's combine, as Richardson impressed with both his measurements (particularly his 7-foot wingspan on his 6-foot-6-inch frame) and play on the floor, more than a few NBA personnel raved. When Richardson told his prospective future employers that he had decided to keep his name in the draft, "a number of NBA executives seem[ed] delighted by the news," ESPN's Chad Ford wrote. "Richardson, they say, could end up in the lottery … he's one of the few guys in this draft with the size, speed and skills to get his own shot."
Richardson, No. 20 on Ford's previous Big Board, has risen to No. 13. On Monday, he told ESPN's Jeff Goodman that he would stay in the draft and hire an agent.
Like we said: Dude had a fantastic week.
As for Syracuse's 2016-17 prospectus, the loss of Richardson was slightly less fantastic. That begs the question: What does Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim make of his freshman's rocket into the lottery-projection stratosphere? Coach, care to weigh in?
"I don't think he's moved anywhere," Boeheim said at SU's no-huddle tour stop in Rochester. "That's just media nonsense. That's just the media and agents talking. Pro teams have not even had a thought about who they're going to draft. The top, maybe the top two, three prospective picks, are thinking about the two or three guys they might take. Everybody after that, they have no idea who they're going to pick. You can't tell anybody right now that they're going to go here because they haven't even thought about it."
Coach, please, don't hold back. Tell us how you really feel.
"Where [Richardson is] going to go in the draft, trust me, nobody has a clue right now."
Per the Syracuse Post-Standard, Boeheim's comments came amid praise for Richardson as a person and his freshman season generally. The bulk of Boeheim's criticism was aimed at "the media's" ostensibly outsized, possibly influential and occasionally incorrect projections.
Boeheim reiterated his belief that no freshman is truly ready for the NBA. He said players projected to be drafted late in the first round should return to school if they might go higher the following year, so as to avoid playing for winning teams on which playing time is less plentiful.
There's a lot to chew on here.
On the media: Everyone gets predictions wrong, including NBA franchises. Former Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn was drafted one spot ahead of Stephen Curry, after all, and that's just one example. It happens. The draft is more art than science, yet the idea that NBA front offices don't have any idea whom they're going to draft at this point -- that they don't employ dozens of people to analyze film and create proprietary statistical metrics and account for every other team's cap situation and trade assets on a basically year-round basis -- seems a little far-fetched.
On freshmen not being ready for the NBA: Karl Anthony-Towns humbly disagrees.
On the perils of draft position: You could argue that it's preferable to end up on a good team, where a winning culture is established, veteran leaders can guide you along and there's no pressure to be a major contributor on day one. (See: Leonard, Kawhi.) This might be especially true for a player such as Richardson, who will need time and a strong developmental environment to make good on his raw potential.
Most of all, though, Boeheim's comments feel jarring in our current one-and-done, post-John Calipari-at-Kentucky world. Calipari's breakthrough proved NBA draft success was a key selling point for every elite recruit; many of the nation's top coaches have, to varying degrees, co-opted his strategy by promoting their players' draft position as a reflection of their own program. There was a time when a coach could actively -- even publicly -- question his player's NBA ambitions. That time is gone. The context of draft discussion is different now. Boeheim, to his credit, simply doesn't care.
"Of course, whenever I say these things, people say I'm too tough, too abrasive," Boeheim said. "It's like, media people can have their opinions, and it's OK. But when a coach has his opinions, it's not good. He shouldn't do that. I've never followed that procedure exactly."
Say what you want about the tenets of Boeheim's various arguments. At least it's an ethos.