When the Nets drafted Chris McCullough with the 29th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the pick was spun as a substitute for a first rounder in the 2016 NBA Draft. As you may have already heard, the Nets have zero first-round picks.
The fact he was taken at No. 29 was all about injury, not potential, the Nets brass said.
McCullough missed most of his freshman year at Syracuse due to an ACL tear and had been seen as a lottery pick before his knee buckled. That being said, there was still a risk for the Nets being so limited in picks.
Still, the Nets and McCullough were essentially playing with house money when he made his return to the basketball court three days after his 21st birthday on February 8. They were 14-38 when McCullough made his debut. There was no issue, no real pressure in letting him find his legs through the final 30 games of the season.
And that's exactly what they did.
In 24 games played, McCullough started in four at season's end. He averaged 4.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 15 minutes per game while shooting 40.4% overall and 38.2 percent from deep. In those four starts, McCullough shot 51.7 percent overall and 50 percent from three. He also had eight steals. He looked as athletic as he did at Syracuse ... and that's saying something! A 6'11" forward with max vertical of three feet. Wow.
"I definitely changed as a player," McCullough told Kathryn Pryzbyla of the Nets. "Feel like my game got a lot better than it was in college. My body changed and I got stronger. I shot the ball more this year."
The potential is certainly there. For a big, he has a smooth stroke and has the ability to put the ball on the floor. Not to mention his length is a huge threat you simply cannot teach. On April 6, McCullough grabbed five steals against the Wizards - the most for a Nets reserve since Courtney Lee had six in 2009.
McCullough talked about his development with Sarah Kustok in the last edition of Nets Magazine.
This doesn't mean we should set expectations too high just yet.
Sure the new regime likes what they've seen, as do several teams around the league according to a league source. But expect the growing pains to continue. After all, he is the fifth youngest Nets player ever. And he is set to undergo his first set of summer workouts, first summer league (in Las Vegas this year) and his first NBA training camp.
Not to mention, the Nets will finally have a D-League team, the Long Island Nets, this season. They''ll practice at HSS Training Center with the Brooklyn Nets. The two teams will share a practice facility and home court for the opening season. If necessary, McCullough could get some minutes "down" in the D-League and then bring him up when he's ready. He knows what to expect at the NBA level, but it's about properly developing him and making sure he can sustain his health through an 82-game season. He still needs work, particularly in the weight room. He's only 215 pounds, which is just 16 pounds heavier than he was a junior in high school.
In simpler words, there is no rush necessary. But it can't hurt to be the first in the gym and show commitment in the development process.
First there was this just two weeks after the season ended.
Then, he was spotted in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's Instagram video, along with Markel Brown, on March 4 at the HSS Training Center.
That same day, McCullough tweeted this out:
Great day at the office.— Chris McCullough (@briskuno) May 4, 2016
He's getting in the gym earlier than he's been able to say since joining the NBA and it'll be exciting to see what a full summer can do for the former Orangemen.
And for the Nets -- they may not have a first-round pick this year, but they do have Chris McCullough. He, along with the other young guys, namely Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Markel Brown, will be the first test of development for Kenny Atkinson and his coaching staff. You could start a lot worse than that.